In the Media

Birmingham: three were killed defending property from looters

PUBLISHED December 6, 2011

Situation in Britain's second biggest city at one point threatened to descend into racial conflict

In Birmingham during the riots three young men were killed as they guarded their property from looters and were run down by a car.

The violence in the UK's second biggest city began when word went out through Facebook, texts and BlackBerry Messenger ? the phone network of choice for many young people ? at around midday on Monday 8 August that a riot or looting would start in and around Birmingham's iconic shopping centre, the Bullring. "If they had never texted me or phoned me I wouldn't have got involved," one interviewee told the Guardian.

Many of those who gathered in the town centre that afternoon did not know if anything would happen but many of them were aware of the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham the previous Thursday and the subsequent looting in London and they did not want to miss out on any potential action in their city.

By late afternoon, the crowd began to swell into the hundreds. People were packed "like grapes", as one 16-year-old boy described it. Many respondents, aware of heavy CCTV, came to town dressed all in black. Most respondents put the ages of those gathered between 15-30, a description that fits with the average age of 23 as documented by the police in their interim report into the disorder.

A number of the two dozen interviewed by researchers noted that the youngest there were of primary school age. It was largely a male gathering. One 15-year-old boy described the racial mix: "The Asians, the blacks, the whites, we all got together ... It felt like one big gang ... We took over Birmingham."

Another put it more succinctly: "Birmingham is a multicultural city. It was a multicultural day."

One of the first shops to be targeted was shoe store Foot Locker in the Pallasades shopping precinct. A young man who was later arrester described how he started a rush of lawlessness within the store. Standing outside he shouted: "Yo! Foot Locker, Foot Locker, you know you want to do Foot Locker! ... And when I walked in there I just thought: yah! Take something off the shelf and walk out."

As staff stood there aghast, that is what he did. Once outside, the rest of the crowd saw what he had got and then ran inside to do the same.The same interviewee also raided a nearby T Mobile shop. Heading into the secure area at back of the store, which was still staffed, he came back outside with a heap of new phones. Taking six of them for himself he tossed the rest into the crowd creating a another rush of excitement.

According to interviews and West Midlands police it was just after 6.30pm that the centre erupted into chaos. One rioter told the Guardian that at this time he was "smashing [a chair] on the JD [Sports] window ... and throwing stones as well. I was just copying [others]."

Through an organic process, the looting became more organised. Some would act as spotters while a mass would raid the inside of a store.

Still open, many shops were easy targets. "When walking round, if we seen something we like, we would just pull it off the hanger and run off. Fairly easy," said one 16-year-old.

An 18-year-old who was about to start his first year at university and described himself as a spectator said he saw a series of people kicking store windows. "Eventually it [the window] broke. Then they all jumped in and they were throwing bins around, setting stuff on fire."

At 7.36pm police contacted Travel West Midlands to stop all buses coming into town. This may have aggravated the situation: numerous people have reported eventually becoming caught up in that evening's actions because they could not leave the city centre.

There was some reports of violence within the crowd ? an older teenager was hit in the face with an iron bar ? but the vast majority of interpersonal violence was directed at police.

Undermining the common belief that during the riots police stood back, in Birmingham West Midlands units attempted to engage the crowd.

"The police started like closing, like running towards people and that's when everyone started running," said a boy who was just 15 at the time of the riots.

Police used truncheons to protect and contain areas but, as their own report acknowledges, their public order tactics were of "limited success" when applying them to "a crowd dynamic that was much larger and more fluid and fragmented than any public order scenario this force has ever faced".

Those in the crowd were aware of who was in control. "It is amazing what people can do [as] big groups and what the law can't handle ... They wasn't getting around town fast enough."

One 22-year-old former soldier who said he had come to town to pick a fight with police described a solid line of officers who were reduced to recording and gathering intelligence while crime occurred all around them. "I've been to Afghanistan. I've seen some pretty messed up things. This was one of the most unreal things I've ever seen."

Before midnight, with much of the town centre trashed, numbers began to thin out. However, in Birmingham's many suburbs, the violence continued into the night, becoming successively more horrific.

The police logs that night detail how officers and their vehicles came under attack with petrol bombs, baseball bats and bricks.

One of the most brazen anti-police actions was the attack on the unmanned Holyhead police station in at the west end of Handsworth. A young unemployed father of two said he had begun his day buying shoes in JD Sports in town when rioters stormed the shop. He returned home but later that night after going out for cigarettes came across a gang near the station and joined their action. They set fire to documents in both police buildings and when police arrived attacked them with their own police helmets, causing officers to retreat.

By early morning disturbances had died down but the second day would bring worse. While the deputy prime minister completed a 45-minute visit, youths began gathering in the city centre and in neighbouring city Wolverhampton. Looting again took place but many of them targeted stores on the back streets so as to avoid the now heavily policed areas in the city centre. "We did the same stuff [as on Monday] but in different areas like on the outer edges of the city not just in the city centre," one 15-year-old boy said.

That night vehicles and police stations were attacked again with any weapons available. Then at 11.53pm officers reported shots being fired at them from a group situated outside the Barton Arms pub in Aston in what police would later describe as an ambush on their officers. In all 11 shots were fired from four handguns.

In the very early hours of Wednesday 10 August, three young Asian males, Haroon Jahan, 21, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, were taken to City hospital. As part of a crowd of 80 they had been protecting their neighbourhood in Winson Green some two miles away from the Barton Arms pub, when they where run down by a driver.

As the sun rose on a third day in a riot torn Birmingham all three were declared dead and the situation was threatening to descend into racial conflict.

< p>According to police logs at 12.12pm they reported that disorder was being planned between Asian and black youths. At 4.02pm they reported "large groups of youths gathering in and around Birmingham and Wolverhampton city centres". At 6.06pm the logs report large crowds gathering at the scene of the murders on Dudley Road. Then at 7.30pm, Tariq Jahan, the father Haroon, who only hours before had given CPR to his dead and bloodied son, gave what the West Midlands police chief Chris Sims described as a "breathtaking speech". Jahan told the crowd to go home or be prepared to lose their own sons. Just over an hour later West Midlands police reported there was no disorder on the streets, for the first time in three days.

Eight people have been charged with the murders of Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali, and Abdul Musavir, and one person has been charged with perverting the course of justice. A further five people are on bail in connection with the deaths. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds