The conviction of two police employees for misconduct in the lead-up to the murder of a disabled man who had begged officers for protection from his killer proves the need to take disability hate crime more seriously, say campaigners.
Avon and Somerset police constable Kevin Duffy and community support officer Andrew Passmore were convicted at Bristol Crown Court this week of misconduct in public office, while two police officers, Helen Harris and Leanne Winter, were acquitted of the same charges.
The offences related to how Duffy and Passmore dealt with Bijan Ebrahimi in the hours and days before his murder in 2013.
He had repeatedly begged police to take action after being threatened by his neighbour, 24-year-old Lee James.
James claimed Ebrahimi was filming his daughters because he was a paedophile, when he was actually compiling evidence of anti-social behaviour by youngsters he thought had been vandalising his prized hanging baskets.
Ebrahimi was beaten and kicked unconscious and then set alight by James, who lived just a few doors away in Capgrave Crescent, Brislington, on the edge of Bristol.
James pleaded guilty to murder in 2013 and was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years in prison.
Steven Norley, who helped him set light to Ebrahimi’s body, was jailed for four years after pleading guilty to assisting an offender.
Duffy, Passmore, Harris and Winter, and 14 other employees of Avon and Somerset police, now face internal disciplinary proceedings, nine of them for misconduct and nine for gross misconduct.
Once those hearings are completed, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) will publish two reports, one covering the events that took place in the weekend before the murder in July 2013, and another examining “dozens” of contacts Ebrahimi had with the force over the preceding six years.
It is believed that Ebrahimi, who was Iranian, had been subjected to a campaign of race- and disability-related harassment which forced him to move from his previous home.
Campaigners have previously drawn comparisons between the case and the kind of multi-agency failings that led to the deaths of some of the most high-profile disability hate crime victims of recent years, such as Francecca Pilkington, David Askew and Steven Hoskin.
Colin Gibbs, specialist prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Kevin Duffy ignored repeated requests for help from Bijan Ebrahimi, who was in fear of his life.
“He clearly didn’t like Bijan Ebrahimi and treated him as a liar and a nuisance. He refused to speak to him, including repeatedly ignoring his phone calls for help when he felt unsafe in his own home.
“Kevin Duffy was aware of the dangerous situation Bijan Ebrahimi was in and knew of the threat from the man who later went on to callously murder him.
“Kevin Duffy failed in his basic public duty. He had an opportunity to try and stop this vigilantism before it escalated.”
He added: “Andrew Passmore was found guilty of lying in a witness statement, claiming he had carried out a foot patrol in the area around Bijan Ebrahimi’s home for up to an hour.
“We hope today’s convictions will be of some small comfort to Bijan Ebrahimi’s family.”
Duffy and Passmore will be sentenced next year.
Louise Wolfe, a temporary deputy chief constable with Avon and Somerset police, praised Ebrahimi’s family for enduring their loss with “great dignity and courage”.
She said: “This tragedy should never have happened.
“A great deal has been done to understand and reflect on the events in the weeks leading up to Mr Ebrahimi’s death.
“We have changed and improved the way we work and will continue to work with our partners to do everything in our power to prevent such a dreadful event happening again.
“We had to wait until the end of the criminal trial before any misconduct proceedings could begin.
“A large amount of preliminary work has already been undertaken in the interim period to plan as far as possible but now the trial is concluded, we are keen to instigate the disciplinary proceedings at the earliest opportunity and are in discussions with the IPCC to establish a date for them to begin.
“These hearings will examine in more detail the events surrounding Mr Ebrahimi’s murder.”
The convictions of Duffy and Passmore come as London’s Metropolitan police is set to launch a new initiative aimed at ensuring that it treats reports by disabled people of harassment or hostility as disability hate crime, rather than anti-social behaviour.
The DHC Matters scheme is the result of the work of disabled activist Anne Novis, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, and the independent chair of the Metropolitan police’s disability hate crime working group.
Novis said she would use the events surrounding the “awful” death of Bijan Ebrahimi as a case study in training provided through the DHC Matters scheme.
But she said news reports of the latest convictions were already undermining efforts to persuade disabled people to report disability hate crime to the police.
Novis said: “This is echoing the message that advisers and campaigners have been saying for many, many years about the lack of adequate police response, treating disability hate crime as anti-social behaviour.”
She said national policies on disability hate crime still needed to be put into practice “on the ground”, and she blamed a lack of training by police forces.
Novis added: “I hope we will see an increase in recorded cases [in London] across the coming year due to this initiative and all officers becoming more knowledgeable about disability hate crime. My hope is also that it will influence national practice.”
Training will begin in the new year, when the initiative will be launched formally.
Picture: When Ebrahimi asked the police for help to protect him from James, he was arrested himself. He is pictured talking to a police officer after his arrest