Race attack on ex-lover forces top athlete into hiding

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The Independent Online

The international triple-jumper Ashia Hansen has been forced into hiding after her white former boyfriend was repeatedly stabbed outside her home in a racist attack.

Chris Cotter, was slashed across the face with a knife and stabbed three times in the back after being accosted by a gang of white men on Tuesday night.

Moments before Mr Cotter was stabbed the gang made racist comments about his relationship with the black athlete. He had also received a racist telephone call only three days earlier.

Police forensic science experts are also examining a hate-mail letter to Ms Hansen's home, which appears to be linked to the attack. Made from letters cut from newspapers, it is understood to say: "You were lucky last night. We won't make the same mistake again."

Ms Hansen, 28, who is one of Britain's best Olympic gold medal prospects, has abandoned her home in Birmingham and is living under police protection at a secret address.

Mr Cotter, also 28, has been released from a West Midlands hospital where he was under 24-hour guard while receiving treatment for his wounds.

Yesterday Superintendent Tony Garbett, of West Midlands Police, said a gang of four to five white men were responsible for the "nasty attack". He said: "Mr Cotter has got a slash wound across his forehead and three puncture wounds in his back. I'm told that these injuries are not life-threatening, but with any knife attack the difference between life and death is very small."

The stabbing is believed to have followed a race-hate campaign against the couple lasting several months.

Mr Cotter, a former national long-jumper who went out with Ms Hansen for several years, is said to have been warned in telephone calls to "stick to your own kind".

The stabbing is the latest racist attack on high-profile mixed-race couples living in Britain. Five men and two women were arrested in Denmark in 1997 and three packages were seized after police were tipped off that they were sending explosive devices to addresses supplied by the British neo-nazi group Combat 18.

The former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies and her former husband, Derek Redmond, were among those on the list. In 1997, a letter-bomb hidden in a video cassette was sent to their house. Also targeted were retired boxer Frank Bruno and his wife Laura.

Ms Hansen, who was born in the United States but grew up in London, moved to the West Midlands to be near her coach Aston Moore. She shares her home with leading British athlete Katharine Merry, a spokeswoman for UK Athletics said. Ms Hansen won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games two years ago and she holds the world indoor triple-jumping record.

Although Ms Hansen is said to be worried about the effect the attack will have on her preparations for the Olympics, Supt Garbett said that both she and Mr Cotter were "going to get on with their lives".

Tuesday's attack occurredat 10.25pm as Mr Cotter arrived in his car at Ms Hansen's home in the Erdington district of Birmingham. One of the attackers is said to be aged 26 to 30, 6ft 3in tall, of stocky build, clean-shaven. He was wearing a dark-coloured heavy duffel coat and a black woollen hat, and spoke with a Birmingham accent.

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