A man convicted of the racist killing of a Bangladeshi father in east London 15 years ago has been employed as an assistant at a special needs school – just yards from where his victim’s dying appeal to live was met with “shut up, you Paki”.
Ian Devlin was 17 when he and two others were found guilty of killing Shiblu Rahman, whose last desperate words before being stabbed and beaten were, “Why me, what have I done to you, help, help”.
Devlin and one other were convicted of manslaughter at the OId Bailey in 2001, while a boy aged 15 at the time of the killing was found guilty of murder.
Rahman was 35 and had two young children. His wife found him dying on the doorstep of their home in Bromley-by-Bow.
Devlin was sentenced to nine years at a young offenders’ institution, but was released in 2005. He then spent time working as a construction worker before securing a job at Ian Mikardo High School in 2010, which caters for vulnerable, excluded and sometimes troubled pupils with special needs in Tower Hamlets.
It is understood he declared his background to the school, which also carried out formal criminal records checks and took legal advice from HR professionals over whether his conviction was spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. But due to the length of the sentence, the conviction will remain unspent indefinitely, and because of the nature of the role, the Act would not apply
His appointment was deemed so sensitive it had to be confirmed by the school’s governors. Although two of the governors were senior local Labour Party officials, it is not clear if the controversy was flagged up to the council’s education chiefs.
In fact, last August, the council’s former weekly newspaper East End Life ran a front page article on Devlin, hailing him a “good Samaritan” and a “man on a mission” for his community work with neighbours.
However, his employment has only just been discovered by the wider community and the council is now aware of the mounting public outcry. Large protests have been planned throughout the borough with demands that borough mayor John Biggs investigates.
Mayor Biggs’s allies are pointing out that the hiring happened under his predecessor, the now-disgraced Lutfur Rahman, but there is no evidence he was aware of the decision.
Anti-racism campaigners claim vulnerable students at the school “could be in danger”.
But the school’s headteacher Claire Lillis is worried the anger and outcry is more of a threat to the students and called for “calm”.
In a strong defence of her staff member, she said: “Ian Devlin has worked at the school for the last five years. He has been an excellent example of how a rehabilitated offender can contribute to his community and he is a valued member of our school community.
“The school took all appropriate checks and advice in appointing Mr Devlin and wish to support him in continuing to do the work which he has been legally appointed to perform.
“I am concerned that the reaction of the community to this news presents more of a safeguarding risk to our vulnerable children than his presence at the school and would urge local people to react in a calm and measured way.”
However, Helal Abbas, a former leader of Tower Hamlets council and who attended Mr Shiblu’s funeral in 2001, said: “We fought racism in the Seventies and Eighties and to now have a racist killer back working with children within a few hundred yards of where it happened is simply appalling.
“Of course, I’m in favour of rehabilitation but some things have to be handled sensitively and we have to find out how this decision was taken and why it was kept quiet for the past few years.”
Murder victim Mr Rahman, who came to Britain in 1995, was found on his hands and knees by his wife Noma. He had been stabbed in the chest and died short time later in hospital. The crime is said to have had a profoundly devastating effect on the family.
A witness at the trial said she had heard a “squealing noise like a dog being kicked”.
The trial judge said at sentencing: “I am in no doubt that this was a racially motivated attack by each of you.” He said Mr Rahman and had been a “loving husband and father”.
The Independent contacted Devlin for comment, but he referred calls to Tower Hamlets council. He denied the charges at his trial and any racial motive. He does not appear to have made any public comment on his role in the killing since then.
A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets council said: "Ian Mikardo School has employed a rehabilitated offender who was subject to enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check and subsequent risk assessment. This helps employers make safe recruitment decisions and prevents unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups, including children. The member of staff has worked satisfactorily in his role and without incident for a number of years.
“The council recognises that this issue is one which is causing concern within the wider community. We are confident that the relevant checks were made prior to the individual’s appointment and there is no risk to children at the school.
“Families with children at Ian Mikardo school are welcome to discuss any concerns they may have with the head teacher or chair of governors.”
Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, some crimes committed at a young age can become “spent” with the passage of time, meaning employers cannot discriminate against the individual. However, sentences of more than four years in prison remain unspent indefinitely. Many roles, including those in schools, are exempt from the legislation meaning employers can also consider spent convictions and then come to a view about whether to employ an individual.
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