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Report into Iranian man’s murder finds ‘evidence of institutional racism’

The Safer Bristol Partnership found a “collective failure” by Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council in the case of Bijan Ebrahimi.

A police force and a council have been accused of institutional racism after “repeatedly siding with the abusers” of an Iranian man murdered after being wrongly accused of being a paedophile.

The Safer Bristol Partnership found a “collective failure” by Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council in the case of Bijan Ebrahimi and said there was “evidence of both discriminatory behaviour and institutional racism”.

The 44-year-old was beaten to death and his body set on fire by neighbour Lee James outside his home in Bristol in July 2013.

James, who was later jailed for life for the murder, wrongly believed that Mr Ebrahimi was a paedophile who had been filming his children.

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A screengrab from footage shot by Bijan Ebrahimi showing his neighbour Lee James, who went on to murder him (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

The report found there was no evidence of any individual being intentionally racist towards Mr Ebrahimi.

“Nevertheless, there is evidence that Mr Ebrahimi was repeatedly targeted for racist abuse and victimisation by some members of the public, that this was repeatedly reported to Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Bristol City Council and that representatives of both organisations repeatedly sided with his abusers,” the report said.

“The more incidents that were reported, the more ingrained this pattern of responses became right up to Mr Ebrahimi’s death.”

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Bijan Ebrahimi murder

It referred to the landmark report by Sir William Macpherson which accused the Metropolitan Police of institutional racism over the murder of Stephen Lawrence and said there was evidence of institutional racism by both Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council.

The report said: “Some allegations and counter-allegations against Mr Ebrahimi seemed to be accepted on the basis that some were corroborated by others but without objective investigation or consideration that this might be collusion between perpetrators rather than genuine corroboration.

“As an Iranian man living in this environment, Mr Ebrahimi was disadvantaged by the inappropriate responses by Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Bristol City Council to his racist victimisation.

“Representatives of those organisations displayed a distinct lack of understanding of his plight and, accordingly, unwitting prejudice against him.

“More account should have been taken by Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Bristol City Council of Mr Ebrahimi’s isolation and vulnerability as an Iranian man in these circumstances.

“There is therefore, based on the above definition from the Macpherson Report, evidence of both discriminatory behaviour and institutional racism on the part of Bristol City Council and Avon and Somerset Constabulary.”

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Bijan Ebrahimi murder

The report said the obtaining of an anti-social behaviour order just against Mr Ebrahimi – rather than his neighbours against whom he made repeated complaints of racism – served as “official confirmation” of his status as a perpetrator, rather than a victim.

In July, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) produced a report on the case, concluding that Avon and Somerset Police repeatedly failed Mr Ebrahimi in the seven years before his death.

It found that officers showed “hallmarks” of racial bias against Mr Ebrahimi, with police logs concerning him appearing to have “racist undertones”.

Pc Kevin Duffy and PCSO Andrew Passmore were jailed at Bristol Crown Court last year for misconduct in a public office in connection with Mr Ebrahimi’s death.

They, along with Pcs Helen Harris and Leanne Winter, were dismissed from Avon and Somerset Police.

Chief Constable Andy Marsh said: “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.

“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.

“It’s clear that we had opportunities to change the tragic outcome for Mr Ebrahimi and we failed to take them.”

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “We apologise for failing to adequately support Bijan as a victim.

“We accept all of the findings of the Safer Bristol-commissioned independent review, including ‘evidence of both discriminatory behaviour and institutional racism on the part of Bristol City Council’.”

Lawyers representing the Ebrahimi family said it was believed to be the first finding of institutional racism against a police force since the publication of the Macpherson report and the first of its kind against a local authority.

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Bijan Ebrahimi’s sisters Manizhah Moore (centre) and Ladin Ebrahimi outside Bristol Crown Court with Tony Murphy of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors (Claire Hayhurst/PA)

Mr Ebrahimi’s family, including sisters Mojgan Kahayatian and Manisha Moores, said in a statement: “No review can ever bring back our beloved Bijan but it is important that his voice has been heard.

“Bijan always said that racism must be challenged wherever it is found, including in town halls and police stations.

“Bristol City Council took nearly five years to accept that it failed Bijan and the need for change.

“This is far too long, although late is better than never. We will not rest until improved systems are put in place to protect other vulnerable people.”

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