Research by the Institute of Race Relations shows that since the beginning of 1999, at least thirty-five murders with a racial element were committed in England, Wales and Scotland. This figure, when compared with the four years 1994 – 1998, when thirteen murders with a racial element were committed, shows an alarming rise. For, the rate of such murders has more than doubled.
One of the groups most at risk to serious racial violence is asylum seekers. Between 1999 and 2003, at least seven were murdered in unprovoked attacks. In 2001 alone, three asylum seekers were murdered – Gian Singh Nagra, Fetah Marku and Firsat Dag – all of whom were the victims of vicious racist attacks.
And victims appear to be becoming younger. As recently as last week, two 16-year-old boys were found guilty of the manslaughter of 15-year-old Johnny Delaney. His family believe that Johnny was targeted because of his background – he came from an Irish Traveller family. Johnny was kicked to death, in May 2003, by two boys, who were part of a five-strong gang, that racially abused and then attacked Johnny and his friends as they played. The police treated the murder as racially motivated but the Judge, Mr Justice Richards, said that he did not believe race was a factor. At the trial, the 16-year olds, one of whom was an amateur boxer, admitted stamping on Johnny’s head after he fell over attempting to run away from them. The other admitted kicking Johnny as he lay on the ground. Another witness, who tried to stop the attack, was told by one of the boys ‘He deserves it. He’s a f***ing Gypsy.’
The Macpherson Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which reported in February 1999, made recommendations about the investigation and prosecution of racially motivated crime. But it appears that its recommendations have been unevenly applied. In some investigations, the police have been open to considering the possibility of racial motivation, whereas in others they appear not to be. For example the Metropolitan Police rightly described the murder of Shiblu Rahman (2001) as ‘purely racial’. On the other hand, it initially discounted the suspicious death of Shaun Rodney (2001) as suicide.
In addition, problems often arise when cases come to court – sometimes the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) appears to underplay the possibility of racial motivation, sometimes the judges do. For example, judges rejected racial motivation in the murders of Jan Pasalbessi (2000), Glynne Agard (2000) and Johnny Delaney (2003). In the case of Abdi Dorre (2000) the CPS was lobbied by the family and lawyers before any charges at all were brought. Investigation and prosecution of racially motivated murders appear, despite the Macpherson recommendations, often to be found wanting.
While figures on racial violence generally have shown an increase over the last few years, the police have often claimed that this was due to greater confidence in reporting of incidents, rather than a reflection of a real increase in attacks. However, no such claim could be made for the numbers of racial murders published here, as – unlike racial violence generally – suspicious deaths are always officially recorded.
The IRR has been researching racial violence deaths since 1970. In this period, we have recorded 125 cases of killings in England, Scotland and Wales involving a racial motivation.