Socialist Worker

Leeds footballers trial: Sheer racist thuggery

Issue No. 1780

'Thug and Liar Walk Free'. Amazingly, it was the front page of Rupert Murdoch's Times that summed up most people's feelings last week as Leeds United footballers Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate walked out of Hull Crown Court. The two players were cleared of causing grievous bodily harm to student Sarfraz Najeib.

Woodgate was found guilty of affray, but was given just 100 hours community service. That is less than footballer Eric Cantona got when he responded to racist abuse. Bowyer was cleared of all charges, but the judge ordered him to pay the court costs, saying his statements had been 'littered with lies'.

Sarfraz Najeib was chased by a gang of thugs outside a Leeds nightclub in January 2000. They punched and kicked him, and broke his leg, nose and cheekbone, reducing his face to a pulp.

One of the thugs, Paul Clifford, was jailed for six years last week for biting Sarfraz's face, leaving scars that remain to this day. The last words that Sarfraz heard before the brutal attack were, 'Do you want some, Paki?' The first trial was halted because the Sunday Mirror ran an interview in which Sarfraz's father called the attack racist.

The judge, Mr Justice Poole, had declared there was 'absolutely no significance' in the fact the attackers were white and the victim Asian. At the start of the second trial Mr Justice Henriques also said racism was not a motive. Even the police detective who led the initial investigation believes the attack was racist.

Detective Superintendent Ed Hemsley said, 'I believed there was an element of racial involvement, and I still do.' But the jury was never told of the threat, 'Do you want some, Paki?' that was issued to Sarfraz.

Incredibly, Leeds United football club has said it will continue to play Bowyer and Woodgate. And the Football Association has already said that Bowyer could be selected for the England football team in the future.

Threat to Najeib family

Sarfraz Najeib's family have been the victims of a racist campaign since the start of the trial. Last week Sarfraz's father, Mohammad, had his tyres slashed. He has also been threatened at his takeaway in Sheffield.

United in disgrace

Leeds United has played a disgraceful role throughout the whole trial. After the verdicts last week the chairman of Leeds United, Peter Ridsdale, claimed his stance had been 'vindicated'.

Ridsdale is a businessman and used to be managing director of the Burton Group. He has said both players will stay at the club. Ridsdale backed them throughout the trial:

When the charges were first brought against the players, Ridsdale's stance was that they would merely be asked to volunteer one month's wages as a fine instead of two if found guilty.

Ridsdale continued to play Lee Bowyer as a 'star player' throughout both the trials, and awarded him with the 'Player of the year' title.

Ridsdale arranged for a chauffeur to drive Bowyer from the court to night matches at Leeds' Elland Road football ground.

The club forked out more than £2 million in legal fees for Bowyer and Woodgate.

Ridsdale once chartered a helicopter to fly Bowyer to a game at Everton. He also criticised the Football Association's decision not to allow Bowyer to be selected to play for England.

The court heard that a director of the club, Peter McCormick, disgracefully advised one of his black players, Michael Duberry, to lie when the case came to court.

After the first trial was abandoned Ridsdale planned to take the Leeds team, including Woodgate and Bowyer, on a luxury golfing trip to Dubai.

The Times reports, 'Earlier this week the colleagues of Bowyer and Woodgate, knowing that a verdict was imminent, still saw fit to attend their Christmas players' party in an array of military uniforms. 'Some of them wore army fatigues and smeared their faces with black paint.'

Ridsdale and the club have never sent a letter of sympathy or apology to the Najeib family.

'Brown baby' slur

A former girlfriend of Bowyer's, Emma Keeney, says he split up with her when he discovered she had an Asian grandparent. She says that when he found out, Bowyer immediately ended the relationship, claiming he could not risk 'a brown baby'.

Black player abused

The life of Leeds player Michael Duberry has been ruined by the trial. He said that Woodgate had told him on the night of the attack that they had 'just had a fight with some Asians'. Within hours of Duberry giving evidence, thugs dressed in balaclavas turned up at his home.

They demanded to know where the 'black bastard' was. He has received hate mail and abusive phone calls, including threats to kill him.

Phone operators at Leeds United football club have been reduced to tears by the phone calls. Banners have been seen at matches saying 'Death to Duberry'.

A history of vile attacks

Bowyer and Woodgate have been arrested previously:

Jonathan Woodgate beat up a young student just nine months before the attack on Sarfraz Najeib. Woodgate was arrested but released without charge.

Lee Bowyer was charged and fined for affray in 1996 after attacking Asian staff at a McDonald's in east London.

The Daily Mail describes what happened: 'In September 1996, three months after Bowyer signed for Leeds, 17 year old A level student Shamsul Mia encountered him on a night out in London. Shamsul, whose family is from Bangladesh, was working part time at McDonald's on the Isle of Dogs when Bowyer and some friends pulled up in a minicab. Shamsul served him a 69p cheeseburger-but Bowyer threw it to the ground and said he wasn't going to eat anything served by a ' Paki' He demanded another burger and said he wanted to be served by a white person. He launched into a tirade of racist abuse. Bowyer and two friends began hurling chairs at the young waiter and his colleagues, all but one of whom were Asian. Shamsul and another worker had to be treated in hospital. Incredibly, the incident was not treated as a racist attack. Bowyer pleaded guilty to affray and was fined £4,500 by Thames magistrates-just half his week's wages at the time.'

Two unprovoked killings

The killers in two separate murder cases were found guilty and began to serve their sentences last week. One of the victims was Shiblu Rahman, a 34 year old chef who lived in Bow, east London.

He was beaten and stabbed to death in an unprovoked racially motivated attack in April this year. Stephen Hansen was convicted of the racially motivated murder and sentenced to 13 years last week.

His fellow attackers, Terry Cooper and Ian Devlin, were sentenced to nine years each for manslaughter. After the killers were convicted Detective Superintendent Peter Ship said, 'The trigger point for this murder was that this man was Asian, in what was a purely racial motive.'

In sharp contrast to Shiblu Rahman's case, Scott Burrell was convicted of murdering Kurdish asylum seeker Firsat Dag. The judge in the trial, Lord Kingarth, described Firsat Dag's murder as 'shameful, cowardly and totally unprovoked'.

In a desperate attempt to defend its attack on the victim, Firsat Dag, the Daily Record highlighted the fact that the prosecution dropped allegations that the attack was racially motivated.

Sarfraz brother testifies

'I saw them kick with full force. They were drawing their legs back, and I could hear the sickening thud of each kick as it landed on Sarfraz's face and head. They were the hardest kicks I've ever seen. I thought they were kicking a corpse. Then they started stamping on his face and jumping on his head. It was stomach churning.'
, brother of Sarfraz

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Article information

Sat 22 Dec 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1780
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