‘We’re extremely sorry’: Murdered Iranian refugee Bijan Ebrahimi failed by police and council’s 'institutional racism'

Avon and Somerset Police whose officers told refugee ‘to go home’ when he attended station fearing for his life, a day before being killed, has offered an apology

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 18 December 2017 12:36 GMT
Family of Bijan Ebrahimi call police and council behaviour shocking

“Institutional racism” caused police and a council to side with the abusers of a disabled refugee in the lead up to his brutal murder, a report has found.

The Safer Bristol Partnership (SBP) said there had been a “collective failure” to protect Bijan Ebrahimi before he was killed and set on fire by his neighbour in 2013.

The body said that although neither Avon and Somerset Constabulary or Bristol City Council had been intentionally racist, both organisations “repeatedly sided with abusers” who falsely accused the refugee of being a paedophile.

The Iranian man had repeatedly reported being victimised by his neighbours, including death threats, criminal damage and racial abuse, but police officers and staff failed to protect him or record a crime in 40 incidents.

Even as Mr Ebrahimi presented evidence against his predominantly white neighbours, he was arrested and handed an anti-social behaviour order, while they were not reprimanded.

The SBP said he was treated as a “primary perpetrator, rather than the primary victim” of abuse and mistreatment that started years before he was killed.

“On occasions, Mr Ebrahimi was treated with disrespect and even contempt by some police officers,” it concluded, adding that some officers and council staff wrongly claimed his reports were “dishonest”.

Bijan Ebrahimi in a police cell after being arrested by officers
Bijan Ebrahimi in a police cell after being arrested by officers

“There is evidence of both discriminatory behaviour and institutional racism on the part of Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset Constabulary.”

Lee James was jailed for life for murdering Mr Ebrahimi in Capgrave Crescent on 14 July 2013 and Stephen Norley was jailed for four years for assisting an offender.

A trial heard James – whose partner had moved to the area just months before – beat and kicked Mr Ebrahimi to death, before setting his body on fire with Norley’s help.

He first attacked his neighbour three days before the murder, after drinking while in charge of his young children, and threatened him inside his flat.

Mr Ebrahimi filmed part of the incident and reported it to police – but instead of targeting James they arrested him for breach of the peace and harassment – despite his innocence and the fact James continued making threats in their presence.

The refugee was released and returned home the following day, with an “urgent” marker on calls from his address, but when he made further calls to police saying he feared for his life officers did not visit his home.

“He eventually walked to nearby Brislington Police Station to seek help,” the SBP report said.

“He was told to go home. Late the following night, Lee James saw Mr Ebrahimi outside his flat and perpetrated the fatal assault.”

In a separate investigation that concluded in July, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said Avon and Somerset Constabulary responded poorly to 85 telephone calls from Mr Ebrahimi from 2007 onwards.

The IPCC said he was never fully recognised as a victim of racial abuse by authorities, who considered him “to be a liar, a nuisance and an attention seeker” and believed his neighbours instead.

A screengrab from a video taken by the victim Bijan Ebrahimi, where Lee James can see been verbally abusing him
A screengrab from a video taken by the victim Bijan Ebrahimi, where Lee James can see been verbally abusing him (Avon and Somerset Police)

At a trial in 2015, a police constable and police community support officer were convicted of misconduct in public office and dismissed over Mr Ebrahimi’s case.

Two other officers were acquitted at trial but later fired for gross misconduct by Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which gave four other staff involved written warnings.

Mr Ebrahimi had arrived in the UK, where his two sisters and nephews lived, in 2000 and was granted indefinite leave to remain as a refugee the following year.

He studied at college before a worsening back condition affected his mobility and ability to work.

Mr Ebrahimi was first attacked in a private shared house in Bedmister, Bristol, in 2005 when a housemate scalded him with hot water and was later jailed.

He was allocated a case worker by Stand Against Racism and Inequality (SARI) and was moved by the council to a flat at Whartons, Brislington, in November 2006.

But he reported more racist abuse there and was targeted by an arson attack, causing him to be put in emergency accommodation and then moved into Capgrave Crescent in 2007.

That was the year when unfounded rumours that Mr Ebrahimi was a paedophile started circulating, becoming what the SBP report called a “local belief”.

“There has been no evidence provided for this review that Mr Ebrahimi may have had any sexual interest in children,” it concluded.

“Authorities took no steps to correct the view and the silence may have been taken by some as confirmation of local suspicions.”

The review called on Avon and Somerset Constabulary to record all crimes in compliance with national standards, for proper oversight of decisions and the risk of harm, for a change in organisational culture and for hate crime to be automatically passed to specialist support groups.

It also ordered Bristol City Council to start an immediate review of tenants with complex needs and amend its policy for vulnerable people.

Publication of the SBP’s multi-agency learning review was delayed to avoid prejudicing the trials and IPCC investigation.

Alison Comley, chair of the body, said the murder of Mr Ebrahimi shocked Bristol and thanked his family for their “dignity and strength”.

“As chair of the partnership I am sorry for the collective failure of organisations to support Mr Ebrahimi as a victim of anti-social behaviour and hate crime,” she added, pledging that lasting changes had been made.

“We did not wait until this review was published to make improvements.”

Marvin Rees, the mayor of Bristol, offered a “sincere and wholehearted” apology for Mr Ebrahimi’s treatment and vowed to continue improvements in his memory.

Mr Rees said the council accepted all of the independent’s review’s findings, including of discriminatory behaviour and institutional racism, adding: “We apologise for failing to adequately support Bijan as a victim.

“We would like once again to offer our sincere condolences, remorse and apologise to Bijan’s family.”

Avon and Somerset Constabulary also accepted all findings and said wide-ranging changes had already been made to “prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again”.

“We’d like to reiterate our sincere apologies to Mr Ebrahimi’s family who’ve shown great courage throughout,” a spokesperson added. “We failed him when he needed us the most and for that we’re extremely sorry.”

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