Saturday, April 12, 2008

"a very unfortunate incident these boys got caught up in"

Wittshire Gazette

One OF Swindon's Asian community leaders has said that the youths convicted of attacking Henry Webster were good boys who got caught up in a bad situation. The families of most of the teenagers live in the Broadgreen area and attend the Jamia Mosque in Broad Street. Azim Khan, chairman of the Thamesdown Islamic Association, which runs the mosque said he did not think race played a part in the attack, but blamed teenagers getting caught up in gang culture.

"All of the families come to the mosque," said Mr Khan.

"Their families are all devastated that they could get caught up in something like this. They are really upset and don't understand how this happened. Our job now as a community is to make sure it doesn't happen again. They're not bad kids whatsoever. Their families are normal families, they wouldn't harm anybody, they are working families. But at the end of the day kids are kids. I don't think this incident was about those children being Asian, I think it is about children in general not having respect for authorities. When you look at the papers you see stories about kids in gangs up and down the country. There isn't much for them to do. They get together and get into trouble. We always advise the children to be part of the community. Make a name for yourself by being hardworking and a benefit to the community. But there are always exceptions, one or two who get into trouble, but 99 per cent are good. Everyone now is making sure they keep an eye on their children and that they are not hanging around together outside school and sports clubs and things.

In court Wasif Khan said he had been scared to tell the truth because of pressure from the Asian community. He said he gave no comment in his police interview because Amjad Qazi's father was an imam at the mosque.

Mr Khan confirmed Qazi's father had been an imam until two years ago.

"I knew Amjad quite well," he said. "He's a nice boy. I don't understand how he went along with what happened. These children had no intention to take these steps. He was just very unfortunate that they somehow got to go and do this. They all said they had not intention whatsoever to do this sort of thing. It was just bad luck that they got caught up in this unfortunate incident. What they have been saying to me is it is just an unfortunate situation they became a part of. It was just bad luck''.

Mr Khan said despite a large number of Asian youngsters being convicted of taking part in the attack it had not caused any racial tensions.

"I haven't heard anything that makes me think it is dividing the community. The trial is not really something people have been talking about. This was an argument between schoolboys that went wrong. Wrong to the extreme. But this wasn't about race. I believe in living in this country and by the laws of this country. If somebody does wrong then they should be dealt with by the courts and justice system. I don't think people will judge the Asian community by the outcome of this case. Swindon has a very good integrated community. You don't come across any racists. During the police operation they have been very good to keep the community with them to solve any problems. Just after the attack happened there was some talk about it being racially motivated, but I haven't seen any evidence of that and the police don't think it was.

"The BNP have had a few things to say about it, but everyone else seems to have realised it was just a very unfortunate incident these boys got caught up in."

9:16am Wednesday 9th April 2008

So several carloads of Asian people drive from Swindon to horrifically injure a white schoolboy - and the good news is that there aren't many racists in Swindon ! Not white ones anyway.

UPDATE - Henry Webster's mother responds :

THE mother of a 15-year-old boy left with brain damage by an Asian gang is blaming multi-culturalism for the way ethnic minorities get away with violent bullying in schools.

Liz Webster, 43, from Swindon, whose son Henry nearly died in the attack, believes a “culture of timidity” among teachers is stopping them clamping down on ethnic minority bullies because they fear accusations of racism. She also accuses teachers of failing to recognise that ethnic minorities can exhibit racism against whites.

Her son, who was a pupil at Ridgeway comprehensive, near Swindon, was set upon by a 16-strong Asian gang, smashed on the skull by repeated blows from a claw hammer and left for dead. Last week 13 of the gang were convicted of charges relating to the attack.

Before the assault little action appears to have been taken against the gang, despite incidents of persistent aggressive be-haviour. In the immediate aftermath of the assault, neither the school’s headmaster, Steven Colledge, nor any of its 90 teachers visited the Webster family or even sent a get-well card.

After the court verdict last week Webster said: “We are devastated by what has happened and extremely upset and angry not only about the school’s failure to protect Henry, but about their attitude afterwards.”

Webster said she was anxious that teachers should learn how to manage racial integration successfully but added: “If they had once said they were sorry, or asked how he was, it would have made all the difference. It is as if they want to sweep us and everything to do with us, under the carpet. Whatever was going on, Henry had absolutely nothing to do with it. He seems to have been picked on just because he is big and has ginger hair.”

Police had been called to a similar incident involving members of the same gang eight months earlier. A white pupil was left with a broken jaw, but there was no prosecution.

“Everyone seems to think that racism starts with white people,” Webster said. “They can’t seem to get their heads round the fact that racism can come from the other side. I now know a lot more about the disciplinary problems with some of the Asian boys. If they had been white, I think they would have been kicked out.”

One of the defendants claimed there were repeated rumours of racist bullying by whites against Asians at the school. There is no evidence of any build-up of tension, however, before the attack on Henry, in January 2007. It was sparked by a confrontation in a corridor between him and a 14-year-old Asian boy, which led to a challenge to a one-on-one fight after class on the school tennis courts.

When Henry, who had no record of disciplinary problems, arrived at the courts he found three carloads of older teenagers armed with a variety of weapons. They had been summoned by 59 mobile phone calls made in the space of little more than an hour. One caller told them one of the “ gora [whites], a big fat ginger kid, wanted a fight”.

The diminutive 14-year-old boy pointed out Webster to the gang. Webster was cornered, punched and, as he turned to try to escape, knocked down and hit with the hammer. Even after onlookers had heard the crack of his skull fracturing, the other gang members continued to kick and punch him.

In front of at least 250 school-children, the gang yelled: “That’s what you call Paki-bashing,” while punching the air.

During the attack, the schoolboy’s skull was fractured in three places by the hammer. A section about 2in across was smashed into the front of his skull, tearing the lining of his brain.

Wasif Khan, 18, who wielded the hammer on Webster, has been convicted of grievous bodily harm, as have Amjad Qazi, 19, Nazrul Amin, 19, and four schoolboys. On Tuesday the final members of the gang, who styled themselves the Broadgreen Mas-sif after the area of Swindon where they lived, were found guilty of conspiracy for their part in the attack. All 13 will be sentenced later this month.

Nobody has been able to explain adequately the background to the assault. There have been unproven rumours that Asians have been victims of racial bullying in the school. Staff at Ridgeway comprehensive, a foundation school with 1,400 pupils, in the village of Wroughton outside Swindon, last week refused to discuss the issues. A spokesman said there might still be civil litigation.

The Websters are likely to claim £1m compensation for Henry’s injuries, which include permanent brain damage.

Nor has the school explained its treatment of the Webster family after the attack. The headmaster told a governors’ inquiry that gestures such as sending cards or flowers were “not in his nature”. Questioned about an incident in which a pupil had come to school wrapped in a Pakistani flag, he told them it was no different from a Welsh governor wearing a Welsh flag or a daffodil.

Colledge said this weekend: “Henry did come into the school for two lunchtimes a week for a number of weeks after [the attack]. We did our best to facilitate that. Work was provided but there were problems with Henry doing it and there was home tuition provided through the local authority.”

Teachers also declined to get involved when the Websters requested extra vigilance for their younger son, Joe, 12, who was anxious to continue at the Ridgeway with his friends. The younger boy was surrounded by a threatening gang of Bengali-speaking Asians a few weeks after the attack.

Webster believes the school is guilty of discrimination: “After the earlier scuffles the day Henry was attacked, it was Henry who was asked to report to the deputy head, not any of the Asian boys, yet somehow it is racist for me to question why my son was treated differently from them.”

The police have been reluctant to accept any racial element. “We took 797 statements, we have 3,000 pages of documents and there is nothing to indicate racist language or taunts were used in any of the exchanges,” said Detective Sergeant Mark Wilkinson of Wiltshire police, who led the investigation.

Nevertheless, Wilkinson concedes Khan was a “wannabe militant”. He had been involved in two previous violent incidents, though never charged, and carried on his mobile phone a screensaver of the collapse of New York’s twin towers.

The Websters’ solicitor, Mark McGhee, said: “There was a history to all of this which went back two years before the attack on Henry. These boys’ disciplinary records had been appalling and nothing had been done about them. Had the school behaved properly, this attack would never have happened.”

I think the Latin phrase is 'res ipsa loquitur'.