Kamil Ahmad: Discrimination led to murder of disabled refugee, say friends

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Friends of a disabled Kurdish asylum-seeker have spoken of the institutionalised discrimination that they believe led to his murder at the hands of a racist neighbour.

Kamil Ahmad wanted nothing more than a safe place that he could call home, after seeking asylum in the UK.

He came to England from Iraq in 2011, where he had been bullied and abused as a child and tortured in an Iraqi prison after refusing to serve in the army in the late 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war.

But he was refused asylum when he came to the UK, despite his high support needs.

After being left destitute, he was given a room in a hostel run by the charity Bristol Hospitality Network (BHN), which is funded by the local community.

But his mental health support needs became so severe that the charity told Bristol City Council that he needed more support than it could provide.

Rachael Bee, manager of BHN, said: “Most people who are destitute asylum-seekers have no right to any public support at all.

“But those who have significant additional needs do, so you need to prove significant additional needs, so social services had to assess him and see if he met their criteria for support.”

The charity eventually persuaded the council to move him to supported living accommodation run by the charity Milestones Trust in Wells Road, in the Knowle area of Bristol.

Bee said: “It was for the best really that he moved to more appropriate accommodation. It is just really upsetting that they were not able to protect him.

“He was within a mental health supported accommodation unit so one would expect issues around mental health to be understood by the staff and managed and for him to be able to be safe. That was our expectation when he moved on.”

She said it was “totally devastating” when they heard what happened to him at Wells Road.

Ahmad’s friend and interpreter, Adil Jaifar, told Disability News Service (DNS): “His needs were really basic. He never exaggerated.

“What he needed was a safe place, a clean, tiny place. Safety really, that’s what he wanted.”

He loved his room, but was tormented by the continual harassment, racist abuse and even violence he suffered at the hands of another resident of the house in Wells Road, Jeffrey Barry.

The abuse started soon after he moved in. They argued, and Barry went to his room and beat him up.

Jaifar said: “He mentioned this problem on a weekly basis. He was really scared, troubled by it.

“The problems with this man, it really troubled him and he was scared and he was worried.”

Ahmad was so scared that he bought himself a small paper knife to defend himself, and told staff in Wells Road that that was what he had done.

“He told people in the house that he was scared that one night this man would come to attack him… and he was right,” said Jaifar. “He was scared that this man would beat him up or come to kill him.”

Ahmad was first assaulted by Barry in October and December 2013, soon after moving to Wells Road.

Jaifar says that over the next three years Ahmad would repeatedly tell local police how Barry was threatening him, and how he would wait by the front door for him to return so he could shout racist abuse at him.

Jaifar said: “He said once: ‘He is a big man and I am a tiny man, he can hurt me.’

“On a weekly basis he was talking about this. It became too much. He wasn’t exaggerating, he was just so frightened about it.”

Avon and Somerset police has told DNS that Ahmad lodged just four criminal complaints about Barry over the three years that he lived in Wells Road.

But Jaifar, who is Kurdish himself and has supported refugees in the UK for more than 25 years, said that Ahmad said he reported many threats to the police.

He said: “For a while (in 2016) he used to go nearly every week. Police officers went to see him regularly, maybe twice a month at least.

“Always he trusted the police. Anytime he had a problem, he said, ‘I am going to the police.’”

But despite the repeated complaints about Barry, no action was taken.

On 5 April 2016, Ahmad reported to police that Barry had blocked his path and searched him, although he was not hurt.

It is unclear exactly what happened with the complaint, although a police spokesman told DNS yesterday (Wednesday) that there had been a “misunderstanding” over whether Ahmad wanted to take the matter any further.

At one stage, a local police officer arranged to visit Ahmad and Jaifar in Wells Road, but failed to turn up to the appointment.

As a result of the “misunderstanding”, officers involved were given “words of advice”, said the spokesman, and the police “again made contact with Mr Ahmad who at that stage confirmed he did not want to pursue a criminal complaint”.

But Jaifar insists that Ahmad wanted charges to be brought.

He said: “Kamil was categorical and he said, ‘I don’t want any warning anymore because this man will not change.

“’I want to bring the matter to a court. It’s useless to speak or warn Jeff anymore.’”

Meanwhile, Bristol City Council’s social services department was attempting to have Ahmad evicted from his home, by arguing that his needs were not high enough to qualify for support.

Ahmad was told: “You have a community, they can support you. We cannot carry on supporting you because you don’t need our support.”

But Jaifar said that there were psychiatric reports that proved his need for mental health support, and that his friend was seeing a counsellor on a weekly basis.

He said: “I told them, ‘Why don’t you just say, ‘We cannot support you because you are an asylum-seeker?’’”

If they had succeeded in evicting him, he would have been left destitute and street homeless.

Jaifar found his friend a solicitor from Avon and Somerset Law Centre, who lodged an appeal against the eviction.

The eviction had been due to take place on 7 July, the day Ahmad was stabbed to death in his room by Jeffrey Barry, but because of the appeal against the eviction his stay in Wells Road had been extended temporarily.

Ahmad had returned to his room on 6 July after spending the evening with his cousin. He insisted to his cousin that he would be safe in Wells Road.

He knew that Barry had recently been detained in a psychiatric hospital after being sectioned under the Mental Health Act, following displays of disturbing behaviour which included threatening to kill him, and others.

But the Mental Health Tribunal had ordered that Barry should be released, and he had returned to Wells Road after a heavy night’s drinking.

The court heard that Barry had stopped taking the medication that was controlling his aggression, which the tribunal had been unaware of.

Ahmad had no idea that he had been released, and neither did the police, while Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust had apparently failed to put in place a plan to support and monitor Barry after his release, even though the decision to release him had been taken several days earlier.

In the early hours of 7 July, Barry knocked on Ahmad’s door. He entered the room and the door closed behind him. Three-quarters of an hour later, CCTV footage shows him leaving the room covered in blood.

An hour before he entered Ahmad’s room, Barry had phoned a mental health helpline to say that he was not in control of his actions and wanted to punch someone.

The police were told about the call, but only a few minutes before Barry phoned 999 to confess to murdering Ahmad.

The next day, Jaifar received a phone call telling him that his friend had been murdered.

Minutes after hanging up the phone, still in shock, he received another call, this time from social services, saying they had reconsidered the decision to evict Kamil Ahmad.

Jaifar said he “felt it was a strange coincidence that I immediately received a phone call from the social services”.

Barry, 56, was convicted of murder this week, following a trial at Bristol Crown Court. He had denied murder but admitted manslaughter by diminished responsibility. He will be sentenced next month.

Bristol Safeguarding Adults Board has commissioned a safeguarding adults review, while the city council has promised to “respond to any issues raised by the review”.

A council spokeswoman said in a statement: “Unfortunately we cannot completely remove risk to the most vulnerable members of our society, but we are committed to protecting them whilst helping maintain their independence and we are continually improving practices wherever necessary to help prevent tragic incidents like this from happening.

“We do not wait for recommendations from reviews to make changes to help us do all we can to keep people safe.”

The council has refused to answer questions about the case.

Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust said it had “reviewed and strengthened our ways of working with other service providers, including the police, to improve our sharing of clinical and additional relevant information”, but also refused to answer any questions.

Milestones Trust, the charity which runs the supported living accommodation where Kamil Ahmad and Barry lived, said it was carrying out an internal review, and also refused to answer any questions.

Adil Jaifar remembers Kamil Ahmad as a funny, quiet and generous man.

All he needed was “safety and comfort”, he said. “He was a very proud man. Very funny and extremely generous.”

Rachael Bee, from BHN, said: “He was such a lovely man, he really was. Very generous and sweet.

“Quite small, he wasn’t very big or tall. He was just a very sweet, gentle, middle-aged man. He was making a life, and then it was cut short.”

She said that most asylum-seekers whose appeals are exhausted are not returned to their country of origin but are forced instead into destitution in the UK.

“I think the government believes that they will be able to encourage people to leave voluntarily by that method, but that doesn’t normally happen because those that are still here are normally from countries like Kamil was, where the routes to return don’t exist properly,” she said.

“He wasn’t in a position to return, he couldn’t have gone back to Iraq, so he was forced into destitution for as long as it took him to make a fresh claim for asylum.”

His mental health condition made that even more difficult for him, she said.

Rebecca Yeo worked with Ahmad on a UK Disabled People’s Council project to create a series of murals that showed the experiences of different groups of disabled people, one of which focused on disabled asylum-seekers and was installed in a subway in the centre of Bristol.

He joined Yeo as part of a small group that visited parliament to present the murals project to peers and MPs in 2013.

Kamil can be seen in a short film about the mural, and at the opening of the Bristol mural he said: “[In Iraq] people smashed my head by stones, they laughed at me.

“In this country they don’t hit you… but they do mentally.

“Is it the human right if somebody is a disabled person to be treated in this way?”

The mural shows Ahmad with his head in his hands (pictured). But he also drew a picture for the murals project that showed himself being stabbed, which was what he believed the Home Office was doing to him.

In a eulogy written for Bristol Disability Equality Forum’s newsletter last year, after Ahmad’s death, Rebecca Yeo and Adil Jaifar said: “Kamil had a strong sense of justice, objected to any wrongdoings, and highly valued every individual’s need for respect and dignity.  

“He was well-known in his own community for his soft speaking manner and his witty sense of humour.”

Yeo said this week: “Like so many asylum-seekers, his application had been refused.”

She said his mental health conditions – post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder –  made it difficult for him to provide the necessary details from his past experience.

“The suffering he had been through was not enough to persuade the Home Office that he deserved sanctuary.

“Being disabled and an asylum-seeker and having your application refused are not just labels. As Kamil put it: ‘Everywhere is closed for me.’

“Kamil was failed in getting the support he needed. He was threatened with street homelessness. He had years of being abused and didn’t get the help he needed.

“The police didn’t take him seriously and social services tried to evict him rather than giving him the support he needed.”

Jaifar believes there are stark and worrying similarities with the case of Bijan Ebrahimi, another disabled refugee who was brutally murdered after repeatedly asking the authorities to protect him.

Ebrahimi had made 73 phone calls reporting crimes such as racial abuse, criminal damage and death threats, but police failed to record a crime on at least 40 of those occasions.

The street where Ebrahimi lived – before he was beaten to death by Lee James, who then set his body on fire – is just a mile or so from the house where Kamil Ahmad was stabbed to death and then mutilated, again after repeatedly asking the authorities for protection and support.

The council has told DNS that it recognises “cosmetic similarities” with the death of Bijan Ebrahimi, but a spokeswoman said that it was “vital in terms of challenging and improving our processes that all of the issues are carefully, methodically and independently examined”, and so she said the council would not be able to comment in depth until the reviews into the two deaths were completed.

Kamil’s brother, Kamaran Ahmad Ali, who lives in Derby, said he wanted to know why Kamil had not been protected, and why he had been failed by mental health services and the police.

He told DNS: “That should not happen. They should have protected him. They should have looked after him.

“When they sectioned him, he threatened to kill [Kamil] and they didn’t do anything about it.

“I want to get to the bottom of it and find out why it happened and how it happened.”

Jaifar said: “In Bijan’s case, he raised the alarm several times and he wasn’t listened to until this terrible thing happened, and the same with Kamil. It’s the same.

“In the world we are living in, many people suffer in the hands of incompetent people who are in very important places in society.”

Asylum-seekers are treated with “total disrespect”, he said. “You are vulnerable and you don’t have any power.

“The majority of asylum-seekers, they are viewed as criminals.

“If the system treats you as a criminal, what can you expect from the rest of society, and that is what is happening.

“I am working with thousands of destitute asylum-seekers. They have a lot to give, humanly and professionally, and it is all wasted [because they are not allowed to work]and so they live in stress and depression.”