Government dismisses Bristol hate crime sentence calls


newslatestThe attorney general has dismissed calls from hate crime campaigners to ask the courts to increase the sentence handed to the killer who carried out the horrific murder of a disabled man last summer.

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.

But although James pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison, he 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.

In the wake of the sentencing, the Disability Hate Crime Network (DHCN) wrote to the Conservative attorney general, Dominic Grieve.

Campaigners from the network said the murder had 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) had treated the murder as a hate crime.

If they had done so, CPS could have asked the judge to impose a far stricter sentence on James, under new hate crime laws introduced in 2012, and increase Norley’s sentence.

But the attorney general has now decided not to refer the sentences to the court of appeal as possibly being unduly lenient.

Stephen Brookes, a DHCN coordinator, said he and his colleagues were “deeply disappointed” by this decision.

He said the case again highlighted the “vast and dangerous regional inconsistencies” in the recognition by police and CPS of disability-related motivation for crimes.

Brookes said: “The work which has been undertaken by the CPS and the Association of Chief Police Officers in challenging hate crime is clearly not being applied equally and therefore there is a need for better and closer working between senior officers and CPS at regional and national level.

“It is all very well creating policies, but they must be universally accepted and implemented to have any meaning.”

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said CPS had claimed there was no evidence that James and Norley were motivated by hostility towards Ebrahimi’s race or disability.

He said the sentences had not been referred to the court of appeal because the attorney general did not think the court would increase them.

He said: “A sentence will only be unduly lenient if it falls significantly below the sentence that any judge could reasonably have imposed. That is a very high threshold.

“Even then, the court of appeal has a wide discretion as to whether it should actually increase a sentence in a case.”

He added: “The attorney took all matters into consideration including, as he always does, the impact on the victim’s family.

“The attorney has written to Mr Ebrahimi’s family explaining his decision and continues to offer them his deepest sympathy for this tragic case.”

Last month, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) marked one year since the introduction of the new disability hate crime sentencing laws, which mean that murderers who target their victims because of their impairments should serve at least 30 years in prison.

But MoJ has so far been unable to point to a single example of the new law being used to increase sentences.

Meanwhile, inquiries commissioned by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Bristol City Council in the wake of the Ebrahimi murder continue.

1 January 2014