New Labour Banish Victims Of Racism From Lancaster
New Labour Banish Victims Of Racism From Lancaster
By Michael Gillard, 18 April 2005
Sunday 17 April 2005
Britain's longest-running race hate case ended last week. Asian shopkeeper Mal Hussain and his white partner Linda Livingstone have left Lancaster after 13 years of torment. Only now can the real story be told. Michael Gillard goes behind Labour's electoral pledge to put the victims of racist and anti-social behaviour first, and reveals how Home Secretary Charles Clarke approved an extraordinary court order banishing the couple from ever living or working in the city again.
'WELCOME TO LANCASTER' says the colour poster prominently displayed in the lobby of the town hall.
The city council "absolutely and positively welcome all ethnic minority groups," effuses Labour council leader Ian Barker. The poster campaign, he adds, seeks to encourage "cultural integration" and "social cohesion." There is one place however you definitely will not find it - on a sprawling sink estate west of the city centre called Ryelands.
Many of the residents of the 400 council homes are low-income families, young couples and single mothers on benefits. Ryelands is nearly all white. In the centre of the estate, overlooked by a police-operated CCTV camera on a fifty-foot pole, is the mini-market owned by Linda Livingstone and Mal Hussain.
The couple arrived on Ryelands in June 1991. Mal was 37 and Linda 42. They had met two years earlier at Cinderella Rockefellers nightclub in Northampton. The dream was to invest their life savings in the mini-market, with its upstairs flat. Romantic picnics by the Lakes were just some of the things they planned on weekends. However, no sooner had they arrived than a hardcore group of violent and racist tenants and their friends targeted the couple.
The shop was firebombed every year on Mal's birthday for the first six years. Originally from Pakistan, he has endured repeated racial abuse, death threats, stoning and was twice shot at by unknown gunmen.
The council and Lancashire Police eventually got tough and convictions followed a horrific firebombing incident in 1996. The couple, though, felt it was "too little, too late" and the following year started legal proceedings for negligence, misfeasance, race discrimination and victimisation.
In July 1999, at the height of the fallout from the Stephen Lawrence public inquiry, Lancashire Police unreservedly apologised to the shopkeepers for failing to recognise the problem earlier and respond to it.
The city council did not go so far. It issued a measured statement in November 2000 expressing "profound regret". However, there was also remorse that many innocent Ryelands residents had been stigmatised as racists.
Lancaster has been a Labour stronghold for almost fifty years. Former Ryelands councillor Carol Broad, who defected to the Independents, was vilified by her colleagues when she once suggested the council's early inaction was about "protecting the vote" in the ward.
Former Independent councillor Pat England says the local authorities saw Mal as "difficult" and did not effectively respond to his repeat harassment complaints. They wanted him to move away, she believes.
The council counters that the couple's case is "wholly exceptional". However, England, a founder of the Multi Agency Partnership for the Elimination of Discrimination, says: "What is exceptional is Mal stood his ground, recorded the incidents and tried to change things. The council do not understand the effect of hate crime and what is going on in the community," she maintains.
Certainly, the council have long regarded this case as a "stain" on the city's reputation; one which the caravan of international TV crews who regularly descended on the estate to interview 'Britain's most abused man' will not let them forget.
For six years, council and police lawyers fought the couple's claim. Suddenly in October 2003 they offered to settle, but without admitting liability. The terms of the settlement, ending Britain's longest-running race hate case, are so sensitive neither party would confirm there was one.
The three Labour councillors for Ryelands ward refused to discuss it, even in general terms. Local Labour MP, Hilton Dawson, a former ward councillor with a tiny majority, did not return calls. Even the Greens, now in a coalition with the local Labour group, remain tight-lipped.
Why the silence? And why has it taken 17 months for the couple to leave Ryelands? The answers lie in the extraordinary conditions that the police and council imposed during the mediated settlement.
In return for paying Mal and Linda £250,000, the couple had to agree to drop all existing legal actions. Usual enough. But it is the other clauses that make this settlement so controversial. Before receiving a penny, Mal and Linda had to pay their own legal costs, believed to be £80,000, which has led to a falling out with their solicitors, Bindman & Partners. The couple were also required to pay-off the existing £46,000 mortgage on the mini market.
But it is the third and final condition, which has drawn the most severe criticism from Britain's leading civil rights leaders: The couple cannot live or work in the Lancaster area ever again. The police and council gave Mal and Linda six months to leave Ryelands, even if the property they had now been forced to buy outright remained unsold.
When the eviction deadline came in April 2004, the police agreed to an extension because a local man appeared close to leasing the shop. But after eight months of vacillation, he withdrew. So just before last Christmas, the authorities made good their earlier threat to enforce the settlement through the courts, contrary to a written assurance the couple would receive prior notification. Mal and Linda were given until the end of this month (April 2005) to leave or be evicted.
Dr Richard Stone, one of the three advisers to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, has followed the case since 1996. He accuses the local authorities of transferring "the burden of racial harassment" onto the victims. "To demand they should leave is contrary to the principles of the Lawrence Inquiry on how authorities should deal with racism," he says. The criticism will sting the government, who in 2003 refused a public inquiry into the Hussain case on the very grounds that lessons had been learned by the local authorities since the 1999 Lawrence report was published.
Not so, says Lee Jasper, a government adviser on race and policing issues and secretary of the National Assembly Against Racism. In January, he wrote to home secretary, Charles Clarke, expressing his "shock" at the "inhumane" approach of the police and council. "[Mal and Linda] both need reassurance and support not further victimisation, having fought against racism for so many years. Moreover, they need more time," the letter said.
Jasper urged the Home Secretary to make Lancashire chief constable Paul Stephenson withdraw his application to the court.
Jasper also wrote in similar terms to Baroness Ruth Henig, chair of the Lancashire Police Authority, who Tony Blair had ennobled and whose husband was the Labour council leader when the Hussein case exploded.
SpinWatch asked the current leader, Ian Barker, whether there were any circumstances where the council thought it right to demand that victims of racist and violent behaviour should leave the city? "Absolutely not," he replied. "The council takes the view that responsible citizens who live within the law have a right to live where they choose."
Despite Jasper's pleas on the couple's behalf, nothing changed. The Home Office responded saying, "it would not be appropriate for the Home Secretary or Home Office ministers to intervene in this matter."
The court order stood, and the couple had to be out by 29 April. No more chances, no more extension.
In March, Stephenson left Lancashire for a new post as deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. His responsibilities now include developing hate crime policy for a city with the largest ethnic minority community. Stephenson declined to be interviewed.
The Far right and Ryelands
THIS is not the first time Mal has faced exile from Lancaster. In November 1991, he physically defended himself against two of Ryelands' 'top boys' after refusing to pay them protection money. The police charged him not the aggressors. And, as part of his bail conditions, Mal was banished from Lancaster until his acquittal one year later.
Linda ran the shop with her elderly parents. But the harassment and intimidation continued. "I would meet Mal every other week at a hotel on the Lancaster border," she recalls. "After the assault case," adds Mal, "I said to the police, 'I wont ever defend myself again. You defend me.' I turned my home into a fortress. We kept diaries logging every incident and reported them. But the British justice system has failed us."
Malazam Hussain is not your stereotypical Asian shopkeeper. He did back in the seventies what the main political parties now want of immigrants, and fully integrated into British life, whilst keeping his Islamic faith. "I can handle myself. But I've walked away from the violence against me here. I don't know how I did it but it has cost me - every time I did I felt less of a man."
One man who the couple has most frequently reported for harassment and racist abuse is 33-year-old Jason Capstick, a self- described property developer. Lulu, his 23-year-old girlfriend and mother of their two children, has been a Ryelands tenant since she was seven.
Capstick bought the next-door property, an abandoned chip shop, in November 2000 and opened it as a rival grocery store. Mal and Linda saw this as an attempt to drive them out. But the Middle Shop has made no dent on their takings. It is however a focal point for those on Ryelands who've been prosecuted for abusing Mal.
Men like 41-year-old Craig Wareing, who was imprisoned with others for seven years for the 1996 firebombing. Wareing was jailed again after breaching parole conditions and returning to Ryelands in 2001 where he was seen carrying far right propaganda shortly after the race riots in nearby Oldham and the British National Party's (BNP) electoral success in Burnley.
Capstick has decorated his shop with Union Jack flags and a 'Buy British' sign. He denies any sympathy with far right politics and maintains that the flags were there to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee. "[Mal] plays the race card at every opportunity. He thinks I'm Satan by the sheer number of times he's rung the police. [The Lawrence Inquiry] was the worst thing that happened to me because you can perceive any incident to be racially-motivated and the police have to investigate it as that."
The couple suspect Capstick was involved in distributing a computer-generated leaflet accusing Mal of being a "SEX OFFENDER." Shortly afterwards, offensive graffiti appeared all over Lancaster, leaving the council with a hefty clear-up bill. Capstick denies any involvement. He says the leaflet was posted through his door.
AS THE 29 April deadline approached, Mal and Linda were desperate for a quick sale. In February, a young family approached their estate agents with a £90,000 offer, including the goodwill of the profitable business. The offer was the only one they had and is £20,000 less than Mal and Linda paid for the property. But something else troubled them.
The new owners of the mini-market are a young Indian couple. Paramjit Singh, 34, whose wife is pregnant with their second child, confirms he was aware of the appalling history.
He emigrated from the Punjab in 1993. After a spell in London, Mr Singh went to Morecambe in 2002 where he worked as a storekeeper. He says his white friends, some of whom live on Ryelands, advised him there would not be the same problems that Mal Hussain experienced. This and the health of the business persuaded him to put in an offer.
"If we had a choice we would never have sold to any ethnic minority," says Mal. "We took advice from Trevor Phillips at the Commission for Racial Equality who advised us they would have to prosecute us if we made that a stipulation of sale. We had already turned down a Pakistani family before the Singhs got in touch. It's not acceptable that the police and council are forcing us to sell quickly, to anyone and at a loss."
The pressure of living on Ryelands meant Mal and Linda's relationship changed from lovers to friends and business partners. But of late, with a new life ahead, the prospect of a full relationship is real, says Linda. "We've got our lives back." For Mal, he says he is happy to have left Ryelands alive. "I never thought this day would come and it feels great."
The police hosted a lunch for the couple on Wednesday before they headed south on the M6 towards a new life in an undisclosed location near those they love.
Welcome to Lancaster.
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