Two police officers were jailed on February 9 after being found guilty of misconduct in connection with the case of murdered Iranian national Bijan Ebrahimi in Bristol.
Police Constable Kevin Duffy was jailed for 10 months and a volunteer Police Community Support Officer, Andrew Passmore, was sentenced to four months' imprisonment.
In mid-December , the court heard in that Duffy and Passmore repeatedly ignored Ebrahimi's calls for help in the days leading up to his murder at the hands of his neighbor.
Two other officers, Leanne Winter and Helen Harris, were cleared.
The trial got underway on November 23 at Bristol crown court, more than two years after Mr Ebrahimi was killed. In May 2015, the officers were granted bail in the same court by Judge Mark Horton.
Mr Ebrahami was murderered by his neighbor, Lee James, who wrongly accused him of being a pedophile. Following his death, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) launched an investigation into whether the police officers who were called out to deal with the incident were guilty of wrongdoing and negligence. After waiting for more than a year, Ebrahimi’s family were at last told that four officers would face trial on charges of misconduct. The offficers were accused of not responding to Ebrahimi’s calls for help and Passmore was accused of providing false information to the emergency telephone operator. Harris, Winter and Passmore denied the charges to the Bristol police murder inquiry and the IPCC. Duffy did not enter a plea on a charge of misconduct while in office. An additional 13 police officers faced internal misconduct charges.
Following news of Mr Ebrahimi's murder in Bristol in July 2013, IranWire commissioned Liana Aghajanian to cover the case. This article is the only in-depth look at the events of July 2013, and his family's long wait for justice. Aghajanian conducted dozens of interviews, including from Ebrahimi’s family, Bristol hate crime activists, local officials and academics.
After Ebrahimi’s neighbor, Lee James, had wrongly accused Ebrahimi of being a pedophile and had filed a complaint with the police, police briefly detained the disabled Iranian national just three days before his murder. On July 14, Lee repeatedly kicked Ebrahimi in the head — “like a football,” James told police — and then, with the help of another man, Stephen Norley, dragged him into the street and set him on fire.
In a five-part series, IranWire looked at the story of a man who came to the UK from Iran in the hope of a better life, but was humiliated, bullied and eventually murdered by his neighbors. The firsst part is published below. Read Murder in Bristol: part two, part three, part four and part five.
With additional reporting from Giles Crosse. This article was originally published in December 2014.
Approximately 24 hours before he was beaten to death, dragged into a street, doused in white spirit and set alight just 100 yards from his home, Bijan Ebrahimi sent several messages to police saying he was in danger.
“I am being called nasty things,” the 44-year-old told them in an email at 1:57 am on July 14, “and I don’t feel safe to stay at home.”
The police did not read the warnings until after his death.
Closed-captioned television cameras captured his body on fire. An enormous white flare can be seen appearing in the top right hand corner of a pitch black screen, lasting for 30 seconds in an area beside the main road in Broomhill, a ward in the city of Bristol.
Ebrahimi’s lifeless body burned for 10 minutes before being put out by a paramedic using a fire extinguisher.
On that sweltering summer evening last year, Ebrahimi came out to water his prized flower collection and never returned home. Outside his apartment, he had dozens of varieties, including the geraniums beloved by Iranian gardeners, arranged in pots and hanging baskets, which he spent much of his time tending to and watering.
They were his first loves, the only presents he would ask for on his birthday — small pieces of life in an otherwise barren, aging council estate he had lived in for the last six years. Built in 1955, the low-slung, cement flats surround a courtyard of receding grass strewn with faded plastic children's toys and lay isolated on the outskirts of the city.
Some neighbors however, suspected his flowers had a more sinister purpose. He used his interest in horticulture, they said, as a cover up to look at playing children while he was out gardening. Among the families who occupied the maisonette, Ebrahimi stood out as a single man who lived alone, without a family. They accused him of being a pedophile, a label that a growing crowd in the complex had begun to believe and that police never explicitly stepped in to contradict.
In the early hours of July 14, Ebrahimi, assuming his neighbors had gone to sleep, decided it was safe to come out and water his plants. Lee James, a father of three girls who lived adjacent to Ebrahimi and Stephen Norley, who also lived on the premises, decided that murdering a pedophile wasn’t breaking the law. It was justice.
Precisely how the attack on Mr. Ebrahimi commenced is unclear. One of his neighbors, Emma Jefferies, was woken by a man angrily shouting, “I’m going to kill you” twice.
Around that time, 17-year-old Jessica Griffiths, another neighbor, heard a commotion and looked out of the window of her first-floor flat. She saw Ebrahimi lying on the floor and James lunging at his body. “It felt like he was full of rage and he meant to do it,” Griffiths recalled in court records.
After confronting him outside, James repeatedly stamped on and punched Ebrahimi in the head in an alcohol-fueled rage. Norley stood by and then finally pushed James off. Then they both walked back to their houses.
By that point, Ebrahimi had most likely lost consciousness, according to pathology reports presented in court. At 1:35 a.m., James, with Norley’s help, dragged Ebrahimi’s body towards the road. Panicked upon realizing they had killed him, Norley fetched white spirit, a petroleum-based liquid solvent commonly used in painting and decorating.
The two men poured it over Ebrahimi’s body, before setting it alight and leaving him to burn.
Lee, who had disposed of his blood-stained clothing on the roof of a nearby garage, came back to his apartment wearing only a pair of boxer shorts.
“Tell the girls I did it for them and you,” he told his partner Charlene Husher, according to court documents obtained by IranWire. “He’s been burnt.”
The patch of grass where Ebrahimi's charred body had been left remained brown for days after his murder. The window of his apartment from which he would look out onto the courtyard was soon bolted shut with wire mesh, his white wooden door replaced with hefty, scratched up steel. What remained of his flowers rotted in their pots. The council estate, with its pale, towering frame and barren grassy courtyard, where Ebrahimi had endured verbal abuse from neighbors for years, resembled nothing more than a prison.
Perched on the edge of an area with no particular town center but plenty of stacked social housing, it was an area his sisters said they never felt safe or comfortable. They would pick him up and drop him off after visits, but never lingered around his flat.
For his family, the most painful twist is that Ebrahimi was not even supposed to be at his flat that night. In fact, he was meant to have been 1,237 miles away in Mallorca, Spain on an annual family trip with his sisters. Unable to renew his expired passport in time, he had stayed behind.
On Capgrave Crescent, the street where Ebrahimi lived, no one is interested in speaking to reporters. When I visited in January, it was deserted, the atmosphere as frigid as the weather. Hardly anyone came and went, and those who did shuffled across the street or into their homes with with minimal eye contact. Those who did wander outside quickly darted into their homes before I even had a chance to introduce myself, hoping to move on from the summertime violence that brought a national spotlight to this community, hoping that the mood would eventually change as the seasons did, hoping that ignoring reporters trying to understand how Bijan Ebrahimi, a shy Iranian refugee, was murdered so brutally by his own neighbors would just make it all go away. On the January day I spent walking around the estate, The maisonette felt like a ghost town, only the small street lights and bus route giving away the notion that life still existed in some form here. No one came out and no one went in. My only other interaction with a Broomhill resident – an elderly man – occurred as I was getting on the empty bus back into the center of town and he was getting off. All we managed to talk about was Frank Sinatra before he waved goodbye.
On a rainy day in August 2014, the situation was similar. Despite several attempts to speak to local residents about the Ebrahimi murder, not a single resident on the street where he lived or the surrounding area agreed to comment, even informally. When my colleague and I mentioned the Ebrahimi case, we were met with terse responses at best, angry refusals at worst. Some were apologetic about not being able to talk to me, rushing off with excuses of “not knowing enough about it” or being in a rush.
Capgrave Crescent, in the Broomhill area of Bristol, is by no means the poorest part of the city. Lawrence Hill, St. Paul's and Easton are all poorer, ridden with high-rise social housing, graffiti, drugs and crime. Gangs, cocaine, shootings and stabbings are not uncommon there.
Comparatively, Broomhill seemed normal, even friendly. Wandering through the neighborhood on a damp October afternoon, locals opened doors to the postman. “Cheers, thanks. How are you today?” A painter and decorator touched up woodwork underneath guttering. A young Muslim woman, dressed fashionably in jeans and hoodie, walked past with a young child. The scene was quiet. The bus dropped off an elderly man and two teenagers, heads bowed, listening to iPods, who hurried away to avoid the downpour. The area, while visibly working class, looked like anything but a hive of xenophobia, nationalism or inexplicable hatred.
If the hatred and evil behind Bijan Ebrahimi's death lurk within this neighborhood, they are hidden beneath a veneer of normality. I wandered further down the streets. Another older man glanced up, smiled. “Hello, how are you?” I mentioned the Ebrahimi case. He mumbled something and moved away, clearly unwilling to speak. After a year, locals seemed tired beyond measure of discussing or rationalizing the events of 2013.
In February 2014, Tammy Hurse, a resident from the estate told the Bristol Post of the guilt some might have felt over Ebrahimi's murder. “Nobody stepped in at the time,” she said. “They probably feel really guilty about this, but they were adamant that he was a pervert. They should feel bad, they should feel very, very bad.”
This is part One of a five-part series.