They are the unlikeliest of allies. The far-right EDL thug who was about to be sentenced for his role in violent disturbances in Birmingham and the Newcastle Muslim councillor who’d been the victim of racist abuse, threats and attacks.
Yet when Dipu Ahad was approached in the street by Anthony Webster, the two men began an extraordinary dialogue that has led to Ahad writing to the trial judge on his behalf asking him to consider an alternative to a jail sentence.
Ahad said he’s devastated that 38-year-old Webster was jailed for 21 months at Birmingham Crown Court for violent disorder.
Webster was among more than 50 people charged with violent disorder after attending an English Defence League (EDL) march in Birmingham in July 2013 where they ran amok, hurling missiles and injuring several police officers.
Ahad, a father of four, told the Independent: “I’ve got a history of death threats because I’ve been fighting racism all my life. I’ve been racially abused by the far-right and had police protection. I’ve been bricked for being an Asian - I have scars on my head.
“I’ve had debates with Tommy Robinson in the past. That’s led to threats and complaints. They’ve said they’re going to behead me.”
He said six weeks ago in his West Road constituency, he was unexpectedly approached by Webster, who was a prominent member of the EDL when he “tapped me on the shoulder and asked how I was.”
Ahad admits he was “a bit spooked” as Webster is a “big, tall guy.” But he smiled at him and Webster smiled back and they began to talk.
“He said who he was and said he was part of the EDL. Straight away I realised his body language was in agreement with me. He said he was being sentenced for rioting in Birmingham.”
Ahad said he offered moral support ahead of his sentencing in December. “His face lit up and he said it’s the first time anyone said they’d support him after his arrest in Birmingham – even the EDL hadn’t.”
The councillor received a phone call from Webster four days later, in which he was remorseful and said he would revoke his membership of the far-right group. He told him he wants to “learn more” about different communities.
After half-an-hour, Ahad offered to write a letter to the trial judge Richard Bond asking him to consider an alternative to a jail sentence.
In the letter, on Newcastle City Council headed paper, he condemns Webster’s actions and his behaviour in Birmingham, but states: “I genuinely believe that Mr Webster is willing to change and that he fully regrets his actions.” He said he is willing to work with him to support him make changes to his life.
“He said he wanted to work with minority groups and work with food banks with me,” Ahad said.
“Hating people only makes things worse,” he added. “If we don’t show love and compassion to each other hate will always remain our backs are up all the time. “
He denies he’s anybody special, but believes: “You can’t fight hate with hate – it never works.” After he was sentenced, Ahad received a phone call from Webster’s partner – thanking him. They believed the letter to the judge had reduced the sentence considerably.Reuse content