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Bijan Ebrahimi: Life for murderer who killed and set fire to disabled Iranian man wrongly branded a paedophile

By Heather Saul

A murderer who killed an innocent disabled man wrongly labelled a paedophile by neighbours in his community was today jailed for life.

Lee James, 24, murdered neighbour, Bijan Ebrahimi,  who was in his 40s, three days after he was arrested by police following complaints that he had been inappropriately taking pictures of children in the Brislington area of Bristol.

Mr Ebrahimi, an Iranian national, died from the head injuries he received. He was then set on fire in an attack on 14 July. His burnt body was found in Whitmore Avenue, just 100 yards from his maisonette home in Capgrave Crescent, Brislington.

James was handed a life sentence by Mr Justice Simon at Bristol Crown Court and told he would serve a minimum term of 18 years for what the judge described as an "act of murderous injustice".

Stephen Norley, aged 25 and of Capgrave Crescent, admitted assisting an offender.

Prosecutors say Norley assisted James in dragging Mr Ebrahimi's body away from the scene of the attack and had helped with setting fire to his body by obtaining white spirit.

The judge gave Norley a four-year jail term for "burning the body of a man you knew to be murdered".

Avon and Somerset Chief Constable Nick Gargans issued an apology after the tragedy and said they are "very sorry for what happened to him".

"Mr Ebrahimi was someone who deserved the protection of all of us and we are very sorry about what happened to him," he said.

"It is clear that there was a collective failure on the part of statutory agencies and others to protect Mr Ebrahimi and we cannot wait for all the various external investigative processes to run their course before we start learning lessons for the future." 

An Independent Police Complaints Commission Investigation has led to four constables, a sergeant and an inspector being served with notices of gross misconduct in the wake of the attack.

Residents have spoken of the "anger" and "hostility" that was in the air locally when false rumours circulated that wrongly accused Mr Ebrahimi of being a paedophile.

Mr Ebrahimi was arrested on 11 July following an alleged breach of the peace after an angry mob had reportedly confronted him outside his home over complaints that he had been taking pictures of children in the area. He was later released.

Later James barged into Mr Ebrahimi's home and said "he would take the law into his own hands", an earlier court hearing heard.

"Lee James was the instigator and the perpetrator of what the Crown say was a vigilante attack," prosecutor Andrew Langdon QC said.

Neighbours believe it was Mr Ebrahimi's intent to gather evidence of anti-social behaviour, damage to his garden and harassment he had received that, through the false allegations it sparked, ultimately led to his death.

James, of Capgrave Crescent, pleaded guilty to murder.

Last month, Mr Ebrahimi's family said: "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.

"It was for this reason that the police should have taken especially seriously his calls for help in the days before he was murdered."

The force referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission because of the contact it had with Mr Ebrahimi between July 11 and 13.

Mr Gargan's apology continued: "The IPCC are carrying out a thorough investigation into the events that led to his death and we await their findings.

"Even before we hear their final conclusions, it's clear there are steps that we can collectively take to keep vulnerable people in our communities safe from harm.

"This is a tragedy that should never be repeated."

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