A 21-year-old Preston man has been sentenced to eight years in jail for the killing of Shezan Umarji in July 2006.
Liam McKerney was found guilty of manslaughter at Preston Crown Court in a majority verdict and two other men – his brother Kieran and friend Lee Moore – were cleared of murder and manslaughter.
The death of student and building society employee Shezan Umarji took place on the Callon estate – known as the ‘most troubled corner’ of a city the Sunday Telegraph described as witnessing the highest number of racist incidents in England. Originally the case was treated by the police as racially motivated – racist epithets were heard during the attack. But despite the prosecution alleging that race was a factor in the case, Recorder of Preston, Judge Anthony Russell, QC, stressed that though the words ‘Pakistani b******s’ were used ‘this city does not suffer from racial disharmony’. The offence, he said, was not racially motivated.
Shezan was kicked in the head and stabbed thirteen times in what was described as a brawl between dozens of Asian and White men. He lay limp in a pool of blood on the street (after his jugular vein had been severed and he was stabbed in the heart) as ‘everyone was standing around him still screaming, crying and fighting’ according to a woman witness. He was later pronounced dead at the Royal Preston Hospital on 22 July.
The attack on Shezan followed an argument on the estate. Lee Moore was riding a mini-motorbike around the streets after midnight and was told to stop by the deceased as it was disrespectful to Kevin Bruney who had died earlier that evening in a motorcycle crash. Shezan and a friend, both of whom had probably been drinking as had the defendants, armed with a wooden bat and bottle, allegedly attacked Moore and then chased all of the defendants to the McKerney home, where they kicked open the door, and allegedly beat the McKerney brothers’ father and pushed Moore’s pregnant girlfriend.
It emerged at the trial that McKerney had taken one or more knives from the family home and, with others, chased Shezan and his friend Mohammed Begg, who was able to escape. Shezan was cornered and fatally attacked. News spread about the attack and other Asians and Whites came out on the street. A full-scale fight then took place, involving some forty young people, many wielding knives. Police who searched the area later found weapons hidden in bushes and dumped in bins.
Thousands of local people from all faiths attended the funeral service held for Shezan. Detective Chief Superintendent Gardner said it had been an extremely traumatic eighteen months for the Umarji family, who had supported the police throughout the investigation. ‘They have conducted themselves with great dignity and my sympathies remain with them. Investigating serious crimes which occur outside at night and amidst other fast moving events are notoriously difficult to prosecute, Witnesses see different things at different times and often only a snapshot of the whole event. This can sometimes lead to a confusing picture for juries to decipher.’ The judge, too acknowledged the dignity of the family throughout the trial and remarked on difficulties for reluctant and confused witnesses.