Another project I’m working on…
As a young Pakistani man growing up in South London I began to hear about the deaths in custody that were starting to take place in greater numbers from 1985 onwards. I had started to get involved with local Asian youth project (ironically set up by the police after the Brixton riots in 1981) but also involved in theatre and starting to write sketches and poetry.
The deaths of Tunay Hassan a Turkish Cypriot man Hackney and the brutal attack on Trevor Monerville in the same year particularly stuck out in my head as well as the deaths of Asian men in prison and after contact with the police. Tunay, whose girlfriend stated that he was severely beaten by the police in Dalston Police station, herself committed suicide 48 hours later. Trevor similarly was beaten up to such an extent that he was on a life support machine and had undergone brain surgery. He survived but seven years later died from stab wounds that he received in mysterious circumstances. The deaths in prison of Muhammed Anwar Kureshi in 1986, Rai Jasbir Singh and Mohammed Parkit in 1987 were equally troubling though they did not get the publicity that the other deaths received and this is still the case today around many deaths in prison and immigration and secure units.
I felt compelled to write about this and after visits to the IRR, attending public meetings and digging out research from various Policing Units at the time I started to write a play called ‘Black and Blue’ about a fictitious death of an Caribbean young man in Tooting. I’d already set up a youth theatre company called Action In Reaction (AIR) so proceeded to recruit and cast the play which went on tour in Merton and Wandsworth. The local council Merton disassociated themselves from the the production and both the National Front and the police tried to ban it. In 1988 it was performed at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon and won an award at a young people’s arts festival.
‘We can’t have the confidence of our young Policemen and women shattered by a small incident like this. We have a responsibility to the general public. You did not kill him. You merely enforced the law of this country.’
Black and Blue, 1987
Twenty years later I find myself living in High Wycombe as a Youth Service manager and there is a death of a Pakistani man on my doorstep (literally the road behind my house) in 2008. I knew Paps from the local community and his cousin Zia is one of my best friends, so we together with the family decided to set up a campaign. I have to say it’s been one of the most formative experiences of my life and waging battle against the police and the authorities been a tough and difficult one.
I’ve continued to write during this time, producing plays and my first novel so it seemed fairly natural that we should document the campaign and to tell our stories. In this book I’m going to chart the journey of the campaign and the struggle that we have waged against the police, IPCC, the CPS and indeed sections of our own community. We’ll look at the impact that it has had on the family and the process that they have had to go through and the very real human cost. I’m going to go through the experience of having gone through two inquests and misconduct hearing (one of the very first to be held in public) so you can get a sense of how tough and gruelling it has been.
‘IF YOU DON’T FIGHT YOU LOSE’ will explore how many of those who die remain anonymous and unknown to the general public, and the internal and external pressures that ensure that many campaigns never get off the ground.
We want to tell the story of Habib ‘Paps’ Ullah and the Justice4Paps campaign because:
- We want to change the narrative around deaths in custody and inform our ongoing struggles
- The need to record and document the journey that the family campaign has been on for more than nine years
- To inform and raise awareness not just of deaths in custody but the trials and tribulations that families go through
The book proposal is going to publishers currently. Will keep you updated about progress but in the mean time please support the Justice4Paps campaign and join us and other families at the next annual United Family and Friends Campaign memorial procession to Downing Street to remember those that have died on Saturday October 28th.