Habib “Paps” Ullah was arrested during a stop-and-search in a car park in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, on 3 July last year.
He then collapsed with what the police described as “breathing problems” and was taken to hospital – where he was pronounced dead.
Habib’s family and friends set up the Justice For Paps Campaign to demand answers. They have held angry demonstrations and hold regular candlelit vigils outside High Wycombe police station.
Habib Ullah was just 39 when he died. He left behind a wife and three children.
The family live in Slough, but Habib grew up in High Wycombe. He was a well-known and respected member of the Muslim community there, working as a factory hand at the local paper mill.
“The whole family is devastated,” Nasir Ullah, Habib’s brother, told the crowd at a vigil late last year. “We will be campaigning and keeping the protests going until we see justice.”
Zia Ullah, Habib’s cousin, said, “What we’ve tried to do is keep this in the context of a national problem.
“The number of deaths in custody isn’t going down – it’s going up. Every year there’s an increase.”
On average, one person each week dies in police custody in Britain.
Habib’s family is still waiting to hear from the coroner and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
But their solicitor Jules Carey, who specialises in civil liberties and police misconduct cases, has little faith in the police complaints process.
He said, “Only 5 percent of complaints against the police get upheld – and the vast majority of those are not complaints that are made by members of the public.
“They’re complaints that are made by other police officers.”
Inquest, a charity that monitors deaths in custody, points out that black and ethnic minority victims are overrepresented in the figures – a statistic it puts down to institutional racism in the police.
Community worker Saqib Deshmukh, who helps Habib’s family run the campaign, agrees but thinks the focus of police racism is shifting.
“This used to be seen as a phenomenon that mainly affected African-Carribean men,” he said.
“But it’s now happening more and more in Asian communities – and increasingly to people of a Muslim faith.”
People at the vigil were quick to make the link between Muslim deaths in custody and the “war on terror”.
“We’re being stopped, searched and victimised now more than ever,” said local teacher Sana Malik.
“Muslims are the new target for the police, media and for racist political parties like the British National Party.”
Saqib said, “This is a time when a group of people are being made scapegoats. They are public enemy number one.
“When that community suffers assaults and deaths, we need to start looking at whether this is systematic – and whether it’s deliberate.”
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