Maz Saleem is a campaigner against racism and Islamophobia. Her father was murdered three years ago in a brutal Islamophobic attack. You can follow her on Twitter @CampaignerMaz
Maz Saleem investigates the recent Islamophobic attack on a pregnant Muslim woman in Milton Keynes and raises questions over the actions of Thames Valley Police, South Central Ambulance Service, Milton Keynes Hospital and the Co-op supermarket.
A pregnant 34 year old Muslim woman and her husband were brutally attacked in the Co-op supermarket car park in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, seven weeks ago. Following the attack she lost her unborn child.
Yet the police only released the information on this horrific Islamophobic attack around 10 days ago. The woman from Somalia was wearing the hijab when the attack occurred.
The information that has come to light after my own investigation into this Islamophobic hate crime poses many questions about the actions of Thames Valley Police, Milton Keynes Hospital, South Central Ambulance Service and the Co-op.
Having spoken in-depth with local Councillor Mohammed Khan and others who are representing the family I strongly feel the institutions that we should trust and rely on have let the victim down immensely.
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Given that an arrest has been made I cannot go into significant detail about what happened on the 6th August when the woman went into the local Co-op store to purchase some paracetamol.
But according to the family representatives I spoke to, the perpetrator approached her and was verbally aggressive towards her inside the Co-op and outside in the car park. The perpetrator then assaulted her and her husband before leaving the scene.
A source told me: “A crowd then gathered but no one seemed to help them. One or two people asked if they were okay but everyone stood back watching as if it was a circus. No one went into the Co-op to ask for help initially and no Co-op staff came out to help either. Although the Co-op did eventually call an ambulance it took over an hour and twenty minutes for them to arrive. During this time no one approached the victims to offer them comfort or support.”
5Pillars contacted South Central Ambulance Service and they said that the ambulance arrived in 52 minutes but nevertheless apologised for the delay.
In a statement they said: “In any emergency incident where an assault has taken place or violence has been used the safety of our staff will be paramount due to the nature of the call. In such circumstances there may be a delay in our staff being able to attend until police have ascertained it is safe for us to do so.
“The incident on 6 August at the C0-operative supermarket, Bletchley, occurred on Saturday night which is a time of peak demand for emergency services in terms of volume of 999 calls to the ambulance service and volume of patients attending A & E departments or waiting to be transferred from our ambulances into the care of A & E departments.
“The initial 999 call was received at 21.38 and from the information provided regarding the condition of the patient it was categorised as requiring an emergency response within 30 minutes. The first available resource was dispatched to the scene at 22.26 and arrived at 22.30.
“Whilst we always strive to ensure that we reach every patient within the timescale their emergency requires there are occasions when regrettably this is not possible due to local demand and other factors outside our control.
“In this instance we would like to apologise to the patient and their family for the delay and would urge them to contact our Patient Experience Team … so that we can address any concerns or feedback they have.”
My sources also told me that once the woman was taken to hospital she explained that she was pregnant but shockingly still had to wait five hours to be seen. She claims the doctors said she wasn’t pregnant and she had to do her utmost to convince them she was. Eventually she claims that she got some medication and was sent home.
But the next day she went to her doctors who checked her again and she says he gave her a letter to confirm that she was eight weeks pregnant.
We contacted Milton Keynes Hospital for a response and they said patient confidentiality prevents them from discussing specific patient cases without their explicit permission. The hospital is looking into the waiting time that the victim says she had to endure.
Since the incident Councillor Mohammed Khan has said: “No one has apologised to her for the lack of compassion, lack of care and negligence…. The police and the NHS are 100% negligent for their appalling handling of this case. A public enquiry needs to be opened and this case needs to be thoroughly investigated.”
I attended a vigil last Saturday in St James Park organised by local resident Saira Afzal for the unborn baby. “There has been hardly any media coverage around this Islamophobic hate crime,” she said. “So I decided to contact Stand up To Racism and other movements to come together and show our solidarity to women who face racist and Islamophobic attacks.
“Muslim woman have borne the brunt of these attacks because of the way they are dressed – it’s important to show solidarity and support to this sister and raise awareness. A lot of people have not heard about it and this vigil has brought awareness about the case to those who didn’t know.”
This shocking attack comes amid fears over a rise in hate crimes across the UK in the wake of the EU Referendum vote, with the number of reported incidents soaring by 400% in the week following 23 June. Muslim women are more likely to be attacked when they are using public transport, walking on the street or while out shopping. Around 80% of the abuse was carried out by men, who singled out Muslim women for attacks, portraying women wearing the niqab or hijab as a “security threat.”
The Muslim community in Bletchley were also critical of the police for releasing the CCTV footage of the male suspect a month after the incident.
The area had witnessed racially aggravated attacks before. The Hazrath Shahjalal Jamie Masjid mosque has been the target of several hate crime incidents since it was converted from a pub in 2011. The BNP have staged demonstrations outside the building, believing the mosque was proof of the “Islamification” of the UK. A pig’s head has also been thrown on the site before the building was converted into a mosque. The mosque was also the target of an arson attack in 2014.
Navrita Atwal the Chief Executive for Milton Keynes Equality Council, emphasised that hate crimes must be reported.
She said: “We know that there are many barriers to reporting hate crime and racist incidents are under-reported. Some of this is to do with the past experiences victims have had. If anyone has experienced hate crime, it’s important that they start reporting. It’s not until they start reporting that we can start supporting. We have the Hate Crime App that can be downloaded from the App Store. Sometimes victims need a bit of time to report as they may have gone through the initial shock of what has happened, but we would recommend everyone to download this App.”
We contacted Thames Valley Police and they told us that (contrary to what we had been told) that the incident was reported as a hate crime and was recorded as a racially aggravated assault.
Regarding the delay in releasing the CCTV footage they said: “It can often take time to obtain and review CCTV, therefore CCTV images are not always released to the public and media immediately after an incident has occurred. Thankfully in this investigation Thames Valley police officers managed to obtain good quality CCTV which we were able to publish as an appeal last week. As a result of this appeal that on 14 September a 37-year-old man from Milton Keynes was arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated assault. He has been subsequently been bailed. It is Thames Valley Police policy not to name those arrested.”
After my investigation I believe a lot of questions need to be answered: Why did it take Thames Valley Police over six weeks to release information on this hate crime? Is it true that doctors at Milton Keynes Hospital didn’t believe the Muslim woman when she said she was pregnant? Why did the Muslim woman and her husband have to wait for so long for the ambulance to arrive and then wait another five hours to be seen at hospital? Why were the Co-op staff not more proactive?
Thames Valley Police, Milton Keynes Hospital and South Central Ambulance Service have replied to our enquiries, but Co-op has not.
We need answers – and good answers – soon to what seems to me to be the botched handling of one of the most horrific Islamophobic attacks that the UK has seen since my father Mohammed Saleem’s brutal Islamophobic terrorist murder in April 2013.