Ten years after the riots in Birmingham, a mother still seeks justice for sons’ death

Show caption Rukaya Begum, whose sons were run over and killed on 9 August 2011. Eight men were acquitted of their murder and no one has been convicted in relation to their deaths. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian Birmingham Ten years after the riots in Birmingham, a mother still seeks justice for sons’ death Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir went into the city to protect their business as rioters clashed with police but never returned Nazia Parveen Community affairs correspondent @NParveenG Sun 1 Aug 2021 14.00 BST Share on Facebook

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In her golden years Rukaya Begum’s home should have been full of the patter of grandchildren’s feet and the bustle of family get-togethers but instead there is an overwhelming silence.

On 9 August 2011, Begum had been surrounded by her family; her husband, Ghazanfar, her three sons, Abdul Quddoos, Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir, and her daughter, Sumera Ali. It was Ramadan and she remembers in detail the food that she had cooked that night – keema kebabs, masala haandi with warm chappattis and sweet fruits for pudding. Just before they sat down for the family meal her son, Shazad, had affectionately fed her a date to break her fast.

It is these moments that she now holds on to because outside their home that night Birmingham was burning. Rioters were clashing with police and violence and looting had broken out across the city.

It was into this storm that her two younger sons, Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, went. They left to protect their livelihoods and never returned. The two brothers and 19-year-old Haroon Jahan, died when they were hit by a speeding car.

This month is the 10th anniversary of the brothers’ deaths. In the home Begum shared with them she clings to photo albums filled with family parties, birthdays and weddings where all of her children group together in close huddles.

(From left) Sumera Ali, parents Ghazanfar Ali and Rukaya Begum and son Abdul Quddoos. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

“He [Shazad] gave me a date and put a plate of fruit in front of me. He was just happy,” she says. “They were going to prayers at the mosque and I told them not to get involved in what was going on outside. Everyone had been told to stay in. That was the last time I saw them,” she adds.

Begum’s sons never returned. Her husband and son would find them lying in a pool of blood near the family’s car washing business before they were taken to different hospitals and pronounced dead that same night.

Her husband tries to speak but is unable to. He begins to weep, his silent distress filling the room. Her remaining son, Abdul Quddoos, touches his father’s hand as he draws sharp breaths before describing his siblings’ last moments.

“My friend phoned saying there had been a car accident but he held back from telling me how bad it was,” he says. “We got there quickly and that’s when we saw all three of them on the floor,” he adds after a long pause.

Paramedics, police and passersby including family members of the men frantically carried out CPR but Abdul Quddoos, his voice shaking, says he knew Abdul Musavir was already dead.

“I ran to my older brother first and could see that he was gone,” he says. “My dad had blacked out and there were people doing CPR on Shazad and then they took them to separate hospitals,” he adds, his face contorting as he relives the shock of those moments.

Abdul Musavir was pronounced dead at the scene but Shazad Ali continued to breathe. He was rushed to hospital with doctors trying to revive him but he was also pronounced dead a short time later surrounded by his family including his wife, Khansa, who was four months’ pregnant at the time.

“It’s not something you should ever see,” says Sumera, who took in Shazad’s new wife and now helps to care for his nine-year-old son, Abdul Wahid. “A part of us had gone with them,” she adds.

By the time the three young men died there had already been much violence in the city. The riots ignited community tensions, which had simmered under the surface for some years, and the deaths sparked outrage that made the police fear an escalation of violence.

“It was incredibly difficult after they died because we were grieving but then also trying to keep everyone calm,” says Sumera. “We worked so hard to keep the peace – people were so angry about the situation – but we didn’t want any more people to get hurt,” she adds.

Still in their leather-bound velvet cushioned boxes Begum keeps numerous awards. These bittersweet accolades were given to her family after her sons died, acknowledgement for the work they did to help keep the peace in the city.

But Begum, who once hung these awards proudly on her walls, eventually took them down. They became, she says, painful reminders of the justice that eluded her family.

“I lost two sons that day but no one was ever jailed … they should not have died,” Begum says. “We did everything the police asked and got all of these awards but it was for nothing,” she adds.

In 2012, eight men accused of the murders were acquitted. The crown had alleged that the three deceased men were murdered in the modern-day equivalent of a “chariot charge” involving three cars, while they were out protecting local businesses in Winson Green.

But the men were cleared of three counts of murder each by a jury at Birmingham crown court.

All eight defendants denied they planned to kill the men in a co-ordinated attack using three cars and said the deaths were an accident. The driver of a black Mazda 6 was carrying two passengers when he collided with the men. The jury watched CCTV footage of the crash and the aftermath, which set off violent scenes in the public gallery.

The driver claimed he swerved to avoid the crowd because he was concerned about getting his car “smashed up”. He told the jury he was good friends with the two brothers and had not intended to knock down, kill or seriously harm any member of the crowd.

The defence described the prosecution claims of a murderous plan being hatched in a three-minute “window” before the deaths as implausible speculation that had put innocent men in the dock.

Previously, the trial had been temporarily halted because of complaints over the police investigation, with the families of the deceased men calling for a public inquiry into the way the case was handled.

During the trial, the police were accused of not revealing that they had offered witnesses immunity from prosecution. The lead police investigator was accused of lying under oath by the judge who eventually directed the jury to disregard much of the evidence.

When the IPCC launched an investigation into the police’s conduct, it found that the DCI Anthony Tagg had no case to answer, instead suggesting it was a more junior officer, Det Insp Khalid Kiyani, who had a case to answer for gross misconduct. But, as he had retired, no one would be disciplined.

The jury eventually found that the men had died in a “tragic accident”, and were not murdered in a deliberate plot, but the men’s families say they would like the case reopened.

“There is so much that went on that needs to be looked at again,” says Abdul Quddoos. “We want justice. Why is it OK that three men died and nobody was ever sent to prison for it?”

For Begum the tragic events of that night forever changed her family, the trauma sitting on the surface in every word that they speak, and she feels the only way to bring some closure is if an inquiry is launched into her sons’ deaths.

“No mother should ever have to bury her children, we want someone to help us, make this OK, otherwise we will never rest,” she says.

• This article was amended on Monday 2 August. In an earlier version, the ages of Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir were incorrectly transposed, and Khansa Ali was said to be three months’ pregnant, not four.

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