Ross Parker (17 August 1984 – 21 September 2001), from Peterborough, England, was a 17 year old white male murdered in an unprovoked racially motivated crime. He was stabbed to death and beaten with a hammer by a gang of Muslim Asian youths of Pakistani origin described as a "hunting party" who were seeking a white male to attack. The incident occurred in in Millfield, Peterborough, ten days after the 11 September attacks.
In December 2002 Shaied Nazir, Ahmed Ali Awan, and Sarfraz Ali were all found guilty of Parker's murder in unanimous verdicts and sentenced to life imprisonment, receiving minimum terms ranging from 16 to 18 years. A fourth defendant, Zairaff Mahrad, was cleared of murder and manslaughter.
Parker's brutal murder is cited as an example of the lack of attention the media and society give to white sufferers of racist attacks compared to that given to ethnic minorities, with organisations such as the BBC and some newspaper journalists later admitting failing to cover the case sufficiently. It is also suggested the case demonstrates how society has been forced to redefine racism so as to no longer exclude white victims.
Ross Parker was born in Peterborough to Davinia and Tony Parker and was one of two children. He was a keen footballer, and had completed a GNVQ in business studies at Jack Hunt School, hoping to join the police force when he was 18. He was nicknamed "Half-Pint" due to his 5 feet 5 inch height and had twice broken his leg previously. Parker lived in the Westwood area of the city and worked part-time at a local public house the Solstice.
Parker was murdered shortly after 1:15 am on 21 September 2001 when walking home from work with his girlfriend Nicola Foot. The attack took place on a cycle path alongside Bourges Boulevard in Millfield, Peterborough, near to Russell Street. Racial tensions in the area were high, as the terrorist attacks in the U.S. had occurred ten days earlier, on 11 September.
It was a warm night and Parker and Foot were holding hands as they walked to visit a friend of Foot's. They were confronted by a gang of up to ten Muslim Asian youths, some wearing balaclavas. Members of the gang had planned "to find a white male to attack simply because he was white". They warned Parker he had "better start running", but then blocked his path and quickly sprayed him in the face with CS gas. He was punched in the stomach and stabbed from behind three times through the throat and chest with a foot-long hunting knife. The knife penetrated right through his body on two occasions and as he was lying on the ground he was repeatedly kicked and struck with a panel beater's hammer. Foot ran to a nearby petrol station to find help and a man there gave her his mobile phone so she could call the police. Whilst making the call, she twice heard Parker cry out in pain. By chance she then spotted a passing police car; she entered the vehicle and took the officer to the scene of the assault. Although Foot had only been away for a few minutes, by the time she returned Parker had already bled to death and the gang had disappeared.
After the murder, the four accused returned to a garage behind Nazir's parents' house which they used as their headquarters. Awan, brandishing the bloodied knife, exclaimed "cherish the blood". Parker's body remained at the scene during the day while an investigation was conducted. A post mortem revealed Parker had died as a result of stab wounds inflicted by a bladed instrument.
Arrests and chargesDuring the weekend following the murder, twelve Asian people were arrested on suspicion of murder, with a £1,000 reward put up by the local community to find the killers. This was later increased to £1,500. A number of those arrested were recorded chanting "Taliban, Osama bin Laden" whilst being transported in the police van, also vandalising the vehicle. Such chanting continued in the police cells. Detective Chief Inspector Dick Harrison, who was overseeing the case, praised the Muslim community for their involvement in capturing the murderers.
On 26 September 2001 Ali, Awan, and Nazir appeared in court charged with Parker's murder and a fourth person was charged the following day. However, by March 2002 all four defendants charged with Parker's murder had been controversially released from prison on police bail. Parker's sister, Leanne, stated "we can't begin to comprehend why they've been allowed out of prison at this stage". Parker's family were so concerned about such a decision that they wrote a letter of complaint to the Home Secretary, David Blunkett. The Home Office refused to comment on the case and the men remained free on bail.
TrialIn November 2002 Ahmed Ali Awan, Shaied Nazir, Sarfraz Ali and Zairaff Mahrad all of Millfield, Peterborough, stood trial for Parker's murder at Northampton Crown Court, pleading not guilty.
Awan, 22, of Gladstone Street, ran a recruitment company and had previously attended the city's Deacon's School. He was an unofficial police informer and the court was told he thought of himself as a gangster and had a "fantasy for knives". Nazir, 22, of Cromwell Road, was close friends with Awan; he was married in Kashmir the month prior to the murder and had a son. He was educated at Bretton Woods School, had worked in a factory and later in a takeaway with Mahrad, whom he had known since childhood. Ali, 25, of Harris Street had also attended Bretton Woods School He was given a reference at the trial by the Deputy Mayor of Peterborough, Raja Akhtar. and Labour Party councillor Mohammed Choudhary, with Aktar stating he had "known him to be caring and responsible". Mahrad, 21, owned a takeaway in King's Lynn.
At the trial, transcripts of covert police recordings of the suspects discussing the attack were adduced. The conversations took place in police vehicles when the suspects were arrested and were translated from Punjabi. Nazir was heard describing Parker's death as a "bloodbath", and how the third blow from the knife had split the whole of his neck open. Awan and Nazir were both heard discussing the statements they had given to police and the plan they had "made up". The court was also told of an exchange between Awan and an inmate at Bedford Prison, in which Awan described the killing of Parker in lurid detail. Contents of a letter written by Mahrad were also presented in which he stated he would "pray to Allah for forgiveness".
The jury heard how the murder weapons had been found in a shed at Nazir's house along with two bags of bloodied clothes. DNA and fingerprints belonging to Nazir was found on the hunting knife and Parker's blood was found on the hammer. His blood was also found on the clothes of two of the accused, along with Nazir and Mahrad's DNA. Three balaclavas were also recovered from the property, again containing traces of Parker's blood. Nazir's younger brother Wyed told the court he had seen his brother cleaning the murder weapon on the night of the killing and witnessed all four defendants with blood on their clothing. Further witnesses reported Nazir admitting to beating someone up, Mahrad admitting to kicking Parker and Awan recalling stabbing him. A witness also saw all four defendants kicking Parker
In court Nazir admitted to seeing the victim laying on the ground, attempting to spray him with CS gas and kicking him. He also admitted washing the murder weapon and stated that Sarfraz Ali had hit Ross with the hammer and Awan used the knife. Mahrad had also admitted to be present at the murder scene, and claimed that the blood stains found on his trousers occurred as a result of him accidentally falling across Parker. Awan and Ali both denied being at the scene, the later claiming to have been asleep at the time of the murder.
On 19 December 2002 Nazir, Awan and Ali were all found guilty of murder in unanimous verdicts. The judge summarised the murder during sentencing:
|“||You put your heads together with the purpose of arming yourselves and of attacking an innocent man you might find by chance simply because he was of a different race to yourselves. A racist killing must be one of the gravest kinds of killing.||”|
Post trialAfter the trial it was revealed that Nazir had previously been cautioned for using threatening behaviour in 1999 and fined for resisting arrest.
Awan and Nazir appealed against their jail terms in January 2008 but the original sentences were upheld, with judge Justice Davies stating he had taken into account "moving" statements from Parker's family. After the appeal Parker's father suggested that the killers of his son should never be freed. The two politicians who had provided Ali's references were later jailed themselves for forgery in relation to vote rigging.
ReportingThe media was criticised for their lack of coverage of the Ross Parker case in comparison to similar racist murders occurring in the UK, such as the case of Anthony Walker and that of Stephen Lawrence. The BBC later admitted that "it was a mistake not to report the case of Ross Parker more extensively", noting the "stark" parallels with the Walker case though also suggesting the story had been "squeezed out" by other news such as a conviction of the killer of Danielle Jones. However it was noted that in hindsight that the crime was "worthy of coverage" "by any standards". Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Kelvin McKenzie expressed similar sentiments, with the latter criticising newspapers including his own employer, The Sun. He stated, "if you believe you're a victim of an ethnic minority and you're white there is nowhere to go. Editors are so liberal that they are scared to be seen that they're moving to the right of their paper". Parker's mother Davinia Parker expressed similar concerns that white victims of race crime are ignored stating "because we are white, English, we didn't get the coverage" In 2006 a Times article by Brendan Montague on racist murders in Britain stated searching newspaper archives shows "an almost total boycott of stories involving the white victims of attacks" whereas "cases involving black and minority ethnic victims are widely reported".
Others have noted that the lack of coverage is not simply a media issue. Peter Fahy, the spokesman on race issues for the Association of Chief Police Officers states “a lot of police officers and other professionals feel almost the best thing to do is to try and avoid [discussing such attacks] for fear of being criticised. This is not healthy.”. Montague suggests the lack of police appeals in cases involving white victims may be a cause of the lack of media coverage.
The organisation who did cover the case also faced some criticism. The Government office for the East of England produced a controversial secret report by Dr Roger Green examining race relations in Peterborough. The document suggested that the Peterborough Evening Telegraph had a history of insensitivity and coverage of the case was "possibly adding to any climate of racial and communal unrest". However such concerns were completely rejected by both the police and local community representatives who praised the newspaper's approach.
ImpactParker's murder lead to increased racial tensions in Peterborough. There were problems at Parker's school where three Asian pupils were suspended for an attack on a pupil. A number of taxi firms stopped work early in the days after the attack in fear of reprisals. In November 2001 Home Secretary David Blunkett banned all marches in Peterborough for three months as it was feared violence would be caused by the Anti-Nazi League and National Front who both sought to hold protests on the same day.
Parker's death also had a major impact on his family. His mother, Davinia, was unable to work for three months after Parker's funeral and came close to attempting suicide on a number of occasions. Parker's room was left untouched even a year after the incident, with his parents unable to bring themselves to tidy it, describing it as a place they "feel close to Ross".
LegacyAs a result of the murder of Parker, local authorities set up a unity scheme, whereby gang members from different communities were trained as youth workers in order to ease racial tensions and reduce violence. However, some problems still persisted, with racist graffiti painted near the murder scene two years after the incident reading "no go area for whites", "Paki powa" and "death to whites".
Some, such as Mark Easton cite the Parker case as demonstrating how society has been forced to redefine racism and discard the erroneous definition of "prejudice plus power" – a definition which had only allowed ethnic minorities to be victims. Others such as Alibhai-Brown condemned the double standards of racial equality campaigners in relation to the case, suggesting black activists should "march and remember victims like Ross Parker", stating "our values are worthless unless all victims of these senseless deaths matter equally". She went on to write that "to treat some victims as more worthy of condemnation than others is unforgivable and a betrayal of anti-racism itself".
Tributesfuneral took place at Peterborough Crematorium in Marholm on 23 October 2001 with over 400 mourners attending. His Netherton United football shirt was draped over his coffin and he was described as "a beacon of light who inspired so many people" and "an extremely popular young man". The murder received little attention from politicians although in 2003 Peterborough Member of Parliament Helen Clark made a statement in Parliament sending condolences of Parker's family, paying tribute to Peterborough community and in particular Ross' school with her words echoed by John Denham.
A plaque was installed in Netherton in Peterborough as a memorial to Parker, and a further memorial is located at Peterborough Crematorium. His former football team mates also play a match every May in his memory and formed a team called "Ross' Rangers".