“I never thought this day would arrive.” Those are the words of Haseeb Alam, one of the last two defendants in the Rotherham 12 case.
Haseeb and Mahroof Sultan walked free last week after an ordeal lasting well over two years. Charges of violent disorder were thrown out after the prosecution offered no evidence at Sheffield Crown Court.
Haseeb told Socialist Worker, “I was only 18 when I was charged. It’s been hanging over me for about two and a half years. Now I just feel relieved it’s all over.”
Twelve Asian men were arrested in early morning raids five weeks after a magnificent 400-strong anti-fascist protest in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, in September 2015. They were charged with violent disorder.
The Unite Against Fascism (UAF) demonstration opposed a march by the Nazi group Britain First. It came two weeks after 81 year old Mushin Ahmed was killed in the town in a racist murder. And it was the 14th Nazi demonstration in as many months.
Haseeb and Mahroof initially pleaded guilty. But they were allowed to change to not guilty pleas after a unanimous acquittal of ten of the Rotherham 12 by a jury in November 2016.
The case against the two was thrown out after the court heard that Chief Inspector Richard Butterworth was unfit to give evidence.
“It’s been a terrible ordeal,” Mahroof said. “It’s been two to three years, a long, long journey and a lot of pressure. And it was all because of the police.”
Butterworth was in command of policing on the day of the UAF demonstration and a key witness in the first trial. Defence lawyers heavily criticised him for police failings.
In the original trial prosecutors acknowledged that Nazi groups were intent on causing division, fear, intimidation and terror through perpetual acts of violence and murder.Four fascists were later jailed for violent disorder.
The court heard how police did nothing to stop a group of drunken fascists from attacking Asian men outside a pub on the day of the protest. The William Fry public house was known to be a haunt of racists and Nazis and a police witness had earlier seen the Nazis gather there.
Defence lawyers said police had led demonstrators “into an ambush” by forcing them to walk past it.
Three members of the fascist group Yorkshire’s Finest were spotted outside the pub at least an hour and a half before the attack.
Defence barrister Michael Mansfield QC mocked Butterworth for claiming he did not know that the Fry pub was a gathering for racists and fascists. Butterworth, he said, was like Manuel from TV’s Fawlty Towers whose catchphrase was, “I know nothing.”
Mansfield described Rotherham as a place where the “air was filled with fear”. The town was “besieged and plagued” by “toxic” fascist groups.
Racists cynically used a child sexual exploitation scandal in the town to try and whip up hatred. Mushin Ahmed had been called a “groomer” as he was stamped and kicked to death as he walked to his mosque.
Rotherham UAF organised protests against Nazi groups on more than 20 occasions in less than three years. UAF and trade unionists adopted the slogan, “Justice for the victims – don’t let the racists divide us.”
Rotherham 12 campaigners ask why the defendants were arrested, never mind charged and dragged through the courts. The campaign has called for an independent inquiry into policing.
‘We refused to surrender to the racist charges—and we’ve been vindicated’
As one of the Rotherham 12 defendants, this is a proud moment for myself and for the rest of the defendants. We have been vindicated at Sheffield Crown Court.
Since our arrests in October 2015 it has been a difficult and challenging journey. We’ve shown resilience against the establishment.
South Yorkshire Police’s only aim was to further demonise Muslims in Rotherham in some perverted twist to make up for their historic failing to tackle child sexual exploitation.
Our comrades from Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Fascism have stood strong in solidarity with us throughout our campaign and during far right marches.
Other campaigners, including those demanding justice over Orgreave and Hillsborough, have stood with us too, along with trade unions.
We have shown how grassroots mobilisation, campaigning and activism can change the landscape for people who feel isolated, marginalised and targeted.
We refused to surrender to the pressures that we faced and were steadfast in tackling injustice to the end. Ten of us were acquitted of all charges in November 2016.
The fate of the last two remaining defendants, whose trial collapsed before it reached a jury, was a fitting end.
The cases should have been thrown out when the Crown Prosecution Service was considering whether to charge us from the offset.
These charges were politically motivated, institutionally racist and an exercise in collective punishment of Muslims in RotherhamAbrar Javid, Rotherham 12 defendant
But it is my belief that the arrests and prosecutions were politically motivated and had no substance.
The Monitoring Group that led our campaign gave us the direction and leadership nationally which helped to build a strong campaign.
We were also able to get strong legal representation, including from solicitor Imran Khan and Birnberg, Peirce and Partners.
It was key to have legal representation that understood the political perspective and context to our arrests.
The Rotherham 12 campaign team argued that self-defence is no offence.
The team and the legal representatives worked in tandem to build a strong case against the charges of violent disorder that we faced.
We still maintain our position that these charges were politically motivated, institutionally racist and an exercise in collective punishment of Muslims in Rotherham.
The Rotherham 12 campaign will continue to seek answers for why 12 men who stood up to attacks from fascists were put on trial.
Abrar Javid, Rotherham 12 defendant