Does the Crown Office have the will to investigate racist or sectarian crimes in Scotland? IN a country where the authorities appear to avoid investigating murders as racially, or even religiously provoked at all costs, and where members of religious or racial minorities are, according to academics, statistically more likely to be jailed by an apparently prejudiced justice system, it comes as no surprise that over a decade after the racially motivated murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar, there are now new calls for an inquiry into how the Crown Office and now, Lothian & Borders Police, avoided investigating the murder of a Chinese man from Edinburgh, Simon San in August 2010 as a racially motivated crime.
In a statement released by Lothian & Borders Police, the Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen has apologised to the family of Mr San for not investigating the murder as a racist incident.
Simon San was attacked whilst at work in the Lochend area of Edinburgh in August 2010. He suffered injuries from which he died and Lothian and Borders Police launched a murder inquiry. Four young men were quickly identified and subsequently appeared in court.
The prosecution of those involved in the death of Mr San earlier this year saw the conviction of a 16 year old youth, John Reid, who admitted the culpable homicide of Mr San and was sentenced to five years for the killing. Two other 16-year-olds pleaded guilty to assault charges in connection with the case, however in April, Michael Roberts, had his original 42-month sentence cut to 26 months and Keir Rodger had his 34-month term cut to 24 months by appeal judges. A 14-year-old, who cannot be identified, who also faced an assault charge in connection with the death of Mr San, had his not guilty plea accepted by the Crown but admitted breaching bail conditions.
According to the statement released by Lothian & Borders Police, Mr San's family made a number of complaints about the police response and an internal investigation was undertaken. This investigation, which was known as Operation Waymark, is now completed. The San family has been involved throughout and the report has been discussed with them.
Lothian & Borders Police Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen said: "There is no doubt that Simon's family have not had the service from my force that we would hope to give any family or any victim of crime. I have apologised privately to the family for that failure and would like to repeat that apology publicly."
Mr Allen also apologised on behalf of the organisation for not listening to the family when they said they thought the attack was racially motivated; for not making them feel that their views mattered, and for not recording and investigating the attack on Simon as a racist incident.
He added: "We said that Simon was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was not. Simon was at his place of work in a city that was his home. He was playing his part as an active member of our community, contributing through work to the economic success of this city. Simon was a fellow citizen who was killed tragically and pointlessly."
The force is committed to learning from Operation Waymark and is now more alert to the needs and perception of family members. It has already taken steps to review its management of critical incidents and is refreshing guidance and training given to all officers and police staff in relation to identifying when a hate crime has occurred. The DCC has also spoken individually to all officers and police staff mentioned in the complaint.
Mr San's family have been supported all along by Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council. ELREC's chairman, Mr Foysol Choudhury, said: "We commend the family for their courage and perseverance to ensure the mishandling of Simon's murder investigation is made public and other families who experience a similar event will not have their suffering prolonged. We also want to thank the enquiry team for their effort in delivering the answers the family had been seeking."
Aamer Anwar, the San family solicitor, said: “Simon San's family lost faith and trust in police because of the actions of these officers. They feel had they not complained about their treatment, they would have never found out about the mistakes made by the officers. The officers may well be disciplined but for Simon's family they have played a role in lack of justice which they should have been entitled to as a grieving family.”
“Simon's father believes his son lost his life and is convinced that the accused received a lesser sentence because the officers failed to investigate the racial motivation of this case. They also feel that they were treated in this manner because they were Chinese.”
'Mr Trieu Seng San (father of Simon San) stated : “Simon San was the youngest of my six children. He was a good son and a good brother. Simon's murder destroyed the whole family. I, along with my family, am very angry with the treatment we received from Lothian and Borders Police. The findings do not offer me any peace; they merely confirm that we were right that we have not been treated appropriately by the officers.”
“The racial motivation was completely denied by the officers despite there being evidence but though this material was provided to the Crown Office, the sentencing Judge and family were told there was no such evidence. The family welcome the findings and thank Lothian & Borders Police for their robust inquiry, but still feel they have been denied justice. They are now requesting that the Lord Advocate order an immediate inquiry into their actions following the findings of the Police Complaint.”
The Crown Office released the following statement in response to the apology to the San family from Lothian & Borders Police over their failures in the murder of Mr San. The statement from the Crown Office denies there was any evidence in law to show to show that the attack on Mr San was racially motivated , however as yet the statement does not appear on the Crown Office website.
The statement, from a Crown Office spokesperson said : Lothian and Borders police have today apologised for mistakes they have made in this case. In light of this apology the Area Procurator Fiscal has offered to meet Mr San’s family again to discuss any questions which they might now have.
The Crown was alert to the question of racial motivation from the beginning of the investigation and raised the issue with the police at an early stage. After careful consideration of all the available evidence provided to the Crown by the police, Crown Counsel concluded that there was no evidence to show that the attack on Mr San was racially motivated.
For a racial aggravation to be proved there must be evidence to demonstrate the motivation for the commission of the crime. There was no evidence in law to support this and this remains the case. There was evidence of a racial term used by the accused sometime after the crime but this was not evidence of motivation for the crime.
Notwithstanding this the Advocate Depute advised the High Court when John Reid pled guilty to culpable homicide in October 2010 that it was the strongly held view of Mr San's family that the offence was racially motivated. In addition a victim impact statement was provided to the court which conveyed the family’s views on the motivation for the crime.
The Solicitor representing the family thanked the Advocate Depute prior to the accused pleading guilty for the sensitive way in which the family had been treated and the way the case was presented.
There are now, unsurprisingly, questions being raised why the Crown Office failed to prosecute the murder of Mr San as a racially motivated crime and there are now calls for an inquiry into the way the Crown Office handled the case. However, the Crown Office have refused calls for an inquiry into why the incident was not investigated as a racially motivated murder.
A spokesperson for the Crown Office said : "We can confirm the Lord Advocate will not be instructing an inquiry and is satisfied with the Crown's prosecution of the case. Mr John Logue, the Area Procurator Fiscal for Lothian & Borders, has offered to meet with Mr San's family to discuss any questions which they might now have."
Last night on BBC Newsnight Scotland, the Deputy Chief Constable of Lothian & Borders Police Mr Allen was interviewed on his force’s investigation of the case, however Crown Office officials apparently refused to take part in the programme, or at least “were unavailable”, as is now the recognised code for nothing further to add.
Lothian & Borders Police DCC Steve Allen speaks on his force’s failures in the racially motivated murder of Simon San (click image to watch video)
The overall impression is that any lessons supposedly learned from the recommendations from the ‘independent inquiries’ carried out by Advocate Raj Jandoo of the Crown Office’s failure to prosecute the 1998 murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar as a racist crime, have after all these years, not had much effect on how racist cases are eventually prosecuted in the justice system. The accusations at the time of Surjit Singh Chhokar’s murder was that the Crown Office and the Scottish justice system was institutionally racist. Today, the same accusations appear to hold sway.
In a remarkable twist of fate, the author of the reports into the Chhokar case, Dr Jandoo, may well have been the victim of racism himself, after being convicted in 2005 of an incident involving a "bomb threat" aboard an aircraft flying to the Isle of Lewis.
Whilst it is now clear that racist crimes face an uphill battle to be prosecuted in the Scottish justice system, crimes involving sectarianism also appear to suffer the same problems, where a string of murders across Scotland in the past year, regarded widely by many in the communities in which they occurred as having sectarian connotations, have not seen even a hint of the notion being put forward by the authorities who appear to be doing everything they can to avoid any mention of religious divisions in Scotland.
Even the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee who were considering a public petition, Petition PE1073 which challenged the Scottish Justice system for incarcerating religious minorities including Catholics at a higher rate than the rest of the population, met in secret to debate whether to even publish research carried out by an academic which backed up the Petition’s claims, such is the apparent fear of acknowledging sectarianism within Scotland and even our justice system.
The research, undertaken by Dr Susan Wiltshire of Glasgow University for the Petitions Committee, can be downloaded from the Scottish Parliament’s website, here : Offender Demographics and Sentencing Patterns in Scotland and the UK: Research commissioned by the Public Petitions Committee in consideration of PE1073 (203KB pdf)
Indeed, the only recent moves to tackle sectarianism by the Scottish authorities have come on the back of conflict between groups of football club supporters & online incidents involving death threats against individuals, after letter bombs were sent out to politicians, football personalities and even a Scottish QC, allegedly motivated by sectarianism & religious hate, issues which most in authority in Scotland appear to be keen to sweep under the carpet.
Clearly, there are still attitudes on religious & racist crimes within Scotland’s criminal justice system which are just as “Victorian” as our civil justice system and the impression is left that Scotland’s prosecution services are out of touch with Scottish society and its expectations of justice in the 21st century.