Murder in Bristol

This documentary investigates the case of Bijan Ebrahimi, an Iranian man who was murdered in cold blood in Capgrave Crescent, Bristol. Bijan Ebrahimi, 44, had been suffering racial and physical abuse on the estate he lived on in the Brislington area of the city. And even though he had complained to police after suffering antisocial behavior but he was killed two days after he himself was arrested after completely unfounded complaints that he had interest in children. He was beaten to death and his body set on fire after it was doused in white spirit. Two of his neighbors were arrested for the murder; Lee James, 24, of Capgrave Crescent, Bristol, admitted his murder, at Bristol Crown Court. And Stephen Norley, 24, also of Capgrave Crescent, admitted assisting an offender. Sadly the events that led to Bijan Ebrahimi’s murder were not the first time he had been the subject of apparent hate crime as he was forced to move out of a previous home after it was set on fire. This documentary will shed much-needed light on how Mr. Ebrahimi’s disability and ethnic origin as an Iranian Muslim came to be a reason why he was targeted by the offenders. This is a case where the victim repeatedly told the police that he was at risk yet he was simply ignored until police negligence led to his death. The film will also provide a detailed analysis of how Ebrahimi was treated by Avon and Somerset police over a number of years. And police incompetence and neglect.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: When a young Iranian man moved to the UK in search for a better life to a place where he thought would be a safe environment for a fresh start, never did he imagine the horrors that were awaiting him.

SOUNDBITE [English] Newscaster: “The judge called it an act of murderess injustice and today the man who killed and then set fire to an innocent disabled man…”

Narration: The murder of Bijan Ebrahimi was described by the judge as an act of murderess injustice.

SOUNDBITE [English] Newscaster: “Mr. Ebrahimi was a lonely disabled Iranian man with the passion for gardening.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Man: “get out of my house”

SOUNDBITE [English] Woman: “leave, leave.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Intruder: “If take pictures of me again I’ll f** you up.”

Narration: On the 14th of July 2013 Bijan Ebrahimi was brutally murdered. He was haunted down, beaten to death and then set on fire outside his own doorstep after being wrongly branded a pedophile. It was here in Bristol in the Southwest of England where he lived and was murdered by his neighbors.

SOUNDBITE [English] Michael Doherty, Host: “I’m here to find out the truth of what happened to Bijan. What did he do to deserve the barbaric act of murder? Could it have been prevented? And why didn’t anyone help him?”

Narration: Bijan spent the last six years of his life living on this Council state. It was at this flat Number 88 on Capgrave Crescent where he was subjects to years of abuse.

SOUNDBITE [English] Michael Doherty, Host: “Living here in a neighborhood like this must have been very difficult for Bijan. His killer Lee James lived just there at Number 82 and his accomplice Stephen Norley Number 84. Bijan lived just here.”

Narration: Lee James and Steven Norley were Bijan’s neighbors. James brutally carried out the act of killing and Norley was his accomplice.

SOUNDBITE [English] Harmit Athwal, Researcher, Institute of Race Relations: “Bijan’s case was incredibly sad because what happened to him happened over a very long length of time so of course it’s incredibly saddening, disgusting that this abuse was allowed to continue for such a long period of time but Bijan’s case is actually just felt like a lynching actually and more than lynching because of the way he was dragged out of his home and set alight, you know, that’s not…not the murderers are anyway normal but that mob mentality that took over with the people there who did very little actually to stop what was going on.”

Narration: Sometime between Saturday night and early Sunday morning Bijan was watering his flowers, James grabbed him from his home, punched him, kicked him and stamped on his head. Bijan was beaten to death.

SOUNDBITE [English] Michael Doherty, Host: “Without any respect for the sanctity of Human life or his disabilities, Bijan was dragged to this spot and set alight.”

Narration: Steven Norley obtained some white spirit and the pair dragged Bijan’s body a hundred yards from his own home. Dust his body with spirit and set him alight. The killers then left his burning body in the street. This footage was captured by a neighbor CCTV camera. It is reported the fire bunt fully for 12 minutes until the police and fire brigade alerted by nearby residents put it out. Bijan’s sister Manijeh Moores shared her reaction about this footage.

SOUNDBITE [English] Manijeh Moores, Sister of Bijan Ebrahimi: “It was so devastating seeing that footage. I saw the few photographs in one of the Sunday papers and for days I was crying. Just looking at the flames and thinking that my brother’s body was lying there on the fire, it was heartbreaking and it was so difficult for us to go through that video and watch it again. But because it sent a very powerful message to other people we wanted it to be played so that everybody can see it and feel our pain. That was a human being who was lying there burning and I hope everyone can feel it and learn something from it.”

TIME CODE: 05:00-10:00

Narration: Just what possessed two men in their early twenties to attack a neighbor, beat him to death and set his body on fire in 21st century Britain.

SOUNDBITE [English] Michael Doherty, Host: “What we do know is that Lee James was fueled with alcohol and along with children and other adults in the area they’ve long been harassing Bijan and vandalizing his flowers and plants. In the end James decided that Bijan didn’t deserve to live and seized an opportunity to murder him.”

Narration: When Bijan began taking photographs to capture anti-social behavior around him the neighborhood turned on him and falsely accused him of being a pedophile. Bijan was born in Iran in 1969, being the youngest of 5 children. He was a kind and selfless man caring for his parents for many years before they succumbed to illness. After moving to the UK Bijan was determined to start a fresh with his long standing ambition of obtaining a higher education being his primary motive. However a longstanding back condition worsened causing him to become registered as disabled and thus enable to pursue his goals. His pride and joy life whilst in the UK was looking after his flower baskets that were on display in front of his home; the same baskets that soon became the tools of his continued abuse. Bijan had long pleaded with the police to protect him against the abuse and harassment he was facing but three days before his murder the police did something quite unexpected with disastrous consequences. Rather than protect Bijan the police arrested him. Did the Police serve the perpetrators of violence rather than the victim?

SOUNDBITE [English] Michael Wolkind QC, Criminal Barrister: “The arrest of Bijan no doubt fortified James. James was the one who would misbehave so far, yet the result is his victim is arrested. This would have given his courage. This is how serious the negligence of police the extraordinary decision to arrest the Victim. This is how serious a mistake this was, that must have given courage to James. He’d really boasted that he was going to kill the man and he did and who was to stop it.”

Narration: The footage you are witnessing was recorded by Bijan himself. Little did he know that he would be filming the man who would later kill him? Bijan filmed James drinking alcohol and smoking while looking after his children outside his flat. After series of incidents where his flowers were damaged, James noticing he was being filmed barged into Bijan’s home, shouting abuse and threatening him. He was 24 years old at the time.

SOUNDBITE [English] James: “That’s a f**king warning, Get the ol’ bill all you want. Get ol’ bill and I’ll tell them you’re taking pictures of me. How old are you? I’m a little boy. Up to you.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Bijan: “Go out of my house.”

SOUNDBITE [English] James: “Get the F**k away with your F**king pictures alright? “

SOUNDBITE [English] Woman: “Lee..Lee”

SOUNDBITE [English] Bijan: “Go out of my house”

SOUNDBITE [English] James: “Take pictures if me again and I’ll f**k you up.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Woman: “Lee…Lee are you listening to me? Look!”

SOUNDBITE [English] Kerry McCart, British Member of Parliament, Bristol East: “If you look at the way the killers or the killer and his accomplice behaved towards Ebrahimi. How do you sort of… How do you stop of that emerging within a community? How do you stop them having these sorts of attitudes that meant that crowd of people could surround him and you know it’s all feeding on that general history of whether he was or he was not a pedophile. In an ideal world there would be people who would come and say this is not acceptable, we don’t expect you to have to put up with it.”

Narration: After this incident the police were called to the scene but it was Bijan who was arrested not James. Bijan Explained to the officers that he was gathering evidence about anti-social behavior of his neighbors but they believed James’s accusations of him being a pedophile took him in. The police held him over night and could not find any evidence of criminal activity either on his mobile or personal computer therefore refuting James’s false accusations. The police released him the next day but didn’t alert neighborhood of Bijan’s innocence.

SOUNDBITE [English] Michael Wolkind QC, Criminal Barrister: “When Bijan was held in police custody they had a chance to discuss the history of the matter with him. He no doubt told them how many times he had complained before and they no doubt had an opportunity to check that that was true. They could talk to him. They could see he was a victim. They had the greatest duty of care that if he was to go back to his own home or warning had to go out, information first that this man is not a pedophile. It was the false rumor spread by James suggesting this man deserved care. There is a duty of care on the police officers. Instead he is released back to a hostile community who has had the satisfaction of seeing him wrongly arrested before fortified by that extraordinary decision. Here he is. He is a game for them.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

Narration: It is no conspiracy that the police had clearly failed to protect Bijan and keep him safe. The head of the police force in the area admitted their failures.

SOUNDBITE [English] Nick Gargan, Bristol Police Chief: “We know the things went wrong. We know that it has failed and we are very sorry about the whole incident and the terrible loss to his family.”

Narration: After being sent back home by the police during that course of that evening Bijan made several calls to the police reporting on the continuing hostility of his neighbors. He was essentially making police for help but he was ignored.

SOUNDBITE [English] Michael Wolkind QC, Criminal Barrister: “Bijan was a victim of harassment. Other people were behaving badly. They were behaving anti-socially. He gathered evidence which in modern days in perfectly ordinary for him to have filmed what other people were doing. How they were misbehaving. That’s all he did. He himself never misbehaved. False accusations were spread against him, again he behaved properly. He made modest and reasonable complaints to the authorities and no one cared and no one paid any attention. Its only now as a victim as someone who has been killed by the criminal that we pay attention to his story.”

Narration: How did the British Police fail to protect Bijan time and time again?

SOUNDBITE [English] Sue Mountstevens, Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner: “What damages confidence is where there is not transparency because the public now got to believe that if there is not transparency then they believe that he police is hiding something. The police in this point have been very clear, have been very open and very public about what they have done and what they have not done.”

Narration: Immediately after Bijan’s murder and investigation was launched by the independent police commission, a police watchdog, to determine how the police dealt with Bijan in the events leading to his murder. If transparency was so important then why did it take over one year after Bijan’s death for their investigation to be completed? Questions were even raised in parliament concerning the delays in the investigation.

SOUNDBITE [English] Kerry McCart, British Member of Parliament, Bristol East:“Home secretary will I hope be aware of tragic murder of my constituent Bijan Ebrahimi whose killer was sentenced last Thursday. He was attacked on the grounds that his neighbors thought, quiet unjustifiably, that he was a pedophile. I have written to the home secretary but can I urge her to do anything that she can to make sure that the IPCC has the results of the report as quickly as possible. It is really important for the community in that area that we can resolve this.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Theresa May, British Home Secretary: “The honorable lady makes a very serious point about this terrible case. I would indeed look, I have not seen the letter that she has sent to me yet but I will indeed look very carefully at what she is saying in that and of course overall we are trying to ensure through ex results from the IPCC that they are able to do their job effectively in looking at how the cases where there are complaints about how the Police are dealt with. This is a terrible case and I will look at her letter very carefully.”

Narration: Even after Bijan’s death the failures of the police were haunting him. Bijan’s family have had an agonizing time waiting for the police to provide answers. The results of investigation are still not available to the public.

SOUNDBITE [English] Kerry McCart, British Member of Parliament, Bristol East: I’m not quite sure why it did take IPCC so long. I know there was the delay because the original report in December 2013 wasn’t satisfactory. They obviously had quite…I think they interviewed 18 police officers and support staff. There were plans to talk to the neighbors as well and then they did have to go back over quite a period of time. I’m not…It’s difficult for me as someone else. So I had a couple of conversations with them to know how much time they were actually able to devote to it. They seem to been steadily working on the case but I’m sure it would have been the case if it had had more people working on it if they had not been subjected to cut in the resources. Then they could have done it a bit quicker and I think in terms of sort of feeling within the community, the tensions within the community it would have been very helpful if they could have dealt with it very quicker.”

Narration: Finally the outcome of the investigation led to 3 police officers and one police community support officer being charged with criminal offenses. The three police officers were accused of failing to respond to allegations and calls for help by Bijan and the other officer is accused of lying about the contact he had with him. And as well as the four facing criminal charges a further six officers and seven members of staff will be subjected to disciplinary action but this will not happen until the court case is concluded which won’t happen until later this year. This means that it could now be more than 2 and half years after Bijan’s death before any action with the police is taken. So with the police still in court why did Bijan even need the police protection in the first place? As an Iranian he stood in a predominantly white community. Was he targeted because of his race?

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [English] Harmit Athwal, Researcher, Institute of Race Relations: “You can’t distinguish from the fact that he was targeted because of who he was, but the fact that he was disabled and the fact that he was Iranian, you know you cannot get away from those facts. I think you have to look at the fact that Bijan was harassed over a very very long period of time. And if you cannot … you cannot say that was for other factors, I think race had to play the factor, had to play the part in what happened to him. I don’t think there is any denying it.”

Narration: In the year 2013 to 2014 there are at least “44 thousand 488” crimes recorded by the police in the UK, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year and of which 84 Percent with racially aggravated hate crimes.

SOUNDBITE [English] Harmit Athwal, Researcher, Institute of Race Relations: “People do hold Britain up as this great country of justice, truth and honesty. Then I have to say really is actually something different. I think it does depend on who you are actually for it to work for you like that. Where you can’t sleep being bombarded by races sentiment in the daily mail on Scotland news on..on..on .. in the media that is all around you and you know and I think I has to have an impact and I think it is quite clear from some of the cases on our list that media claim a very clear impact on racial violence and racially motivated murders.”

Narration: Although Bijan’s case is said to be the unusual and unfortunate crime for Bristol, high racial tensions and poverty make foreigners susceptible for abuse.

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Hope-Hawkins, Writer and researcher: “He was living in the wrong area. I know they are not. I know there are black families that had to move from these areas because of the racial tones and they have been terrorized out of their homes. So these are plainly white, you know working class areas and sadly areas that had little to thrive with a lot of poverty.”

Narration: After the sentencing of Steven Norley and Lee James at Bristol crown court, Bijan’s sister Manija Moores spoke to the press expressing her concern over subject matter.

SOUNDBITE [English] Manijeh Moores, Sister of Bijan Ebrahimi: A wonderful son, brother and uncle has been lost to this world. The next question to be answered is whether Bijan’s death could have been avoided if he had received the protection that he had deserved from the authorities. Lesson must be learned before other honorable lives are lost.”

Narration: What role did the society play in the problems Bijan faced?

SOUNDBITE [English] Michael Doherty, Host: Bijan’s torment at Capgrave Crescent was not an isolated incident. The scars run much deeper. He was driven from his previous home here in west Town lane after he was set alight. Bijan experienced the most horrendous abuse on almost a daily basis here in the UK.”

Narration: Another reason for his victimhood in addition to his race was debilitation back problems. The British government has had a history of failing to provide enough support for disabled people.

SOUNDBITE [English] John Pring, Founder, Disability News Service: “The cops are facing disabled people organizations as well which play a key role in supporting and encouraging reporting, supporting disabled people, lobbying for change, all these kinds of things. They are facing huge funding problems as well, they have been facing funding problems for a while and it started with recession but it has certainly accelerated to the coalition and to the austerity measures, certainly the council is facing 20% cuts and that’s bound to have a impact on local organizations run by disabled people which often funded in a large part by the local authorities.”

Narration: In 2014 the conservative welfare minister Lord Freud showed his disgraceful attitude towards disabled people by saying it is not worth paying them the national minimum wage.

SOUNDBITE [English] Lord Freud, Minister of State for Welfare Reform: “There is a small, There is a group and I know exactly who you mean, Where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage and actually. I’m going to go and think about that particular issue whether there is something we can do nationally and without distorting the whole thing which actually if someone wants to work for 2 Pounds an hour and it’s working can we actually…”

Narration: What kind of message does this send to British citizens who are disabled?

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [English] John Pring, Founder, Disability News Service: “I don’t think it’s so much what disabled people can do; I think it’s really more about what power from reporting they can do more to report. Trying to push himself to report this very worrying and unsettling things that happen to them. But it is more about what society needs to do to address the barriers that disabled people face. This is one for the government; this is one for the authorities, public bodies, society as a whole to address this kind of persistent we are saying discrimination and the hostility that kind of bubbles beneath the surface.”

Narration: So Bijan was more than just a victim of his murderers but of society also. He played by the rules and consistently asked for help but let down by the system. There was nothing more he could have done. He would think that as least his killers would get what they deserved.

SOUNDBITE [English] Michael Doherty, Host: “In Britain stabbings, violence and racial abuse are destroying lives. Naturally the British public are frightened. In Bijan’s case his killer was his neighbor. Here at Bristol crown court the UK legal system decided that James could be back out on the streets in just 18 years.”

Narration: What about Norley who dragged Bijan’s lifeless body and set it alight with white spirit while at the time of sentencing the court decided he could be out in just 2 years? Was this a fair sentence given the overwhelming context of their actions leading up to Bijan’s murder?

SOUNDBITE [English] Michael Wolkind QC, Criminal Barrister: “Many people will think that the 18 year minimum tariff received by Lee James was lenient and judge has to select the starting point for this sentence and even if in those days the campaign against Bijan didn’t fit into category that gave a high starting point. Even if the right starting point was the lowest 15 years each judge must look at the individual circumstances of that case. Every aggravated fact can lead the judge to any sentence. You can start at lowest 15 and you could end up double that sentence. This judge knew enough about the background of this offence, Knew about the campaign, knew about the racist attitudes that were expressed by James and supported by cheering crowds. Armed with that material the sentence could be a lot higher.”

Narration: The problem of racial violence and how it is treated by the British police and justice system was highlighted by the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence which resulted in the Macpherson report in 1999.

SOUNDBITE [English] Harmit Athwal, Researcher, Institute of Race Relations: “At that time there was a massive recognition of racial motivated violence. Huge numbers of recommendations made by Macpehrson about how the police should investigate such a crime and how they should be prosecuted by the criminal justice agencies. How they should be handled to put in the court system by the CPS and by the judges. The problem is in the practice now. Race is deleted out and quite often this happens when judges come to sentence as well. They have the power to bring the racial element back into a case and sentence accordingly. Quite oftenly they refuse to do so. But my understanding of the case is that Bijan believed it was racially motivated as did his family. Therefore according to Macpherson the police had the duty to investigate to do such. They may not have believed it. They may not have the evidence of that but they had a duty to investigate such and I think that is part of the problem. The police become the judge and the jury and say no race was in effect here.”

Narration: In 2013 new laws came in ordering that if murdered individual was the target of hate crime on the basis of disability instead of the murderer having to face a minimum of 18 years they would be liable to serve a minimum of 30 years. However the criminal justice system did not treat Bijan’s case as a disability hate crime.

SOUNDBITE [English] John Pring, Founder, Disability News Service: “Because the criminal justice system did not treat this as a disability hate crime then the person who murdered Bijan was sentenced to 18 years, minimum, rather than 30 years and we had not known till have seen those reports why those decisions were made but it certainly seems to me that they were wrongly made.”

Narration: Much, remains to be answered in Bijan’s case why were his pleas for help ignored? Why wasn’t his race or disability taken into account? Will the police officers who dealt with him be found guilty for their misconduct? Whatever the answers may be, it’s all too late for Bijan. Bijan’s dream of a normal life with the minimum necessities such as peace and security proved too idealistic for the UK society and system.

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