Rob Virtue, Express, January 19, 2017
Dad-of-two Lee Skinner, 38, was punched and knocked into the freezing water as he ran past five hooded youths in Acocks Green, Birmingham.
As he struggled to get out of the cold, slippery canal the thug who punched him was waiting — until the former language teacher started speaking Arabic.
The shame-faced gang, all aged around 17, then fled the scene and the attacker is now being hunted by police.
Media lecturer Lee from Olton, had needed hospital treatment for his injuries after the 3pm attack on Sunday.
He told the Birmingham Mail: “The police praised me and said my speaking in Arabic showed quick-thinking. They said my actions could have stopped the situation from being a lot worse.”
The attack took place on the canalside in Yardley Road.
Lee was jogging towards a bridge when he tried to pass the youths, who he believes were all from the Pakistani community.
He said: “There were five in total, all wearing grey and black, casual clothing, puffy coats, caps and hoods.
“The guy who punched me was rounded in the face and had neat, tidy stubble. The other four were quite slim.”
He added: “As I jogged past, the one with a rounded face punched me full force with his left hand, into my right cheek. I went up into the air and into the water.
“I sank and was completely submerged, my feet were not touching the bottom. I opened my eyes and could see brown muddy swirl around me.
“The water was so cold that I couldn’t breathe properly. All I could do was kick my feet to get to the surface.
“The one who punched me was waiting at the side of the canal with an incredible look of pleasure on his face. “He was waiting to watch me suffer or to come back so he could hit me again.”
It was at this point that bilingual Lee began to speak in Arabic.
He said: “I was able to identify them as Pakistani as I’ve worked in Muslim communities and have a detailed knowledge of Islam and speak Arabic to a certain level. I also used to teach asylum seekers for a while.
“So in that moment I said something in Arabic — a Muslim declaration of faith. As soon as I said it, a look of panic spread across their faces. I then shouted in Arabic, ‘May God forgive you’.
“At that moment they looked like a bunch of terrified schoolchildren. That’s what ended it. It would have been prolonged otherwise, I believe.
“What I said made me human to them, gave me an identity. They started seeing me as a person.”
Lee managed to pull himself from the icy waters, cutting his legs badly in the process. His mobile phone, keys and glasses were lost in the canal, along with a memory stick containing college lessons.
Incredibly, he saw four of the group up ahead as they headed into trees to hide and he followed, although the thug who attacked him had run elsewhere.
Lee said: “As they were unable to outrun me they stopped and turned to confront me, but they were met with the offer of a handshake.
“As I have a detailed understanding of Islam, I was able to talk to them about the positive aspects of Mohammed and Islam and how their actions had been completely contrary to this.
“They said they were very sorry this had happened. They then walked off and I walked home.
“I was furious at the time but I am quite proud that I had them cornered but the first thing I did was offer my hand and spoke to them about the attack from the perspective of their faith.
“The four boys admitted that the attack happened because I was white and I explained that in the current political climate, such actions could have a negative effect on the Muslim Pakistani community which they are supposed to be representing.
“They were very ashamed and embarrassed.”
As he headed home along the canal Lee spotted the man who had attacked him – and called police after approaching a dog walker for use of his mobile.
He was taken to hospital by officers who are now checking CCTV for clues and appealing for witnesses.
Lee said: “I’d got the impression that the other four were like lads, not gang-like. It was the one who punched me who really appeared to have enjoyed what he did.
“That punch also damaged my teeth, cheekbone and neck muscles. I am having to have an emergency dental appointment and I’ve got a lot of bruising along my neck and up into my eye. It’s created a lot of pain.”
Lee said he hoped the four youths he had cornered had shown sincere remorse.
He said: “They ran away too when I spoke to them in Arabic, they left a person in distress. The fact they did not have it within them to help.
“They said they were very sorry they did this. One in particular, I could tell he was very sincere when he said it, he was very upset.
“I hope that by acting with forgiveness, I have had a positive impact on the boys.”
A spokesman for West Midlands Police said: “Police were called to the Grand Union Canal in Acocks Green just after 3pm on Sunday 15 January where a jogger was punched by a youth as he ran past him on the tow-path.
“The man fell in the canal and was prevented from getting out by his assailant. He swam to the other side where he was able to get out and seek help from a passerby.
“Officers arrived within minutes and the man was later treated for bruising to his face. Officers searched the area and have trawled CCTV but the offender has not been traced.
“Anyone with information should call police on 101.”
Birmingham canals have seen a series of attacks and muggings in recent years.
In October 2015 we told how a children’s eye doctor was beaten up by muggers targeting cyclists on canal towpaths.
John Ainsworth, 56, was cycling along the Ackers Trust basin when he was set upon by thugs who tried to push him into the water to steal his bike.
The attack came days after a female cyclist was attacked in the same area. She needed hospital treatment after injuring her arm when she was pushed into the water.