Riazat Butt and Martin Wainwright, Guardian (London), August 10, 2011
Community leaders in Birmingham are working all-out to calm intense anger in the city’s British Asian community over the deaths of three young men who were rammed by a carload of suspected looters.
West Midlands police arrested a man near the scene and recovered a vehicle, which forensics experts are examining. They later launched a murder inquiry.
Groups of residents in Winson Green, the inner-city area where the men were killed as they tried to protect local businesses in the early hours of Wednesday, openly warned of inter-communal violence if the murder inquiry fails to produce rapid results.
Their anger was passed on by the local Labour MP for Ladywood, Shabana Mahmood, and the Bishop of Aston, Rt Rev Anthony Watson, who joined a meeting at Dudley Road mosque, which locals claimed was on looters’ hitlist of targets where money might be found. The victims, brothers Shazad Ali and Abdul Mussavir, 32 and 30, and Haroon Jahan, 21, were among some 80 young men who turned out after a gang tried to ransack the nearby Jet petrol station on Monday night.
The bishop warned of possible reprisals and events “potentially having an ugly race dimension”. Shortly after he spoke, a screaming and swearing African-Caribbean woman challenged a group of British Asians in a side street off Dudley Road, saying: “Your attitude is how riots start,” before a friend bundled her into a car and drove off.
Another group of British Asian men said they had seen the fatal incident, which was over in seconds but saw the victims flung into the air as a black Audi rammed into them. One, who declined to give his name, said: “Of course it was deliberate. No way was it an accident. The driver went on to the pavement and rammed them. He knew what he was doing.”
He said that four carloads of young African-Caribbeans had cruised down Dudley Road and there had been no doubt about what they were planning. He said that he had given evidence to the police.
“These were bright young guys we’ve lost,” he said. “They knew the meaning of work and got themselves decent jobs. The brothers had a carwash which was another business which might have been targeted, and Haroon worked as a mechanic in a garage.
“They were well-known round here. One of them only got married in March and his wife was expecting their first child in four months’ time.”
The bishop said that extended families were part of a very strong network in the community–he had met Haroon’s uncle and older brother–which added to the strength of feelings.
Haroon’s father Jahan joined appeals for calm, holding a photograph of his son in the doorway of his home at Winson Green. He said: “He was trying to help his community and he has been killed.
“He was a very well-liked kid. I can’t describe to anybody what it feels like to lose a son. He was the youngest of three, and anything I ever wanted done, I would always ask Haroon to sort it out for me.
“A day from now, maybe two days from now, the whole world will forget and nobody will care.”
Calling for calm and no attempt at revenge, he said: “I don’t blame the government, I don’t blame the police, I don’t blame nobody. It was his destiny and his fate, and now he’s gone.”
Long queues of friends and relatives waited outside the house to pay their respects as other family members spoke of the tragedy. Numbers increased in the early afternoon, in spite of the onset of rain which police hoped would deter a third night of violence.
Sobia Nazia, a cousin to the brothers, said: “They were brothers to everybody. They used to look out for everyone. They were heroes. I heard people describing them on Facebook as brothers to one and all.
“People who only just knew of them haven’t slept all night. It’s made a huge impact, more than we thought.”
Another mourner embraced Sobia and the victims’ younger sister who was welcoming mourners into the house, and said in Urdu: “They died martyrs.”
The sister was too upset to reply, but Sorbia said firmly: “We don’t want anything more to happen–just the culprits brought to justice. We don’t want other families to suffer. It’s the youth. They have no knowledge, they have no jobs and they are bored.”
Feelings have also been inflamed by an alleged 20-minute delay before an ambulance arrived, with other locals saying that police riot vans had got in the way. Frantic efforts to resuscitate the men failed and two died at the scene. The third died shortly afterwards at the nearby City hospital.
Other men said that they had been told by overstretched police to protect their own businesses. He said: “They were too busy looking after all the big places in the centre, chasing the mob all night rather than cracking down.”
For the second day running, British Asian businesses in areas such as Soho Road, the bazaar-like mile of shops in Handsworth, were guarded by large numbers of men.
The incident plunged England’s second city into fresh tension after a night which saw sporadic raids on shops but a much lower level of violence than on Monday night. A determined attempt by a fluid mob of some 200 looters to break into the Bull Ring centre was quickly foiled, partly thanks to fences and four privately-hired dog teams.
Over £500,000 damage was done on Monday to Emporio Armani in the Mailbox shopping centre, where security men with fire extinguishers kept looters out of Harvey Nichols.
More than 80 arrests were made on Tuesday and 19 men appeared in court in the city on Wednesday morning.