Reports of the horrendous death of Bijan Ebrahimi — a disabled man living in Bristol — seem doomed to point in all the wrong directions. He was murdered — beaten and torched to death — by neighbours who spread the rumour that he was a paedophile.
But the rumour could have been staunched by the police who investigated the allegation and found no basis for it. And police could have talked down Mr Ebrahimi’s assailants had they done their primary duty to the public: to keep the peace.
There are the inevitable squeals that Britain is obsessed by hunting down paedophiles — my discussion on the Jeremy Vine Show on 29th October 2013 repeated this theme.
It isn’t back up by evidence: the statistics announced in the same week, discovered by Labour MP Emily Thornberry, confirms that impunity meets people interested in raping or sexually offending against women and children.
But the murder of Mr Ebrahimi exemplifies the toxic mix of muddle, indifference and fury that surrounds the issue.
The story of Mr Ebrahimi’s demise really begins with the authorities’ failure to ensure public safety on his estate in Brislington, Bristol. He’d complained about children damaging the flowers and apparently, in frustration at his failure to engage anyone to stop this, he began taking photographs of the children spoiling his garden.
According to The Independent Mr Ebrahimi had been harassed by ‘youths’ attacking his flower basket. He called the police, he took photographs of the perpetrator, he defied police advice to stay inside his flat — effectively making him a prisoner in his own home — and when police finally arrived on 12th July a crowd gathered around the flat and shouted ‘paedo’.
Police arrested Mr Ebrahimi, checked out the allegations and found no evidence whatsoever, and returned him back to the flat where, by then, he was living amidst vital hostility.
On 14th July Mr Ebrahimi was dead — he had been beaten and torched. Several members of Somerset and Avon police service are the subject of disciplinary action and both the police and the local authority are scrutinizing the sequence of events.
What is apparent already, however, is that a disabled person’s life has been ruined and then taken; the primary duty of the police, public safety and security, was neither contemplated nor implemented.
When he was returned to his home, his angry neighbours were not addressed, they were not disabused of their prejudices, and the ‘youths’ were not called to account.
What is community policing if not this?
Was this case a sign of a society gone mad, obsessed by paedophiles, suspecting abusers of lurking behind every hedge?
Well, no, actually.
Is Rochdale so different from anywhere else? In 2012 a group of men were jailed for abusing at least 47 girls — even though evidence had been available to the authorities about these predators since 1991.
Is Oxford so different from anywhere else? In 2011 the police investigated evidence that a group of girls had been sadistically abused by a group of men — despite the efforts of some of these girls to tell their story to the authorities for eight years. It was the girls, not the men, who had been stigmatized.
In West Yorkshire, a group of men was jailed in 2008 after organizing the abuse of an estimated 50 girls at two schools. Did no one notice?
In the very week that the trial of Mr Ebrahimi’s tormenters was reported, the Labour MP Emily Thornberry announced that the investigation of rape and sex offences had dropped: the number of rapes referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service in 2012-13 was 5404 — that is 2700 fewer than in 2010-11.
Thornberry commented that there has been a steady decline in the number of cases being referred to the CPS by the police, despite a steady rise in the number of people feeling confident enough to go to the police.
The current number of referrals to the CPS is the lowest in five years.