Sitting in a police cell after his arrest for “antagonising” his neighbours, Bijan Ebrahimi quietly asks why he was being held – rather than the threatening neighbour who burst uninvited into his home.
A police officer ignores him but after continued and polite questioning from the suspect, she finally snaps. “I’m a police officer. You’re a pain in the arse,” PC Helen Harris tells the disabled suspect during an exchange caught by security cameras inside the cell. “Don’t speak to me!”
The exchange summed up the attitude towards the disabled Mr Ebrahimi, who had problems with his mobility, by officers from the force. Three days after the episode, the Iranian-born Mr Ebrahimi was dead, released without charge and murdered by the same intruder who had wrongly branded him a paedophile and helped to whip up a vigilante mob against the 44-year-old outside his home in Bristol.
After a seven-week trial in which the failures of Avon and Somerset Police had been laid bare, two of its officers – PC Kevin Duffy, 52, and the police community support officer Andrew Passmore, 56 – were found guilty of misconduct at Bristol Crown Court for failing to protect the distressed man.
The trial heard how after his release from custody the force had ignored a dozen calls for help before Mr Ebrahimi was killed by Lee James, a drunken neighbour. He has since been jailed for life.
Two other officers – including PC Harris – were cleared of the same charge, but will now be among 18 people who face disciplinary proceedings, the largest number for a single event in the history of the police watchdog.
When officers were first called to the confrontation on 11 July 2013, PC Harris, 40, and her colleague PC Leanne Winters, 38, arrested Mr Ebrahimi rather than James, who was recorded as foaming at the mouth and vowing bloody revenge. As a mob gathered outside Mr Ebrahimi’s house on an estate in Bristol, James was heard to shout: “Paedo! I’m going to fucking kill you.” When Mr Ebrahimi was finally led away by the two officers, the crowd clapped, cheered and shouted “paedophile”.
James claimed Mr Ebrahimi had been photographing his children. Mr Ebrahimi had instead been trying to gather evidence for the council of the campaign against him.
In more than an hour of footage released by the police watchdog from the station, Mr Ebrahimi is seen alternately weeping, complaining and trying to persuade officers that he was not the guilty party.
His requests that he be allowed to go and stay with a member of his family rather than be kept in a police cell are largely ignored. At one point PC Harris tells him: “Just be quiet for now. What part of be quiet do you not understand? Shut up!”
Following his release the following day, Mr Ebrahimi repeatedly sought help from Duffy amid continuing threats from his neighbours. In one call to police, he said: “My life is in danger. Right now a few of my neighbours are outside and shouting and calling me a paedophile. I need to see PC Duffy.”
But Duffy – his local beat officer – said that he was busy and would see him in his own good time. He never did, but sent Passmore to patrol the area. He could have done nothing more than drive around for a couple of minutes, the court heard.
In the early hours of 14 July 2013, James – the father of three young children – punched and kicked Mr Ebrahimi unconscious before setting light to his body. Another neighbour Stephen Norley was jailed for four years after he helped drag the body away and set it alight with white spirits.
The family of Mr Ebrahimi have called for the immediate sacking of Duffy, 52, and Passmore, 56, who allowed their dislike of the victim to colour their decision-making. All four had denied the charges against them. In a statement released yesterday, the dead man’s sister Manizhah Moores said: “We would like to thank the jury for their careful consideration of the evidence.
“We now call on the Chief Constable to remove officers Duffy and Passmore from the force with immediate effect.
“Our search for justice for Bijan continues. Twenty police officers and staff, including inspectors and sergeants, are now to face disciplinary proceedings, including for race discrimination.”
“We dedicate Bijan’s memory to all other victims of race hate crime, in the hope that their lives can be protected.”
Sue Mountstevens, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset Police, said: “My heart goes out to Mr Ebrahimi’s family who more than anything want to know that the constabulary have learnt lessons from what happened to their brother.
“It is clear that on this occasion the constabulary failed local people and let down a vulnerable man. This should never have happened. My priority now is to ensure that, above everything else, protecting the most vulnerable people within our society is paramount.”
'Don’t talk to me' police station recordings
Bijan Ebrahimi: Why do I have to be harassed?
Desk sergeant: Our view is that you have antagonised him [James] to the point he has felt it necessary to remonstrate with you, so your behaviour has caused his reaction.
PC Helen Harris: Just be quiet for now, just be quiet. What part of be quiet do you not understand? Shut up.
BE: I’m asking you in front of the sergeant.
HH: I’m not talking to you any more, I’m fed up talking to you, you’re boring me.
BE: Did they give me the opportunity for a second time… [gestures towards officers].
HH: Get off – [hits him with her notebook] don’t keep pointing at me, how rude are you? Just talk to the custody sergeant.
BE: It’s my gesture, I’m not pointing…
In the police cell
BE: Why should I not take evidence when somebody…
HH: We’re already there, you don’t need to do it, all you’re doing is upsetting the situation…. I don’t want to talk to you. Don’t talk to me.
HH: I don’t want to talk to you. If you want to talk that’s fine, but I’m not going to talk to you.
BE: No, I’m talking to you as a friend.
HH: No, you’re not my friend. I’m a police officer. You’re a pain in the arse. Don’t speak to me.
HH: I can’t be bothered even to waste my energy on you.
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