Socialist Worker

Jay Abatan: a carbon copy of the Stephen Lawrence case

Issue No. 1906

'WHY IS this still going on so many years after the case of Stephen Lawrence? I don't think the police have learned the lessons. It's been swept under the carpet.' So says Michael Abatan, brother of Jay, a black man who died after being attacked by a gang of white men in Brighton on 24 January 1999. The family have spent the last five years trying to get justice for Jay. Jay's death came two months after the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

The resulting Macpherson report said the police were 'institutionally racist'. It was supposed to be a watershed in the way police investigate the killing of black and Asian people. 'We thought when the attack on Jay happened that the police would do their job,' Michael told Socialist Worker, 'But Sussex police have tried at every turn to stop us getting justice. We don't want 'favours'. I just want officers to be held accountable.'

On the night of 24 January 1999 Jay, Michael and a friend came out of the Ocean Rooms nightclub. As they were getting into a taxi the gang attacked them, beating and punching Jay. 'Jay was down and I had four men attacking me,' said Michael. 'After my friend helped me, they beat him up while I was trying to resuscitate Jay.' Cleared

Jay suffered severe head injuries from the attack. He was in a coma for five days before he died. His wife Tanya and two young children were devastated. Two men were initially charged with manslaughter but this was never pressed in court. At the trial they faced charges of affray and actual bodily harm to Michael but were cleared.

The family, angry at the way Sussex police had handled the case, began speaking out. Sussex police were forced to hold an inquiry into the way they investigated Jay's death, which was headed up by officers from the Essex police force. During that inquiry Sussex police admitted they would regard Jay's death as a racist killing.

But when the inquiry report was finished, nearly two years after Jay's death, Sussex police refused to let it be published. Michael said, 'We were told the full findings of the inquiry could not be released. But some of it came out and revealed that there were 57 failings in Sussex police's original investigation into my brother's death. Sussex police had to publicly apologise to us. At that time Jack Straw, who was Labour's home secretary, wrote a letter to the family reassuring us that Sussex police had had a thorough inquiry. But we still had to go on fighting to get justice.'

The Police Complaints Authority was brought in to assess whether there were grounds for disciplinary action against any officers. This time officers from Avon and Somerset police headed up the investigation. But Sussex police are refusing to release those findings to Jay's family. 'They won't share with us what they know,' said Michael. 'We should automatically get that report, which we have heard is 'devastating'. If we ask questions about this or that we just get the cold shoulder. All this is before we have even had an inquest into Jay's death.'

Michael says he doesn't think anything has changed since the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence. 'Sussex police say they cannot use the Lawrence inquiry as a yardstick because it wasn't published at the time Jay died!' he said. 'There were draft copies circulating before Jay's death. They should have been the first to pick up on the lessons. You would think they would want to make sure that the same thing didn't happen. Our father was from Nigeria and our mother was white. If Jay cannot get justice, what does that say for other people? Our father died not long after Jay. I promised him and my brother there would be justice. Doreen Lawrence has helped me. It's not her job. It should be the authorities. She said that at the end we still might not get justice. But I want to try. The authorities take full control and the family have no control whatsoever. We've been through it. I want to make sure it doesn't happen to another family.'

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Sat 19 Jun 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1906
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