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DHCN Statement on Bijan Ebrahimi Case

29 November 2013

The Disability Hate Crime Network responds to the totally inappropriate sentences handed to Lee James and Steven Norley for the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi. 

Dear Mr Grieve, 

As co-ordinators of the Disability Hate Crime Network we would like the Attorney General to review the sentences handed down today to Lee James and Steven Norley in the case of Bijan Ebrahimi, a disabled Iranian man who was falsely accused of paedophila by a mob, and then burnt to death two days later in July 2013. 

James pleaded guilty to murder and was given a sentence of 18 years. Norley pleaded guilty to assisting an offender and was given four years. 

It is not thought that the police or the Crown Prosecution Service had asked the judge to enhance the sentence because of disability hostility, which would have meant that the judge could enhance Norley's sentence under sec 146 of the CJA 2005 and James's sentence under LASPO 2013 (the first of its kind). At any rate, the sentences are perceived by disabled people and other affected groups to be extremely low, given the overwhelming violence and sadism in the murder. 

The reason we believe that increasing the sentences is critically important is that Mr Ebrahimi was falsely accused of paedophilia, as have been a number of other disabled murder victims, a trend first highlighted by Katharine Quarmby in her book Scapegoat (2011) and then further identified and stressed in Hidden in Plain Sight, a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in 2011. 

The report stated of the false accusation of paedophilia against disabled people that police should "recognise the high level of risk faced by disabled people who have been labelled as 'paedophiles'. This was not done byAvonand Somerset Police - if it had been done Mr Ebrahimi would not have been returned to his flat after being threatened by a mob chanting 'paedophile'. The report further stated that this false accusation was 'used as a term for targeting a disabled person, sometimes with extreme violence', as happened in the Ebrahimi case and in at least seven other prominent cases identified by Quarmby and the EHRC. As this is, therefore, a recognised form of disability hate crime we call on the Attorney General to consider enhancing these sentences as hate crimes. This would mean that the murder would be the first one to reach the 30 year starting point under LASPO for a murder motivated by hostility towards a victim's disability. (The Disability Hate Crime Network worked with Paul Maynard MP and Kate Green MP, the Shadow Disability Minister, to help effect this reform.)

We hope that the Attorney General will urgently review these lamentably light sentences in the light of this evidence.

Yours faithfully,

Co-ordinators, the Disability Hate Crime Network

 

Further information on the case, including a statement from the Disability Hate Crime Network before the sentencing is below:

The Disability Hate Crime Network will be watching the outcome of sentencing in the case of the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi brutally beaten and set on fire after evil rumours spread after Ebrahimi was taken into custody after police were informed by a neighbour that he had been taking photographs of children from his kitchen window. These were to obtain evidence of children damaging his property.

When officers arrived to take him away, the 44-year-old Iranian, had to endure chants of “paedo” from residents on the estate in Bristol.

Despite the hostile environment on the estate, the officers returned Mr Ebrahimi, whose acute back problem meant he was registered disabled and was not able to work, back to his house.

As we know, two days later, a neighbour, Lee James, 24, attacked Mr Ebrahimi, while another neighbour, Stephen Norley, also 24, helped drag his body into the estate courtyard where James set him alight. It is not known whether he was dead before the white spirit that doused him was lit.

We are clear that Avon and Somersetpolice failed in many areas to protect him, and are disappointed that all the work being done by ACPO and the CPS in relation to disability hate crime were just not in existence in this case. Once again, a person who had learning disabilities was falsely accused of paedophilia, and it should not be forgotten that Bijan had been the victim of hate crimes for a number of years before his death, both due to his race and his physical disability,” The guilt is not just police, but is social services and once again neighbours who are complicit in allowing this crime to happen.We hope that not only James and Norley will face justice but also all of those who failed to protect Bijan.