‘IF YOU DON’T FIGHT YOU LOSE’: The Justice4Paps campaign and Asian/Muslim deaths in custody

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Another project I’m working on…

Project Two

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.

Black & Blue poster

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:

  1. We want to change the narrative around deaths in custody and inform our ongoing struggles
  2. The need to record and document the journey that the family campaign has been on for more than nine years
  3. 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.

Stay wise



Tales of the Iron Lane

Been busy working on projects…

Project One

I going to research and publish a book that is provisionally called ‘Tales of the Iron Lane’ about the route of the Surrey Iron Railway (SIR) from Wandsworth to Croydon and the link to my own life and that of other second/third generation migrants. The project is aimed at communities in the two boroughs of Wandsworth and Merton. I would want to aim it to elders in particular from our communities in the area but also the ancestors of earlier migrants and take it to Old People’s Homes. I’d also like to target schools along the route of SIR and link it to Key Stages and curriculum. I want to use the past to provoke discussions about the future, and use my own stories of growing up near the line with other urban tales.

I’ve been working with the legendary and mysterious Manchester based musician Jaydev Mistry to look at soundscapes that will accompany the book and we’ve applied for some Arts Council dosh to run workshops and pay for getting the book out.

Ok I have a confession to make.

I wasn’t born in London! So for all my proclamation’s and accent my place of birth is in Surrey. Of course the late sixties were a time of local government reorganisation. I think everything got reorganised back then. Did you really think it’s stopped with Beecham and the railways? I think every little town and village had their own little council up and till the sixties. What do you think white middle class men did with their time back then? Anyway my place of birth is recorded as being at Nelson’s Hospital in Merton, Surrey. Think this was before it became a London borough and all that.

So why am I a British born Pakistani writing a book about the Surrey Iron Railway? Gotta admit I’m not a railway buff or anything like that but it’s just that in late 2016 I found out that the world’s oldest public railway line ran at the end of my road! I also ended up working in Wandsworth close to where the line met the Thames near to where the Wandle flows into that main river.

It made sense to write a history of the SIR which wasn’t just a history of the line but it was my history and some of the interesting shit that has happened to me. To relate a second generation immigrant tale to a monumental time in British transport history. There are many urban stories on the route that I want to explore as well.

I know this will piss off people but hey I’ve spent most of my life doing that one way or another. It seems to me that writing this kind of literature is the preserve of well heeled White people not lowlifes like me, but it’s in my stylistic tradition and I love winding people up about what darkies like me are allowed to do and write! But seriously though it’s about placing our experiences as being central and not ahistorical. In this book I’m going to explore themes of identity and Empire, of being on ‘road’ and the paths that we take both physical and literal.

Will keep you all updated


July 2017

The Orator ‘Vernacular’ review

I’ve been blessed to have performed with some of the great contemporary poets of our time. Back in the nineties I worked with Linton Kwesi Johnson, Benjamin Zephaniah and Lemn Sissay and made my name on the fledgling poetry circuit. I was also part of the hip hop scene in Manchester and love my UK MC’s and rappers.

In recent years I’ve been busying writing books and plays, campaigning and raising a family but still support the scene. Lucky to be working with the next generation of Asian and African, African Caribbean poets (or spoken word artists as they like to be called nowadays}. Young people like Shareefa Energy, the hip hop artist Awate and The Orator aka Boston Williams.

‘The truth is in fact a lie…’

His poetry album ‘Vernacular’ is an amazing opus that blends sharp lyricism with some amazing soundscapes and beats. From the angry opening track ‘IC3’ which tackles the still persuasive stereotyping of black youth in the UK to the beautiful odes ‘Oh Ye’ and in particular ‘Beacon Hill’ with it’s breakdown of the nature of love. W.O.R.DS segues his flow about the beauty of words and his craft with clever asides and quotes. ‘Bellies Humming Lynch’ challenges the post racial perspectives that many of us adopt and the complacency that exists. A poem for the sisters ‘Dimple & Wrinkles’ tip toes the balance between being condescending and being pro black and beautiful. My current fav is ‘Watershed’ with the chilled out backing and beats that drive the track. In ‘Crumblin”you can hear the echoes of 70’s dub poetry but done in The Orator’s distinct patter. The dub version just extends this flex and adds a wicked B-line. Even the little skits and the voices that we hear add depth and perspective to the album.

In some ways these poems doesn’t feel like 2017 but in these crazy merciless times I’m not sure what speaks to us right now. Vernacular feels timeless and powerful in how it evokes both the past, present and the future.

Gotta say a lot of the current spoken word content washes over me but this album gripped me with it’s honesty and realness. So putting him up there as one of the voices of our time. Straight up poetry never sounded so raw and beautiful.

Saqib, March 2017


Been a long time…

(c) Wycombe Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Painting by E.A.T Bellworthy


I know.

You don’t have to tell me been neglecting this blog.

It’s not that I haven’t been writing but that just that life has taken over and needed to deal with some serious business one time. New job and new challenges everywhere and had to get my head down. Anyhows the opus is coming along and just redrafting at the mo and refining the characters and juggling those timelines. Lily’s Walk is set in 2010 in High Wycombe a few years after the events that I write about in West Richardson Street and in tandem with this I’ve been working on the third and final book in this trilogy. World’s End (named after a pub in the slum area of the town) will see the similar balance of history and current happenings blended together leading to a crazy climax. Will be posting updates and interesting statuses on my Facebook page so this will be the best way to keep up to date with my literary happenings.

Looking forward to getting the trilogy out as I leave the town to settle back in London. This year will be twenty years that I’ve lived in High Wycombe. So much has happened both personally and politically during this time but this place has been a constant for me. Will be writing a book about the Justice4Paps campaign as my next big project and still got the play Rukhsati which is in the developmental stage. Decided to take up some time out to do some travelling and dedicate more time to writing. In these ever changing times have to continue to bear witness in these merciless times.

Be good

Saq, January 2017




Back to the matter in hand

‘These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.

They have gone under
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.’

Rising Damp, by U.A. Fanthorpe

Been working on Lily’s Walk the sequel to West Richardson Street and it’s going well. I’ve written about two thirds of the novel now and been snatching time on my daily commute and in the different places my life resides in. It the mean time I have been catching up with the BBC TV series Peaky Blinders and been impressed by it’s writing, characterisation and setting. Capturing Birmingham in the early part of the last century is no mean feat though the depiction of Asian and African characters leaves a lot to be desired. Though this has given me further motivation and inspiration to work on a screen play with the project title ‘Dropping bombs on Downton Abbey’ which I mentioned last year.

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As ever High Wycombe serves as inspiration to me. Despite the cast of characters it is the town itself that casts a shadow on proceedings. This is still the case in Lily’s Walk where key local landmarks serve as points of navigation through the storylines in the novel.Walking through it’s streets I’m drawn to small glimpses of the town’s past. A little alley, boundary stones and architecture that points to its medieval origins. The network of roads and their names that reveal what went on hundreds of years ago.

I’m going to working with the artist and activist George Coombs to do the artwork/cover for the new book and again will be looking to get it out on Kindle. As ever it’s a labour of love but I gotta tell these stories. I hope it will be the same rollercoaster of a ride that the first one was and works both as a sequel and accompaniment to West Richardson Street and in it’s own right as a piece of art that is meaningful and truthful.

Stay wise

Saqib, July 2015

#Whatinspiresme Three

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‘I chose to reflect the times and the situations that I find myself in. How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times?’

Sometimes you are fated for events to happen to you. This is what happened with and me and Nina Simone. More than twenty years ago I was living in Manchester and she was playing at the now defunct Nia Centre around the corner from my yard. Mate of mine had a row with his Mrs who was supposed to go and lo and behold there was a spare ticket which I nabbed quickly. Amazing and memorable show where she played all the classics and she must have been have been in her 60’s then but it was a performance full of energy and wisdom. Nina was also an activist like many artists of her time and was on the frontline during the struggles of the sixties and the seventies. True inspiration seen!

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#WhatInspiresMe Two

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‘We will see

That day…
When the cruel mountains of injustice
Will blow away like cotton wool
We will see.’

Hum Dekhenge by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Someone asked me the other day what inspired me as a writer and activist so going to be putting up some key influences on my novel page and on here over the next few weeks. As a child growing up in a Pakistani household you could not avoid Faiz. His name was imprinted in the minds of anyone who loved poetry and music and this was something that was common in the seventies and eighties. It was only when I was older when I began to understand urdu better and read him in translation about the power of his words and what he meant:

Before You Came

‘Tum jo naa aa’e the to har chiiz vahii thii kih jo hai
aasmaaN hadd-e-nazar, raahguzar raahguzar, shiishaah-e-mai,

‘Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of sight,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine.’

Faiz continues to be an influence on me and other South Asian writers and you see countless references to him in our works. It is that mix of revolutionary spirit and beautiful lyricism that inspires us.

#WhatInspiresMe One

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Those that know me will know my love of hip hop. From 1987 through the golden years till now I love that combination of beats and rhymes. Those who know me better will know me back in the day as a DJ and founder member of the Kaliphz crew who I later managed. Hard job thinking of one tune or a single album that can point to but I am never too far away from this long player. Underrated UK crew who produced this album more than 20 years ago now. Big production and mad skills that still sounds dark and ominous. #Whatinspiresme

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The Quickener – A Medieval Tale

‘The year is 1348. Medieval England has just been struck by a terrifying plague. The fate of a young sculptor and his wife will be decided today. With a brutal moneylender breathing down their necks and The Black Death wrecking havoc will they be able to escape doom? With 100% of the dialogue spoken in rap and poetic verse, ‘The Quickener’ is an unusual period drama shot on location in the Midlands, England.’

Love this mix of hip hop lyricism and medieval tales – it’s a kind of area and trajectory that I’m interested in. Big shout out to man like Juice Aleem

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Bearing witness

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I’ve been taking a break from writing Lily’s Walk the sequel to West Richardson Street and doing a different kind of writing.

This month has been the second inquest into the death of Habib ‘Paps’ Ullah who died during a stop and search in High Wycombe in July 2008. I’ve been supporting the family since then and with his cousin Zia Ullah set up the Justice4Paps campaign early on after his funeral.

Over the last month I’ve been writing a daily blog from the court about the proceedings so those that couldn’t attend could at least get an update. Been a hard job attending court all day and going through reports and notes and then writing the damn things!

If I want to be critical the quality has been patchy and its been a struggle to keep it mainly factual and descriptive and nothing that will prejudice the legal proceedings. Not a big believer in balance when it comes to dealing with injustice. In the words of the great Sivanandan if the whole society is bias against you why you do want add more balance. If you have very little power/influence we need more bias and more opportunities to get our views across.

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But it’s a skill to write whatever setting and continues my aim to write everyday as a discipline. This writing is also vital as it’s about bearing witness and ensuring that the events of this inquest are recorded BY us and FOR us. About bearing witness to the key events that we go through, and these trials and inquests are going to feature sadly more and more in our lives as police powers grow exponentially and their accountability decreases. The final conclusion was of a critical misadventure and narrative verdict further details on the INQUEST page.

Got to give a big shout out to the Family Web Pages Collective and in particular Zinzi Napthali for managing the site and giving me tech support.

Good in some ways to get some time away from Lily’s Walk but itching to jump up back in so watch this space.

One love