Doubts over police watchdog’s probe into ‘hate crime’ murder


newslatestDoubts have been raised over the ability of the police complaints watchdog to carry out a proper investigation into the circumstances surrounding the brutal murder of a disabled man.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has so far refused to say whether it is treating the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi last summer as a disability hate crime.

This week, it also declined to say – because of the ongoing investigation – whether it accepted that Ebrahimi was a disabled person, or even confirm that it understood why this could be an important factor.

Campaigners believe the murder had striking similarities with some of the most shocking disability hate crime killings of recent years, and were appalled that neither Avon and Somerset police nor the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) treated it as a hate crime.

If they had done so, CPS could have asked the judge to impose far stricter sentences.

IPCC announced this week that it was widening its investigation into the force’s behaviour sooner than expected. It is now looking at how police treated Ebrahimi over a number of years, as well as the behaviour of individual officers in the run-up to his murder in July 2013.

But Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he had no confidence that IPCC would examine whether the murder should have been treated as a disability hate crime.

He said: “Simply, I don’t think they are looking for that. I have about as much confidence in the IPCC as I have in the Press Complaints Commission.”

Brookes said there were clear similarities with the deaths of the disabled teenager Francecca Pilkington and her mother Fiona – one of the most notorious cases involving disability hate crime – including apparent multi-agency failures in Bristol.

An IPCC spokeswoman said: “We continue to gather and evaluate evidence as part of the investigation and it is too early to reach any judgements.

“We have a considerable number of historic contacts with the police going back several years to investigate, as well as the events in the days leading up to his murder.”

She added: “It is too early to say whether any direct parallels can be drawn from this investigation with that into the deaths of Fiona and Francecca Pilkington, which the IPCC also independently investigated.”

Bijan Ebrahimi was beaten and kicked to death, and his body then set alight, by 24-year-old Lee James, who lived just a few doors away in Capgrave Crescent, Brislington, on the edge of Bristol.

Ebrahimi, who had both physical impairments and a mental health condition, had apparently complained repeatedly to police about being attacked on account of his race – and probably also because he was disabled – since at least 2006.

James pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison, but was given a minimum sentence of just 18 years. Steven Norley, his accomplice, was jailed for four years after pleading guilty to assisting an offender.

As well as conducting house-to-house enquiries in Capgrave Crescent, taking witness statements from the public and police officers, and transcribing calls made by Ebrahimi, IPCC is also looking at documents on housing and anti-social behaviour held by local agencies such as Bristol City Council.

The IPCC spokeswoman said: “Mr Ebrahimi has been described as vulnerable and his family has publicly described his murder as a hate crime.

“We will be taking into account force and national policies on hate crime, dealing with vulnerable people, and on anti-social behaviour. In the course of the investigation we will be gaining statements from Mr Ebrahimi’s family.”

Bristol City Council has also launched a serious case review, with a report expected early this year.

23 January 2014