Bijan Ebrahimi was kicked unconscious and then set alight by 24-year-old Lee James, who lived just a few doors away from his victim in Capgrave Crescent, Brislington, on the edge of Bristol.
Ebrahimi, who was Iranian, had been the victim of false rumours that he was a paedophile, while it also appears that he had been subjected to a campaign of harassment, seemingly disability-related, which forced him to move from his previous home.
Avon and Somerset police have suggested that Ebrahimi was failed by some of the local agencies – including the police – that he had been in touch with in the months leading up to his death.
Horrified campaigners this week said they feared the same kind of multi-agency failings that led to the deaths of some of the most high-profile disability hate crime victims, such as Francecca Pilkington, David Askew and Steven Hoskin.
They also noted similarities with some of the brutal circumstances surrounding the deaths of other hate crime victims.
Katharine Quarmby, author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime, said there were similarities with the deaths of Hoskin, Raymond Atherton, Keith Philpott, Sean Miles and Barrie-John Horrell.
All of them were wrongly labelled as paedophiles by their killers, who subjected them to vicious beatings before killing them.
Quarmby said: “This has happened to too many disabled people. When is it going to stop?”
Anne Novis, an adviser on hate crime to the Metropolitan police, and another leading campaigner on disability hate crime, said she was concerned that instances of so-called “anti-social behaviour” apparently experienced by Ebrahimi in the months leading up to his death were not classed as hate crime.
She said: “It is this focus on anti-social behaviour rather than treating it as hate crime that has concerned me over the last couple of years.
“We know from research and lots of reports that low-level abuse and harassment can lead to far worse hate crimes and murder.”
Novis added: “This and other cases this year reveal how poorly the police across the UK are responding to this issue of disability hate crime.
“No matter the high-level strategic policies, if officers are not trained specifically to recognise disability hate crime they will always let us down.”
Bristol Crown Court had heard how Ebrahimi was kicked unconscious by James, who then dragged him outside with the help of his friend Stephen Norley, before pouring white spirit over him and setting light to him. Paramedics arrived at the scene to find Ebrahimi still in flames.
The court heard that false rumours that he was a paedophile had seen Ebrahimi being harassed by a local mob outside the council flat where he lived alone with his cat.
The court was told the rumours started because Ebrahimi, who is believed to have had learning difficulties and a physical impairment, had been taking pictures of youngsters who he thought had been vandalising his prized hanging baskets.
Police arrested Ebrahimi on 11 July after neighbours complained about him taking the photographs.
Officers had arrived to find a crowd outside Ebrahimi’s flat, with many of them calling him a paedophile. The crowd reportedly cheered when he was arrested and taken away to be questioned.
He was released early on 12 July after he was questioned and police found no material of any concern on his computer. Two days later, in the early hours of 14 July, he was murdered.
Nick Gargan, chief constable of Avon and Somerset police, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “Clearly there was a collective failing across the community and statutory agencies, the precise nature of which hasn’t been established.”
He said Ebrahimi’s murder was an “abhorrent and exceptional act”, and added: “Who can say why he was being picked on and victimised, but… he was different and when people are different and are at risk as a consequence of being different it is the responsibility of statutory agencies and the broader community to protect them, not persecute them.”
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating the way the case was handled by Avon and Somerset police.
Six police officers have been served with notices of gross misconduct in connection with the events of 11, 12 and 13 July, and three of them have been suspended. Six call handlers will also be interviewed.
But the IPCC told Disability News Service that it was also investigating “past contact” between the force and Ebrahimi, and “whether it was dealt with appropriately or not”.
An IPCC spokesman said: “It may well be that it was around him changing address and whatever happened to make him move in the way he did.
“It may turn out to be that all his prior contact with police was done properly. It may turn out that – as with Fiona Pilkington [who killed herself and her daughter Francecca after a sustained campaign of disability hate crime aimed at her family]– it wasn’t. But we need to go through it and evidence it.”
Reports suggest that Ebrahimi may have made complaints that he was being harassed to both the council and the police, and that he may have been moved from his previous council home because of problems with his neighbours.
The council has now launched a serious case review into its contacts with Ebrahimi, with a report expected before Christmas.
A council spokesman said the “likelihood” was that the review would be published.
George Ferguson, mayor of Bristol, said in a statement: “My experience of Bristol is a place which is friendly, tolerant and not quick to leap to judgement.
“The acts of these men and the few people who saw fit to spread rumours and scaremonger are disgusting and disgraceful. I hope people understand that this small minority do not represent our city or its attitudes.”
James admitted a charge of murder, while Norley, 24, admitted assisting an offender. Both will be sentenced next month.
31 October 2013