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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Acquitted but exiled from home. Reliving the story of the Bradford Twelve, 40 years on

Forty years ago, twelve men from the District went on trial at Leeds Crown Court for arming themselves against threats of violence from far-right fascists.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Bradford Twelve trial, where a dozen members of the United Black Youth League (UBYL), a splinter group of the Asian Youth Movement (AYM), spent 31 days in front of a judge at Leeds Crown Court accused of manufacturing explosives in anticipation of a racist attack by fascist groups.

Described as the “the trial of the century” at the time, the twelve men, Giovanni Singh, Praveen Patel, Saeed Hussain, Sabir Hussain, Tariq Mehmood, Ahmed Mansoor, Bahram Noor Khan, Tarlochan Gata-Aura, Ishaq Mohammed Kazi, Vasant Patel, Jayesh Amin, and Masood Malik, were found not guilty by a jury and were acquitted of the terror charges.

Throughout the long nine weeks in court, eleven of the men were represented by some of the top human rights lawyers in the country, including Jean Gareth Peirce, Ruth Bundy, Michael Mansfield QC, Lord Anthony Gifford QC, Sibghat Kadri and Helena Kennedy QC. Mr Mehmood, who was a mill worker at the time, chose to represent himself during the process.

The trial was a landmark victory, where they proved that they had a right to defend themselves and their community. Image: Tandana.org.

In 1981, members of Bradford AYM set up UBYL as an anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, and anti-racist self-defence organisation after a spate of deadly racist attacks took place across the country.

That year, thirteen Black children were murdered after petrol was poured through a letterbox and set on fire at a house party in southeast London, and Parveen Khan and her three children in northeast London were killed in the same way a few weeks later.

Members of UBYL heard rumours that a march was planned for Bradford, and given the attacks that had already happened, took them seriously with some of the group members made petrol bombs in self-defence, but never used them.

On 30 June 1981, the twelve men were arrested after a police raid found them in possession of thirty-eight milk bottles filled with petrol. The trial of the twelve men, nicknamed the Bradford Twelve by the press, began on 26 April 1992 and concluded in June with their landmark acquittal.

Tariq Mehmood, who is now an award-winning documentary filmmaker and author, writer of Hands Off the Sun and While There is Light, was one of the Bradford Twelve. Like the others, he was acquitted of the charges, but he is still impacted by the trial four decades on.

For Mr Mehmood, it was not about what they felt at the time when he heard rumours about the march, but about standing up for injustice and preventing what could have happened if extremists did take to the streets.

Mr Mehmood said: “It was not about feelings; it is about injustice. It is about what could have happened in Bradford. The police said fascists were going to come in and invade and terrorise the city and we wouldn’t allow it.

People from across the UK campaigned for their freedom. Image: Tandana.org.

“What do you feel when the state says the fascists are coming and you should stay at home? What would you do? We stopped them, we stood up, they never came, nothing happened.

“The police made a mountain out of a molehill, and in the process, made a monument out of our beliefs, in the fact, that we have the right to defend ourselves, including in organised armed self-defence.

“The police didn’t like it, but we were acquitted, with thanks to tens of thousands of people who supported us, up and down the country, including people in Bradford, many of whom have passed on.”

As part of his bail conditions during the trial, Mr Mehmood had to be “banished” to Birmingham, away from his friends and family for months on end. After the charges were quashed, Mr Mehmood was legally allowed to return to the district but felt that he was unable to because of harassment from the police.

“The Bradford Twelve were at the forefront of the fight, not just racists on the street but also state racism as it was the state who were trying to criminalise them.” – Bob Shepherd

Mr Mehmood said: “An event of this nature never leaves you. The important thing is the lessons it brings to the future. If we resist the things we believe in, it doesn’t matter what the obstacles are, we can overcome them.

“After the acquittal, I couldn’t initially get any work in this country. They said there was no backlisting, but I know that I was. I was harassed by the police for a while as I made a complaint against them. It was a long time ago, and in terms, of racism in this country now, it is infinitely worse than during our time, in particular, Islamophobic racism.

“I was exiled from Bradford as part of my bail conditions when I was charged. They banned me from Bradford and sent me to live in Birmingham. After the trial, I was allowed to come back but I never returned.”

Thousands of people from Bradford and across England turned up outside Leeds Crown Court every day to protest their trial, with crowds chanting “Self-defence is no offence.”

A group was formed called the 11th Action Committee to organise their public campaign. Image: Tandana.org.

Members of groups such as the Revolutionary Communist Group, Bradford Indian Workers’ Association, Gay Liberation Front and Socialist Workers Party came together to establish the July 11th Action Committee, an organisation that helped support the group.

Bob Shepard, an organiser of the Revolutionary Communist Group in Manchester, campaigned for the Bradford Twelve’s freedom in Manchester and West Yorkshire as part of the committee.

He said: “We were involved in supporting the Bradford Twelve, organising rallies and events in Manchester and outside the trial.

“We see the fight against racism as an essential part of a just society. Capitalism is the root cause of oppression and racism, so racial justice is integral to us. The Bradford Twelve were at the forefront of the fight, not just racists on the street but also state racism as it was the state who were trying to criminalise them.

“Have things changed since the Bradford Twelve trial? Fundamentally, no. But for young British Asians at the time, it was a massive boost in showing that it was possible to confront not just racists but the state, it gave confidence to everyone, Black people and the white working-class as well.”

Eleven out of the twelve men had a team of top human rights lawyers defending them in court. Image: Tandana.org.

Support for the men also came from Patt Wall, president of Bradford Trades Council and later MP for Bradford North and Marsha Singh who served as MP for Bradford West from 1997 and 2012, both of whom have since passed away.

Gareth Pierce, a leading human rights solicitor and is a senior partner of Birnberg Peirce and Partners represented six of the men during the trial. She was instrumental in demonstrating to the court that the men had a legal right to defend themselves and their community with arms against potential threats of violence by fascists. Ms Peirce said: “The Bradford Twelve was an incredibly important case then and now.

“It was important at the time because it made people in the wider world aware that a community was under attack, that they were living in constant fear and were allowed to remain that way by the police.

“There were twelve young men who extraordinarily and courageously decided to be armed to repel fascist attackers and were found by the police and charged. They took their courage to the courtroom and instead of denying it, which the prosecutor was expecting, stood up to be counted and said ‘we did it, of course, we did. We had to defend our community’.”

The leading solicitor added: “The whole trial was an education, not just for the jury but for those beyond about what the Asian community experienced over the previous years. Men and women were sealing their letterboxes because firebombs were being posted through them and they were going to bed with a bucket of water next to them in case something happened. There was a horrible litany of experiences used for their defence.”

Mr Mehmood is currently working on a documentary film with Ken Fero at Migrant Media about the incident which is set to release next year. They are appealing to those who may have any videos or photographs or videos from the trial.

If anyone can help, please email bradford12film@gmail.com or Instagram @migrantmedia.

Asian Standard has reached out to West Yorkshire Police for a response. Check back regularly for updates.

 

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