The murder of Danny O’Shea in east London last week highlighted one particularly divisive issue – when can you classify a murder as racially aggravated?
There have been questions – particularly from what you might call ‘right wing organisations’ such as the BNP – as to what exactly distinguishes the murder of a black victim by a gang of white attackers from the murder of a white victim by a gang of black attackers.
While the mother of Danny O’Shea has explicitly stated that her son’s killing was not a racist murder, it is suggested that the mainstream media are all too happy to leap in with the term when whites are responsible. Similarly, it is claimed, they are often happy to use the term ‘honour killing’ when its application to a particular case is debatable.
Aside from whether this is an issue of ‘disingenuous language’ used by the media, there is specific guidance on what does or doesn’t amount to racial aggravation. Namely that:
a) at the time of the offence (or shortly before or after), the offender demonstrates to the victim hostility based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group, or
b) the offence is motivated wholly or partly by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership (or presumed membership) of that group.
Demonstrating hostility is not defined by the Act. The ordinary dictionary definition of hostile includes simply being “unfriendly”. Proving this limb of the offence requires evidence of words or actions which show hostility toward the victim. However, this hostility may be totally unconnected with the “basic” offence which may have been committed for other, non-racially or religiously motivated reasons. For example, an assault which takes place because of an argument over a parking place, but where the offender then utters racial abuse to the victim of the assault would come within the scope of this part of section 28.
If a murder is found to be racially aggravated then the starting point for the minimum term to be served in prison as part of a life sentence is 30 years. This places it on the same level as aggravation based on religious or sexual orientation.
In practice, it usually requires strong racist language to be used in the course of the attack. The police have not revealed any detailed information about what was said or done during the attack on Danny O’Shea, and (more to the point) have in fact stated that ‘there is nothing to suggest Danny’s murder is racially aggravated’.
This could change. Or it could not. Speculation on the limited facts available, in a bid to put forward a particular political point of view, is not particularly helpful given that the investigation is ongoing. An 18 year-old man is dead and the priority is to ensure his killer or killers are brought to justice.
• List of deaths with a known or suspected racial element since 1991, compiled by the Institute of Race Relations
• Racial murders: Nearly half the victims are white – Guardian article from 2009 on Home Office figures
UPDATE: This is the murdermap case summary after the case came to trial. There was no mention of racism at all – the victim was ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’.
On June 20, 2012, detectives charged nine men with murder and conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm: Paul Johnson, 33 (3.03.79) of Harrow, Kevin Richards, 32 (31.12.79) of Willesden, O’Neil Wareham, 29 (16.09.82) of Harrow, Andrew Johnson, 35 (1.04.77) of Harrow; Ferron Perue, 24 (29.09.88) of Birmingham, Nugent Rowe, 29 (1.04.83) of Pinner, Christopher Nathaniel, 40 (9.03.72) of Poplar, Paul Boadi, 34 (24.08.78) of Poplar, and David Hylton, 47 (20.04.65) of central London. A tenth man, Scott Marius, 44, of Maida Vale, was charged with murder in August.
Nathaniel and Boadi were business partners in the NVA Entertainment group which manages the careers of footballers, musicians and other celebrities. He was most well known for negotiating a deal involving footballer Ashley Cole and the rapper Jay-Z.
They went on trial at the Old Bailey on February 6, 2013. The prosecution case was that Nathaniel and Boadi organised a revenge attack after Boadi was robbed of his Blackberry mobile phone by a group of black youths in the same area of Canning Town on November 27, 2011.
Witnesses claimed Boadi shouted ‘this won’t be the end of it’ after the incident.
On 2 December 2011 the group travelled to the scene in a hired minibus driven by Scott Marius, while Nathaniel and Boadi travelled separately by Mercedes.
Nobody witnessed the stabbing but jurors heard that Danny had no involvement in the robbery and was ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
Nathaniel posted a Twitter message hours later saying: ‘The element of surprise is such a beautiful thing.’ He denied this had anything to do the killing and claimed it was a reference to a potentially lucrative deal with four Premiership clubs.
The sports agent claimed that he asked Richards to get a group together to find a ‘peaceful solution’ and retrieve the phone. He denied any intention to get revenge.
His barrister James Wood QC said: ‘Richards indicated he knew how to deal with this kind of situation and he knew how to do this in a peaceable way.
‘What Mr Nathaniel wanted to happen was to be an effective intervention by adult black males. The kids were to be located and Richards as a skilled intermediary would speak to them and attempt to bring some calm and reconciliation to the area.
‘Violence, knives and certainly murder played no part at all in his mind. It was to be a disaster.
‘Those involved in the robbery were never located and some brutal idiot for reasons of his own took out a knife which nobody knew he had and perpetrated a brutal unprovoked killing of a young white man uninvolved in any robbery in a chase which was unplanned and unintended with a tragic outcome.’
Several of the defendants blamed Rowe for the fatal stabbing and told the court that he boasted about ‘shanking’ someone when they returned to the van.
On 13 June 2013 Rowe was convicted of murder. Nathaniel and the seven others were acquitted of all charges. The following day Rowe was jailed for life with a minimum of 24 years before parole.murdermap