United Kingdom

Met Police apologise to black mother after officers made 'racist assumptions' when she was attacked

A black woman who was punched to the ground and stamped on by a gang of seven white men has claimed police made 'racist assumptions' about her and fellow victims - sparking a renewed investigation into the vile attack.

Niyad Farah, 38, who is of Somali heritage and was born in Wales but moved to London 13 years ago, was with two friends when the men launched their assault outside a 24-hour convenience store in north west London on December 22 last year.

The gang shouted racist abuse before physically attacking them, and the police categorised it as racially motivated grievous bodily harm with intent – just one down from murder. 

Ms Farah, who works for a charity that helps ex-prisoners, was kicked unconscious in the attack and taken to St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, where she was treated for head injuries and extensive bruising. 

Niyad Farah, 38, who is of Somali heritage and was born in Wales but moved to London 13 years ago, was with two friends when a group of seven white men launched their racist assault outside a 24-hour convenience store in north west London on December 22 last year

Ms Farah, who works for a charity that helps ex-prisoners, was kicked unconscious in the attack and taken to St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, where she was treated for head injuries and extensive bruising (pictured)

She claims that while she was being questioned in hospital, a constable asked her if she was 'buying anything off' her attackers and appeared to think this was a drugs deal gone wrong.

Ms Farah approached BBC Newsnight in January alleging the Met's investigation had been seriously flawed and accused the police of making racist assumptions about her and her friends. 

The Metropolitan Police has now reopened the investigation and apologised to the victims, following a probe by the programme.

Ms Farah told Newsnight she was punched to the ground and dragged into a doorway next to the shop.

Ms Farah claims that while she was being questioned in hospital, a constable asked her if she was 'buying anything off' her attackers and appeared to think this was a drugs deal gone wrong

'I was like being stamped on… I was just curled up on the floor,' she recalled.

'I was thinking, "My son's not going to have a mum." And... I'm going to be dead.' 

In a report airing tonight (Wednesday 21 October), BBC Newsnight found that officers failed to recover CCTV, find witnesses, or even to take statements from the victims. 

The Met denies racist assumptions were made about the victims, but has apologised for failing the women and said its investigation is being reviewed 'to ensure that we identify any organisational learning'. 

Newsnight asked a senior former police officer to review the case. Robert Quick has 32 years of experience investigating violent crime. 

Ms Farah approached BBC Newsnight in January alleging the Met's investigation had been seriously flawed and accused the police of making racist assumptions about her and her friends. Pictured after the attack

Police categorised the attack as racially motivated grievous bodily harm with intent – just one down from murder. Pictured: Ms Farah's head wound

He is former head of specialist operations at the Met, and before that was Chief Constable of Surrey Police.

Mr Quick told the programme that if the constable had asked whether the women were buying drugs from their attackers, 'that does imply the officers at the scene were working on some sort of assumption that they either knew the perpetrators or were in some way engaging with them, maybe buying drugs or whatever'. 

'If that's true, then that's inexcusable,' he added. 'The police absolutely have a duty to be objective and not to jump to conclusions.'

The women believe racist assumptions undermined the police investigation but the Met denies the claim.

In a statement, the Met said: 'This line of questioning should not be considered as an officer making any assumptions or doubting the account given by a victim, and we refute any suggestion that this is what happened in this case. 

Ms Farah (pictured) and the other women believe racist assumptions undermined the police investigation but the Met denies the claim

'Our officers always keep an open mind as to the circumstances of any attack and must build an understanding of the facts.

'From a very early stage, this was treated as a serious racially aggravated assault committed by people unknown to the victims.'

Beyond this question, Newsnight's investigation found that the police investigation was hampered by a series of serious, basic mistakes.

For nearly two weeks after the attack, no effort was made to recover CCTV, no witness statements were taken, even from the three women who had been attacked, and no effort was made to trace a dark-coloured van associated with the men.

By the time the police tried to recover CCTV from shops in Kilburn Lane in early January, footage had been recycled – overwritten by new material.

In a report airing tonight (Wednesday 21 October), BBC Newsnight found that officers failed to recover CCTV, find witnesses, or even to take statements from the victims. Pictured: Ms Farah now

Ms Farah said she was angry that the Met failed to take a statement from her until February – two months after the attack. 

No statements from the other two women attacked – both witnesses – have ever been taken.

Mr Quick told Newsnight the Met's response had been 'woeful', adding:  'This was an attack of extreme violence… and it was about compounded by racial motivation, the evidence of which is clear. It had the potential to really impact on community confidence.'

In response to Newsnight's investigation, the Metropolitan Police has apologised to the women. A spokesperson said the incident 'should have been escalated and prioritised at an earlier stage'.

The Met said: 'There was a delay in the necessary follow-up enquiries being made just after the incident, and this hindered the subsequent investigation.

'This shouldn't have happened, and we are sorry for letting the victims in this case down. This was an appalling attack which should have been investigated with greater urgency.'

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