A Bereaved father stopped race riots

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Abdul Wahid is racing round the room when his mother calls him over to look at the family photos on the coffee table. “Who’s that?” she asks the three-year-old. The boy shouts happily, “My daddy!” But it is a face he has never seen in the flesh; his father was killed months before he was born in the riots that swept through England in August 2011.

Abdul Musavir, 30, was guarding local businesses in Birmingham with his brother Shahzad Ali, 31, and 19-year-old Haroon Jahan, when they were hit by a speeding car and thrown three metres in to the air. Their deaths sparked fury in the community they had been defending, and police feared there would be riots. Instead, just hours after finding his dying son in the street, Haroon’s father, Tariq Jahan, called for calm. He told the crowds who wanted action, if not revenge, “Black, white, Asians – we all live in the same community … step forward if you want to lose your son. Otherwise, calm down and go home – please.”

His words made headlines as politicians, including David Cameron, rushed to heap him with praise, crediting him with stopping any further tragedies. The poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, wrote verses in his honourPrince William came to meet him, he was given a Pride of Britain award, and letters flooded in from around the globe. Yet, today, as the fourth anniversary of the men’s deaths approaches, he says he feels betrayed in the wake of his son’s killing, and that he was too trusting when he put his faith in the police and justice system.

“When my son died, I said to the press, ‘A day from now, maybe two days from now, the whole world will forget and nobody will care,’” says Jahan. “It certainly feels like that now.”

His anger is unsurprising: in 2012, eight men accused of the murders were acquitted. Previously, the trial had been temporarily halted because of complaints over the police investigation. Jahan says there were a “catalogue of errors” by the police and justice system, and is calling for a public inquiry into the way it was handled, while the families have launched a petition in the hope it will attract the 100,000 names needed for the issue to be raised in parliament.

 Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir who died they were mowed down by a car while protecting their community from looters in Birmingham.

Sitting in a local community centre, the 49-year-old former amateur boxer looks older than his years. When he is not speaking, he stares into the distance. A recent trip saw him deliver aid to a Syrian refugee camp, an experience he found heartbreaking and humbling, and it becomes clear that his interactions are now all filtered through the lens of his loss. His words are peppered with religious terms and he speaks with satisfaction that his son died during Ramadan, doing a good deed. While he still watches the news, it has become almost too painful for him to bear. “People die every day,” he says. “Now I feel so sad because every disaster and conflict could be my son.”

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When he speaks he is passionate and articulate, especially when discussing the charity work which has, in the wake of his son’s death, replaced his job as a lorry driver. It’s a far cry from his old life. His family, wife, daughter and two sons were very close. He taught both his sons to box and shared their love of working-out and racing cars. “We all worked, and we had a comfortable life,” he says. “There was always love and respect.

“Haroon was sharp, he would say he was going to be millionaire before he was 21,” he says, a smile creeping across his face.

Jahan says he, himself, was not religious, and certainly not a strict father, preferring to have fun with his children. (“Growing up my dad would tell me to go to the mosque, but I would go to the park and train instead,” he says.) But he also had a temper; “If you had met me before my son died,” he says, seriously, “I was the most aggressive person you would have ever met.” He had worked as a bouncer and bodyguard, and was used to confrontations. At the time of his son’s death, he was under investigation for assault.

 “I got myself into a lot of trouble when I was young,” he says, “because I would always react. My father told me something which I stuck to: don’t pick on those who are weaker, but never let a bully walk away. When a man runs out of words he reverts to what he knows,” says Jahan, holding up his fists to illustrate his point.

Yet at the moment he saw his son’s body, everything changed. “Put it like this,” he says, leaning forward, “I tried to smack people and sort things out. Then Him upstairs decided to smack me one, and sort me out.”

If that’s true, it was a vicious blow. By 10 August, there had already been a night of rioting in Birmingham. “The petrol station had been robbed, the social club had been smashed up, local people had been attacked. So the men came together to defend the local community and … we said we would stand with them.

“Initially, people were very confident; there were 100 to 150 people, white and black – but mostly Asian.”

At 1am, Jahan and his older son were outside their home when they heard a bang that sounded like a car crash. Jahan rushed to the scene to offer first aid, unaware of who had been injured.

“When I saw Shahzad on the ground, I didn’t recognise him – I must have been in shock,” says Jahan. “I knew him because he worked at the car wash at the end of my street.

 “I dropped to my knees and felt his pulse. There was nothing there, so I started working on his heart until someone took over.

 “I moved over to Abdul Muzafir and lifted his head up, and when I took my hand away it was covered in blood.

“I grabbed the third body to put it in the recovery position. When I turned it over I saw the white sleeves of a black leather jacket, and I recognised it as Haroon’s. And I heard my older son scream.”

Jahan tried to give his son mouth-to-mouth. “I was talking to the almighty, saying, ‘Allah, forgive me if I have spent too long on those other boys. Please don’t take my son.’ I felt guilty afterwards for even thinking that.”

Eventually, he realised that his son would not come back. Jahan says the scars from that night will probably never heal. “I will never forget turning my son over. He had a tiny pebble stuck in his forehead and a trickle of blood was running from his nose into his beard. That image sticks in my head.”

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Yet, hours after the incident, when he was stopped on the way home from the hospital, he agreed to make a speech to the assembling crowds. “Everyone who knew me – my family and friends – said, ‘You know what’s going to happen now? Birmingham is going to burn, and Tariq’s going to burn it down.’”

But instead, when he looked out at the neighbourhood boys and young men angry at the loss of their friends, he says all he could see was “a sea of Haroons”.

“If they were to set Birmingham ablaze, it would just be some other father’s son mourning. Why should anyone else go through that?”

Instead he put his faith in the police and the courts to hold the perpetrators responsible – something he now regrets. During the trial, the police were accused of not revealing that they had offered witnesses immunity from prosecution. The lead police investigator was accused of lying under oath by the judge who eventually directed the jury to disregard much of the evidence. Yet the Crown Prosecution Service decision to try all the men, who had been travelling in three different cars at the time, with murder was also a mistake, says Jahan.

When the IPCC launched an investigation into the police’s conduct, it found that the Detective Chief Inspector Anthony Tagg had no case to answer, instead suggesting it was a more junior officer, Detective Inspector Khalid Kiyani, who had a case to answer for gross misconduct. But, as he had retired, no one would be disciplined.

Although a jury found that the men had died in a “tragic accident”, not a deliberate plot, the families say they do not feel justice has been done.

“If we don’t get justice in a case like this – which was so high-profile – then who in the community will believe they will get justice? As a father, I am not going to let this go.”

The toll on the families has been extraordinary; Jahan’s own marriage collapsed under the strain and his older son finds it particularly hard to move on, because he was so close to his brother.

The family of Shahzad and Ali say the same. Ghazanfar Ali, 70, says the grief has affected his mental and physical health, and he cries as he tells me: “My sons gave their lives for the country and how have the police repaid them?”

His daughter Sumera, 29, tells me she has had to take a month off work for anxiety and stress: “We used to go out all the time – to weddings, parties and birthdays. Now we barely leave the house.”

“People say it gets easier with time, but it feels like each day we die and just get up each morning to die again.”

Jahan says all that is keeping him going is the thought of creating a positive legacy for the young men. “I have been given a platform, and there are a lot of people in similar circumstances who need help.

“Now I work for charities and sit with scholars. But the more I learn, the more I realise, you don’t need a book or even religion – if you are part of humanity, you know how to be good.”

Video:  https://youtu.be/AMxwrrLFxxo; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrAU2jJwWnk

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/28/tariq-jahan-sons-death-2011-riots-birmingham

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