Bias training needed after force ‘failed’ Iranian murder victim

More training has been recommended to help officers recognise unchallenged bias after a force ignored calls for help from a hate crime victim later murdered by his neighbours.

Jul 5, 2017

More training has been recommended to help officers recognise unchallenged bias after a force ignored calls for help from a hate crime victim later murdered by his neighbours. Avon and Somerset Constabulary “repeatedly failed” Bijan Ebrahimi when its officers refused to believe he was subject to racial and religious abuse, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Neighbours’ accusations that he was a paedophile were taken at face value and Ebrahimi was branded a “liar” by officers – despite making 85 calls to them over seven years. Two officers were convicted of criminal misconduct over their handling of the case. In reports published on Wednesday (June 5), the IPCC found evidence officers may have been affected by racial bias. It recognised Avon and Somerset Constabulary has already made major changes to its policy and training but stressed there is room to improve how it teaches officers to overcome their prejudices. Commissioner Jan Williams said: “Looked at, as a whole, the constabulary failed Bijan Ebrahimi on a number of levels, over a number of years. “This failure was at its worst at the very time that his need was greatest. There could, and should, have been a very different response. “We found evidence that Bijan Ebrahimi had been treated consistently differently from his neighbours, to his detriment and without reasonable explanation. Some of the evidence has the hallmarks of what could be construed as racial bias, conscious or unconscious. “The most salutary lesson for the constabulary is underlined by the sad, poignant fact that Bijan Ebrahimi kept faith with the police throughout, no matter how many times he was rebuffed.” Mr Ebrahimi was murdered by neighbour Lee James and set alight in 2013 following a sustained campaign of abuse. Three days before his death, Avon and Somerset Constabulary arrested him following false allegations that he had been taking pictures of children. However, he was released without charge. The IPCC found a series of “poor police service responses” over at least seven years led officers to miss opportunities to prevent his death. Mr Ebrahimi had contacted the force 85 times between 2007 and 2013, reporting racial abuse, criminal damage and threats to kill in 73 of these calls. At least 40 of these incidents did not lead to a crime being recorded, as call handlers failed to apply local and national standards. In 2015, Police Constable Kevin Duffy and Andrew Passmore, a police community support officer (PCSO), were both convicted of criminal misconduct for their treatment of the case and jailed. In the aftermath of Mr Ebrahimi’s murder, Avon and Somerset Constabulary has made sweeping changes to its vulnerability response and how officers are equipped to deal with these cases. A new operating model was implemented in 2014/15 focusing on early identification and a more effective approach to recording incidents and deploying resources. A leadership programme has been introduced including a four-day management and supervision course, and body-worn cameras have been issued to officers and PCSOs. The force has also delivered a new ‘Taking the hurt out of hate crime’ training programme teaching officers and staff about unconscious bias. Chief Constable Andy Marsh recognised “systematic” failings had stopped officers taking action to prevent the murder. He added that the actions of several individuals “had a catastrophic effect”. “The intervening period since Mr Ebrahimi’s tragic and brutal murder has been difficult for everyone involved,” said Mr Marsh. “But we did not stand still and wait for these reports to be published; instead we scrutinised the events leading up to his murder. We looked at the case from every dimension to understand what happened, what we failed to do and what we should have done differently. “It is a real tribute to Mr Ebrahimi’s sisters that they have been able to help us in this and I would like to thank them again for their courage and determination in doi

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