In what has effectively become a test case for the sentencing of hundreds of Asians charged with participating in the Bradford riot of July 2001, the Court of Appeal has ruled that four individuals were given excessive sentences but a further eleven did deserve terms of between four and six-and-a-half years.
During a two-day hearing, Michael Mansfield QC highlighted the ‘matrix of fear’ which the Asian community was under, a factor explicitly ignored by the original judgment. But Lord Justice Rose, sitting with two other appeal judges, did not make any direct criticism of Judge Gullick, the Recorder of Bradford, who passed most of the original sentences.
Rose did, however, describe as ‘unfortunate’ Gullick’s statement that he was ‘not concerned with the origins of the violence’. If, by that, Gullick meant that the causes of the riot were irrelevent to the court, then he was wrong, said Rose. The Court of Appeal ruled that the riot was almost certainly triggered by the stabbing of an Asian man in central Bradford and that ‘the Asian community was understandably concerned to defend itself against right-wing groups’.
But, Rose added, as events unfolded, what had begun as a spontaneous reaction became marked by pre-meditation. The riot then became directed at the police who were trying to move Asians out of central Bradford into the Manningham area, the heart of Bradford’s Pakistani community. Rose condemned the ‘defiance of the young’ which, he said, resisted the peacemaking efforts of Asian elders.
Wives, mothers and sisters of those serving sentences were left in tears and said they were devastated by the verdict. They had organised a campaigning group – Fair Justice For All – to demand proportionate sentencing. High-profile supporters, such as actor Art Malik and musician Aki Nawaz, had offered their support and Imran Khan became their solicitor. Lord Ouseley, who had produced a widely respected report on the racial problems faced by Bradford, also warned that the long sentences would do little to help heal the city’s wounds. The campaigners accepted that custodial sentences were appropriate but drew attention to the much lower sentences given to white youths who rioted on the Ravenscliffe Estate, one day after the Manningham riot. Last year, David Blunkett denounced the Fair Justic For All campaigners as ‘maniacs’ who were ‘whining’ about the sentences.
More than a hundred Asians have now been convicted of riot for involvement in the Bradford disturbances. The majority have handed themselves in to the police, pleaded guilty and had no relevant previous convictions. Most have been sentenced to between four and six-and-a-half years. Under 18s have been given between six and eighteen months detention.
The guidelines laid down by the Court of Appeal this week indicate that, given the particular circumstances of this riot, somebody present for a short period who threw stones at the police, should expect a sentence of five years (before any discount for a guilty plea). Someone whom a court finds to be a ringleader should expect a sentence of ten years (before any discount).
Normally the courts would reduce the sentence by a third if the defendant offered a guilty plea. But the Appeal Court judges ruled that a discount of less than a third should apply in cases such as these, where the evidence against the defendants was overwhelming. Evidence collected from CCTV footage has proved pivotal in all the trials of Bradford rioters.
On the basis of these guidelines, four of the defendants were entitled to have their sentences reduced because of individual factors, rather than any general concession. Shakeel Qazi’s sentence was reduced from four years to two years, in recognition of his diminished responsibility – Shakeel, 22, suffers from bipolar affective disorder. Shazad Ali, 22, had his sentence reduced from four years to three, because of his short involvement and his having a place at university. Parvais Najeeb, 28, had his sentence cut from four years to three and Mohammed Maskin, 27, had his cut from two years and nine months to two years.
Imran Khan said that the Court of Appeal verdict meant that ‘the context in which the riots took place should have been taken into account and we hope that those who have yet to be sentenced in relation to the riots will be appropriately dealt with’. Around another twenty people, charged with involvement in the Bradford riot and also being represented by Imran Khan, are still awaiting trial.
Because almost all the defendants have so far pleaded guilty, many issues regarding the events of 7 and 8 July 2001 have yet to emerge in a courtroom to be tested in front of a jury. In particular, campaigners believe that the issue of police tactics has not been fully examined. In October 2002, a jury acquitted a group of Asian men of a charge of violent disorder, on the basis that, during the riot in Burnley in June 2001, they were legitimately carrying weapons and acting in self-defence because of the failure of the police to adequately protect them from white racists.