Community News

An Honest Tale of Modern Britain or – it’s not homophobic if you’re not a “fat poof”      

Craig Hanlon-Smith June 3, 2019

What does it take for a hate crime to be recorded as a homophobic incident, and for action to be taken? Craig Hanlon-Smith tells one man’s story.

Owen Syred
Owen Syred

THIS is a true story. It is August 4, 2018 and Owen Syred attends the Brighton Pride parade with his friends and their children.

Standing alongside the parade as the community floats and marching groups pass by he is adorned with stickers, flags and badges by the revellers which feature rainbows, LGBT+ organisations and their slogans.

Little did he know that later in the day, these decorations would turn him into the target of a verbal and violent attack that would change him forever.

At around 4pm that afternoon he steps off the train near his home in Lancing and begins the short walk to his house. He hears a female voice behind him yelling a combination of intended slurs “fat queer, fat poof – where you going?”. He doesn’t pay much attention and slips into a local shop but he is followed.

Jasmine Shepherd
Jasmine Shepherd

The young lady concerned Jasmine Shepherd is not alone, she is 18/19 years old, accompanied by her mother, an 11 year old girl and a boy of 12 he later discovers is the aggressors brother. The abuse continues in the shop and Owen speaks to the woman and warns her that he will have to restrain her if she attacks him, but all the time sensitive to his masculine size and her perceived vulnerability as a teenage girl.

The shopkeeper asks Owen to move away from the woman stating she is known in the area for anti-social behaviour and has previously been banned from this very store. The young woman and her party are allowed to continue shopping.

Three of them are now making phone calls stating loudly that there is a man in the shop they are about to “do-over” She reappears, continuing her tirade of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour, the abuse becomes an assault as she grabs a bottle of wine and hits Owen over the back of the head. He is momentarily unconscious and completely deaf in one ear, a hearing impediment that he will not recover from. It is August 4, 2018 and only 10 miles from a Brighton Pride that continue in its Britney bubble unaware of Owen’s plight.

The family group flee and the police are contacted. Despite the nature of the attack it is some time before the police community support officers arrive and an ambulance is called. The PCSO’s inform Owen they know the girl and that she is currently under the watch of a community order for violence in the area. She is not pursued or spoken to on this day. Or the next, or the next, or the next. She is invited into a police station and arrested two and a half months later.

Some two weeks after the attack Owen contacts the police and asks about the progress. He also enquires if this is being recorded as a homophobic hate-crime. “Are you gay?” ask the police. He is not but replies that this is irrelevant. The nature of the abuse received on account of his stickers and badges was anti-gay and homophobic. It is a homophobic attack. Owen who in his line of work in the public sector bears additional responsibility for diversity training, reminds the police that the law states ‘sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation’.

He is in-turn told two things:

1.  That in his line of work he should be used to this kind of thing.

2.  That if he pursues this ‘homophobic’ relation to the assault he will be ‘outed’ in court. “Outed as what?” he asks, the police tell him “As a gay”.

Throughout the next few months Owen has to fight to find out the progress of the case but also for the violent assault and verbal abuse to be treated as a homophobic incident. He is told that the person dealing with this case has been off sick for six weeks hence the slow progress. He eventually talks to the Sussex Police LGBT liaison officer who “says all the right things but isn’t much use to be honest”.

He needs his GP to act as a third party witness to his life-changing injury and consistently has to state that his sexual orientation is irrelevant to the status of the assault committed against him which was homophobic.

The perpetrator of the violent crime and homophobic attack has a history of violence in the community including a knife attack and violence towards the homeless and adults with learning difficulties.

Owen, the victim, has to continuously fight for her to be arrested and this takes two and a half months during which, she commits other crimes eventually taken into account when she appears in court.

A young woman identified immediately at the scene, with a history of violence towards her community and vulnerable people, attacks a man she perceives to be gay and no action is taken against her for more than sixty days. She is eventually charged, arrested and imprisoned with the maximum penalty of over eight years. She was already in prison when taken to court for this attack for stabbing a man.

Owen said: “I was off work for four months but only paid for two, as a result of this I have faced financial difficulties. During that time I had to push and insist at every step of the way of the homophobic nature of the attack. Her family have been threatening me in the local area and shops. I have vertigo, tinnitus and am permanently deaf in one ear. Whilst I have received some excellent support from my colleagues, union and victim support, I do not want to go out. I do not want to go out in my local town or get on a train. I do, but I am cautious and feel extremely vulnerable. I work with people who are escaping countries on account of their LGBT identity and their lives are at risk, I did not expect this to happen to me here.

“I was born in the year that homosexuality was partially decriminalised. Things change and I am pleased that they do but the police should have supported me better and investigated this as a homophobic hate crime and that my not being gay does not make the crime not homophobic. I was attacked because of my perceived sexual orientation. It was a homophobic attack. Because I am a heterosexual man the police did not believe this could or should be considered homophobic. We need to support one another better LGBT+ or not. We need to support one another better whoever we are.”

Jasmine Shepherd pleaded guilty to the charge of grievous bodily harm with intent at Hove Crown Court on Tuesday, May 7 and was sentenced to eight years and six months in a young offenders’ institute. The homophobic aspect of the assault allowed the judge to provide a higher sentence.