Bijan Ebrahimi’s life reads like a sad novel, but on closer inspection, one finds a nurturing, gentle soul in the middle of what I can only describe as a nightmare. Born in Iran in 1969, Bijan, though too young at the time, his family, like many other Iranians, witnessed the final chapters of the Shah’s rule in Iran and the subsequent revolution. Merely three years after the revolution that brought Khomenei to power, Bijan’s mother was paralyzed by a stroke. Sadly, his mother passed away in 1991. A year later, his father fell ill and was diagnosed with cancer. Like his mother before, Bijan looked after his sick father until the day he passed away.
Because he was caring for his ailing parents, Bijan didn’t pursue higher education like his sisters. However, upon arriving in Bristol, UK, in 2000 to reunite with his only surviving family (his two sisters and nephews), Bijan was a man determined to make something of himself. He got his chance when the UK government granted him an indefinite leave to remain in the UK as a refugee, and Bijan began to work and go to college.
Unfortunately, a back condition probably caused by his previous role as carer for his sick parents took a toll. Bijan’s health deteriorated until he could no longer work and continue with his college education; he was registered disabled. Despite the setback, he managed to achieve diplomas in carpentry and plumping.
Struggling with his deteriorating health while confronted with the reality of becoming a registered disabled man, Bijan’s life took a turn for the worse. He became a victim of bullying and racism. Bijan’s horror started when his housemate in their shared, rented house threw hot water at him, which scalded him. Though the racist was jailed, Bijan’s home was set on fire, forcing the authorities to relocate him.
In 2006, only a year after the arson attack, the Stand Against Racism and Inequality (SARI), a non-profit organization that provides free support to victims of hate crime, assigned him a caseworker, but the damage was done as his depression worsened.
Forsaken by the Police
After making nine complaints to the police in 2006 that included three separate arson attacks, threats to his life, and racist graffiti on his door, the Bristol local authority moved Bijan to a new flat. Unfortunately, the “new flat” was just around the corner of his old flat, and Bijan had the same racists for neighbors. In 2007, Bijan was again relocated to another nearby flat. Abuse against Bijan escalated. In 2008, he made 21 police reports, including threats to his life, assault, neighbors throwing stones at his flat, racial abuse, and even being struck by a car.
In response to all the police reports Bijan made, the police simply ignored him. Not only did the police and the local authorities ignore him, but they also put Bijan’s life in danger when they failed to stop or take action against neighbors who started to circulate false rumors. The racist neighbors claimed that Bijan was a pedophile, which further entrenched the neighbors' behavior. To make matters worse, the indecisiveness of the authorities further cemented the authenticity of the false rumors.
The police also began to doctor their records. Bijan, in 2009 reported 18 times to the police a long list of crimes that included more racial abuse, neighbors punching and spitting at him. Only 8 of the reports made it to the police records.
How the police treated Bijan was reprehensible and careless; they were not bothered to help him. To put a number how desperate Bijan was, between 2006 until the day of his death in 2013, Bijan made 120 police reports. All were ignored.
With no help coming from the authorities and no one to turn to, Bijan continued to suffer daily from the racial abuse his neighbors meted out to him. His sister recalls that besides the racists he had for neighbors, the police also targeted Bijan. While helping Bijan clean up his burnt-out flat due to an arson attack, she said, “The police arrived, grabbed Bijan and without any explanation put handcuffs on him. They said, ‘someone reported that you were breaking into the flat.’ I explained to them that we were cleaning up but they wouldn’t listen. They were arresting him and it was only when a council officer came and told them the same thing that they took off the cuffs. But they didn’t say sorry. They just went away. That’s when I realised there was something not normal happening.” This incident happened in 2007.
A few months before Bijan’s death, he desperately made two crime reports. However, the police purposefully refused to record. Emboldened, the racist neighbors doubled down on their abuse because now they believed the police were on their side. This belief was further cemented when on July 11, 2013, three days before the murder of Bijan Ibrahimi, his would-be murderer Lee James broke into Bijan’s flat and assaulted him. However, when the police arrived, Bijan was arrested for “breaching the peace.”
At the police station, the reason Bijan was given for his arrest was “antagonizing the situation.” Footage taken at the police station reveals one of the arresting officers explaining to him the reason for his arrest is that they asked him not to “photograph” or “film things.” The police paid no attention to the video evidence Bijan already took when he was assaulted in his flat.
At the police station, Bijan tries to appeal to one of the officers, PC Helen Harris. But, instead, contempt is all he gets from her.
She tells him, “I don’t want to talk to you, I said I don’t want to talk to you.”
But when Bijan tries to further appeal to her humanity and says, “I am talking to you as a friend.”
She takes offense and replies, “I am not your friend, I am a police officer and you are a pain in the ass, don’t speak to me.”
The next day, on July 12, 2013, Bijan is released without being charged with a crime. When Bijan came home, a mob of his racist neighbors gathered in front of his flat, but when he called the police 12 times to report that the crowd was threatening to kill him, the police ignored him. Next, Bijan asks to speak to PC Kevin Duffy, who refuses to talk to him. When the operator asks him whether he wants to talk to Bijan, PC Kevin Duffy threateningly says, “No… I’ve got no intention of taking any calls from Bijan Ebrahimi. I am considering doing Mr. Ebrahimi for harassment if he keeps on calling and wants to speak with me because I’ve made it perfectly clear I’ve no intention of speaking to him tonight.” The following day, Bijan tries to seek help and talk to police officers, but he is again ignored. No officers check up on him or return his phone calls.
On July 14, 2013, Bijan desperately called the police at around 12:12 am. Still, when the operator asked PC Leanne Winter whether she would take the call, she refused and told the operator that Bijan was a “pest” and an “idiot” and added, “I’m absolutely not interested in speaking to him ever, thanks.” Fifty minutes later, the man who had previously assaulted him on the night of his arrest, Lee James, and another neighbor Stephen Norley attacked him. They’ve beaten him to death and burnt his body. Some papers also reported that he was alive when he was set alight. Bijan Ebrahimi was 44 years old.
Following the murder, newspapers around the country carried grand titles, the front page of the independent read, “Disabled, jobless and devoted to his garden, Bijan Ebrahimi was a caring, loving and unselfish man. But when he stood up to local vandals, he was smeared as a paedophile, beaten up — and burnt to death.” However, the befitting headline would have been to describe how the body has been found, his desperation for help and what had led up to that horrific moment.
A retired police officer, PC Hen Staveley-Brown, recounting the gruesome moment she found Bijan, said, “When we turned up, the paramedics had used a fire extinguisher on the body. I put my torch onto a smoking area and realised it was a body, so unrecognisable that it looked like a log and I immediately raced round to Bijan’s flat. I had a heart-dropping moment when I saw his door wide open. The water was still dripping from the flowers on his hanging baskets and it was horrible because you just knew that this was somebody’s life. I didn’t know if he’d been burnt alive, and it’s haunted me ever since.”
On November 28, 2013, the murderers of Bijan Ebrahimi were jailed. Lee James received a life sentence while Stephen Norley received a mere four-year sentence. None of the other tormenting racists were ever convicted for the hell they dished out to Bijan. However, in December 2015, PC Kevin Duffy, who refused to help Bijan, and PCSO Andrew Passmore were found guilty of misconduct in a public office. Both officers were dismissed and received light sentences, and served prison terms of under one year. Police constables Helen Harris and Leanne Winter were also dismissed from the police force.
The Safer Bristol Partnership, in an independent review, found that despite a “collective failure,” Avon and Somerset Constabulary and Bristol city council had neither been “intentionally racist.” However, both “organisations repeatedly sided with the abusers.” Nevertheless, the report found institutional racism caused police and the council to side with the abusers. It was doublespeak.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary “promised” to make changes to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening. They lied. Three years after Bijan’s murder, the authorities in Bristol failed yet another refugee, Kamil Ahmed, and like the Bijan inquiry, a review found that Kamil was “failed by many agencies.” No doubt, evil exists, but when those who put on the uniform fail the Bijans’ and the Kamils’ of the world and side with the racist scums, then they too are partly to blame for their murders, and because of that, true justice would have been to find all those who failed them guilty and sentence them to life. In this case, an apology is all the Bijan family received, and for that too, they had to fight for it.