A disabled refugee who was murdered by his neighbour on his Bristol doorstep was consistently failed by police after appealing for help over a period of seven years, an Independent Police Complaints Commission report has found.
Police treatment of Bijan Ebrahimi, who came to the UK as a refugee from Iran in 2000, had "the hallmarks of what could be construed as racial bias", the report found, adding that "it undoubtedly has the hallmarks of the failure to understand and respond to vulnerability" as it outlined the 85 separate phone calls Ebrahimi had made to Avon & Somerset Constabulary.
IPCC commissioner for Wales Jan Williams said Ebrahimi had tragically "kept faith with the police throughout", despite the fact that officers had failed to respond to his calls for help as he endured a campaign of abuse at the hands of his neighbours.
Ebrahimi reported several serious crimes to police ranging from racial abuse, to threats to kill, to arson attacks, to being struck by a car in the 85 calls made between 2007 and 10 July 2013 – but police failed to record a crime on at least 40 of those occasions.
On several occasions he told police he felt he was being victimised because of his race. Ebrahimi, 44, also became a target because he had wrongly been identified as a paedophile.
"Looking at the response of Avon & Somerset Constabulary to Mr Ebrahimi’s calls as a whole, there can be no question that Mr Ebrahimi was treated consistently differently from his neighbours, to his detriment and without reasonable explanation," Williams said.
His treatment at the hands of police included "inappropriate arrest" and "humiliating and degrading treatment in custody", Williams added, saying Ebrahimi had then been returned home "without any meaningful risk assessment, to an environment that had been described as having the atmosphere of 'a bear pit'."
Ebrahimi was murdered by Lee James, who had wrongly branded his neighbour a paedophile. James was sentenced to life at Bristol crown court in November 2013 after he kicked and punched Ebrahimi to death outside his home in Capgrave Crescent, Brislington, Bristol, on 14 July of that year.
A second man, Stephen Norley, was also jailed for four years for assisting an offender.
On 11 July 2013, three days before he was murdered, Ebrahimi called police to say James had burst into his home and threatened him, but when officers arrived on the scene they arrested Ebrahimi instead, for a breach of the peace.
He spent a night in custody, where, Williams said, Ebrahimi remained “respectful, cooperative and calm, if at times tearful. He was persistent in arguing his case, but nevertheless polite. Under extreme stress and provocation, at no point did he descend to profanity, to insult, to abuse. He never ceded dignity.”
After being released and taken home he made several more calls to police, saying he feared his life was at risk, but his pleas for protection were ignored.
In the hours leading up to his death, Ebrahimi rang to ask for help, saying: “My life is in danger,” but PC Kevin Duffy, 52, a beat manager in Bristol who had had repeated contact with Ebrahimi over the previous six years, refused to see him, telling an operator: “I’ve no intentions of taking any calls from Bijan Ebrahimi… I will speak to him at my convenience.”
Duffy did ask PCSO Andrew Passmore to patrol outside Ebrahimi's house, but while Passmore later claimed he had spent an hour at the property, he was only actually on the scene for two minutes.
The pair were later jailed after being found guilty of misconduct in a public office at a trial at Bristol crown court in December 2015. Two additional officers, PCs Leanne Winter and Helen Harris, were each acquitted of the same charge. All four officers were dismissed from the force for gross misconduct.
"On a number of occasions, Bijan Ebrahimi self-identified as a victim of race
hate crime, but was never recognised as a repeat victim of abuse who needed
help," Williams said. "Instead, his complaints about abusive neighbours were disbelieved and he was considered to be a liar, a nuisance and an attention seeker."
She added: "Neighbours’ counter allegations were taken at face value and accepted, despite evidence to the contrary, and Bijan Ebrahimi found himself regarded as the perpetrator of the abuse, rather than as the victim."
"Crown Court proceedings and subsequent misconduct proceedings laid bare the disrespect, the prejudice and even contempt with which some officers and staff treated him during the weekend leading up to his murder," she continued.
The IPCC has shared and discussed its findings with Avon & Somerset Constabulary, which has already implemented a range of changes across systems, culture, antisocial behaviour, and vulnerability following the case.
In addition to the work already taken, the IPCC has recommended that police officers and staff should be trained to recognise the potential for any form of bias to creep in unchallenged, and said the constabulary’s leadership should send a strong message that discrimination in any form is unacceptable.
Williams said: “Looked at, as a whole, the Constabulary failed Bijan Ebrahimi on a number of levels, over a number of years. This failure was at its worst at the very time that his need was greatest. There could, and should, have been a very different response.
“Our investigation identified a series of poor police service responses that spanned at least seven years, and that exposed the Constabulary’s failure to identify Bijan Ebrahimi as a vulnerable man in need of protection and support. Bijan Ebrahimi self-identified as a victim of race hate crime, but was never recognised as a repeat victim of abuse who needed help. Instead, his complaints about abusive neighbours were disbelieved and he was considered to be a liar, a nuisance and an attention seeker.
She went on: “Neighbours’ counter allegations were taken at face value and accepted, despite evidence to the contrary, and Bijan Ebrahimi found himself regarded as the perpetrator of the abuse, rather than as the victim. The Constabulary’s failure to challenge unfounded rumours that Bijan Ebrahimi was a paedophile was to form the backdrop to the fatal events of the 14th July, 2013.
“We found evidence that Bijan Ebrahimi had been treated consistently differently from his neighbours, to his detriment and without reasonable explanation. Some of the evidence has the hallmarks of what could be construed as racial bias, conscious or unconscious.
She concluded: “The most salutary lesson for the Constabulary is underlined by the sad, poignant fact that Bijan Ebrahimi kept faith with the police throughout, no matter how many times he was rebuffed.”
Today Avon & Somerset Constabulary again apologised to Ebrahimi's family, who fought hard for justice for Ebrahimi in the wake of his murder.
Chief Constable Andy Marsh said: “Once again, I want to offer my sincere apologies to Mr Ebrahimi’s family. We failed him in his hour of need and I am unreservedly sorry for the pain his family have suffered in the last four years.
“The intervening period since Mr Ebrahimi’s tragic and brutal murder has been difficult for everyone involved. But we did not stand still and wait for these reports to be published; instead we scrutinised the events leading up to his murder. We looked at the case from every dimension to understand what happened, what we failed to do, and what we should have done differently."
He added: “It is a real tribute to Mr Ebrahimi’s sisters that they have been able to help us in this and I would like to thank them again for their courage and determination in doing so.
“We’ve made many changes since Mr Ebrahimi’s murder in response to the things we learnt and identified to be in need of change. Taken together these changes have transformed the way we operate, and we will do all in our power to prevent a repeat of the circumstances surrounding Mr Ebrahimi’s death.
"Spotting vulnerability early, understanding and embracing difference and closer joint working with our partners to achieve shared solutions to complex problems are at the heart of these changes."
And he went on: “It’s abundantly clear from this terrible case that our ability to protect vulnerable people is best done in partnership with those other agencies also responsible for supporting and caring for them.
"We cannot do it alone. Soon after Mr Ebrahimi was killed we moved to a new way of working which places greater emphasis on local problem solving by neighbourhood managers working closely in the community, with the community, and partners. This new way of working places the protection of vulnerable people unquestionably as the highest of all our priorities."
Hannah Al-Othman is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Hannah Al-Othman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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