The Rotherham 12 are innocent—self-defence is no offence. That’s the conclusion after one of the biggest and most important victories for anti-racists in decades.
Ten Asian men last week were cleared at Sheffield Crown Court following a six-week trial.
They were charged with violent disorder following a peaceful anti-fascist protest in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, last September.
The case had hung over them and their families for more than a year. If found guilty, they could have been jailed for five years.
Defendant Sadaqat Ali, a taxi driver, said the stress of the trial had transformed his usual outgoing personality. “When this trial started six weeks ago our lives were put on hold,” he told Socialist Worker.
“It’s been very stressful. I couldn’t work. Now we’ve got justice—not only for the people on trial but for others in Rotherham as well.”
Defendant Asif Zaman added, “I’m relieved. It’s been a long time for all our families and everyone. The jury proved our case was just and right.”
All the defendants who stood trial were unanimously found not guilty. Two more who pled guilty before the trial started will now appeal.
Applause rang out in the public gallery as the verdicts were announced, while cheers greeted the men outside the court. The jury was made up of 11 white people—seven women and four men—and one Asian man.
Defendant Abrar Javid told Socialist Worker, “We’re ecstatic with the result. It restores our faith in humanity for a mainly white working class jury to find us not guilty.”
The landmark verdicts will give confidence to everyone fighting the fascists—and wider racism.
As Abrar said, “I hope it inspires others never to give up.”
The 12 were arrested in early morning raids five weeks after the anti-fascist protest in Rotherham on 5 September last year. The protest,
called by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), was in opposition to a Nazi march by Britain First. It came two weeks after the racist murder of 81 year old Mushin Ahmed.
Racist and fascist organisations had held 18 incursions into Rotherham in the run-up to Mushin Ahmed’s murder. They tried to exploit the child sexual exploitation (CSE) scandal that had hit the town.
The protests coincided with a rise in reported racist incidents and the trial heard how Asian people in Rotherham felt under siege. As the judge told the jury, “You may think it’s like the Jews in Germany facing up to the brownshirts.”
Michael Mansfield QC told the trial that the “air was filled with fear” as “toxic” fascist groups “besieged and plagued” Rotherham. For many the murder of Mushin Ahmed was the last straw. As Mansfield told the court, “The fear was not a fantasy—it was a reality.
“There comes a point when people have to say to themselves, are we going to be humiliated to the extent that we won’t leave our homes? And is it time to show our respect and solidarity for this elderly man who was stamped to death?
“To say we are not afraid, we’re not going to be overwhelmed by fear and ultimately stand up for one of our number. To say we’ve had enough of being tarred by a particular brush and we’re going to stand up and go on the streets, making our legitimate voice heard by standing together as a community.”
Some 400 people joined the UAF protest—a breakthrough following 13 previous fascist protests in as many months. It took up the slogan, “Enough is enough—Muslim lives matter.”
Defendant Mohammed Saleem, a gas engineer, said there was a “fantastic” atmosphere on the UAF protest. He told the court it was a “beautiful event”.
There are similarities with what the police did to miners at Orgreave, and how they herded them to a particular spot
But police marched the protest past the William Fry pub, a well known haunt of racists. The trial heard how drunken fascists outside the pub hurled racist abuse at Asian children before physically attacking some anti-racist protesters.
Mohammed told Socialist Worker, “I had a bin thrown at me, punches thrown at me and I had done nothing.
“Now you imagine five weeks later, at six or seven in the morning, ten police officers come to your house. Your children are scared, you’re scared. You’re treated as some common criminal.”
Mohammed said he didn’t think that sending the anti-racist protesters past the pub was an innocent mistake. “There are similarities with what the police did to miners at Orgreave, and how they herded them to a particular spot,” he said.
Police attacked striking miners during the Battle of Orgreave in June 1984, then framed several for riot. The Rotherham 12 case has put South Yorkshire Police in the spotlight again (see box).
Solicitor Matt Foot said, “One of my clients, Asif Zaman, was protecting his children from the racists. They’ve been exonerated. In my eyes these people are real heroes, not criminals. I have felt dumbfounded as to why they were ever charged.
“We should celebrate this victory. But that question must be resolved.”
Some feel the arrests were an attempt to stop people from protesting. Abrar said the men were victims of “political policing”.
“We feel the police are trying to make up for their failings—Hillsborough, Orgreave and the Rotherham CSE scandal,” he said.
“They’ve done what the far right have done by labelling the whole Asian community and using us as a scapegoat. I believe these were wrongful arrests.
“We’ve been treated like common criminals and it’s nothing more than a politically motivated charge.”
The right of self defence was established more than 30 years ago in the 1981 Bradford 12 case. Then a group of young Asians was accused of conspiracy to make petrol bombs while preparing for a fascist attack.
The 12 argued that they had the right to physically defend themselves from racist attacks—and after a nine-week trial they were acquitted.
Shahnaz Ali was part of the United Black Youth League which organised the Bradford 12 campaign.
She told Socialist Worker that there are similarities with the Rotherham 12 case. “For me the outcome of not guilty is amazing,” she said.
The lessons are clear. This great victory shows that the men were right to protest against the fascists. They were right to stand together and defend their community.
They were right to unite with socialists and trade unionists. They were right to launch a political campaign.
The Rotherham 12 case shows that if people resist injustice, they can win.
There’s something rotten about Rotherham’s cops
The Rotherham 12 campaign has demanded an independent inquiry into policing following the verdicts.
South Yorkshire Police (SYP) is already under scrutiny following its cover-up of the Hillsborough disaster and its conduct during the Battle of Orgreave.
Recent reports and trials have also exposed police failings and possible corruption relating to the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham.
Campaign spokesman Suresh Grover, of the Monitoring Group, said, “Apart from the actions of the far right groups, our anger is reserved for the South Yorkshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
“The prosecution evidence clearly acknowledged that far right groups were intent on causing community divisions, fear, intimidation and terror through perpetual acts of violence and murder.
“Instead of protecting the Asian Muslim community, the police turned against us.” He called for a “rigorous independent inquiry”.
Michael Mansfield attacked police failings during the trial.
He mocked police commander chief inspector Richard Butterworth for claiming he did not know that the William Fry pub was a gathering point for racists and fascists.
Defendant Abrar told Socialist Worker, “We’ve seen a murder and more racist attacks.
“For the police not to take that into context on that day on Wellgate is a scandal.
“They have information on these groups coming into our town. It’s something we’re not going to tolerate.”
Turning the tide
Rotherham Unite Against Fascism campaigned with the slogan “Justice for the 1,400—don’t let the racists divide us”.
The 2014 Jay report into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the town estimated that 1,400 children had been abused between 1997 and 2013. The horrific scandal shocked everyone.
The report exposed appalling attitudes among the police and council bosses towards girls from poor backgrounds. Young women’s voices were not allowed to be heard. Economic devastation and cuts in children’s services also stopped the victims from receiving support.
CSE goes right to the top of society—as the Whitehall sex scandal shows. But racists seized on the Rotherham revelations to paint Asian men as the main perpetrators of abuse.
Many people did not want to directly oppose the racists and fascists who came to Rotherham to spread their hate. Rotherham UAF argued for the need to mobilise.
Black and white unity is essential to demand justice for the victims and to oppose the racists who cynically exploit the scandal. Now the vast majority of people are sick of fascist marches—and want to see united opposition.
And the Rotherham 12 campaign was backed by the Orgreave and Hillsborough justice campaigns, trade unions and campaigning groups.
The tide has been turned against the racists.