The Metropolitan police has apologised for errors made in an investigation into a vicious racist attack. The victim says the errors resulted from discrimination by officers.
Niyad Farah, 38, was with two friends when they were attacked by seven white men on Kilburn Lane, in north-west London, in the early hours of 22 December 2019.
She was left unconscious after being punched and dragged during the assault outside a convenience store, and feared she would die.
Farah said an officer later questioned her about whether she had been buying something from her attackers, which she had taken to mean drugs. She also said no statement was taken from her for two months, and still not from her two friends. She said police failed to secure CCTV footage, which has now been lost, and might have helped tracked down the racist attackers, who remain free.
Police did record the attack as racially motivated grievous bodily harm with intent but now accepted the force had let the victims down after Farah went to the media.
On Wednesday the Met referred the case to the police watchdog. The Independent Office for Police Conduct will decide whether to independently investigate.
In an interview with BBC Newsnight to be broadcast on Wednesday, Farah told of her terrifying ordeal and how police reacted: “It was like being stamped on … I was just curled up on the floor.
“I was thinking, ‘My son’s not going to have a mum.’ And … ‘I’m going to be dead.’”
She was left with head injuries and bruising, and believes assumptions were made about her and her friends by the police.
Farah, who has Somali heritage, said while in hospital an officer asked if she had been “buying anything off” the attackers. From this conversation she believes the officer thought the attack stemmed from a drugs deal gone wrong.
Farah told the BBC: “He was literally just implying that we knew the guys. We were buying stuff off them … that it was almost impossible for a racist attack to happen in that area. And it was the repetition of the questions … I felt like I was being interrogated.”
She also said an officer told her: “We have no evidence, no CCTV camera, absolutely no line of inquiry. So therefore, we can’t take no statements off you. So basically, there’s nothing that we can do for you at all.”
The former Met assistant commissioner, Robert Quick, said the line of questioning about a deal was an error: “[It] 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. The police absolutely have a duty to be objective and not to jump to conclusions.”
He added: “This was an attack of extreme violence … and it was compounded by racial motivation, the evidence of which is clear. It had the potential to really impact on community confidence.”
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. Our officers always keep an open mind as to the circumstances of any attack and must build an understanding of the facts.”
The Met closed the investigation, and for months Farah complained to them, saying their search for the attackers had been flawed. The investigation has been reopened after Newsnight asked questions about the case.
The Met said: “The incident was treated as a serious racially aggravated assault from the outset, and recorded as such.
“This was an appalling attack, and we are sorry for letting the victims in this case down. With an internal investigation now under way, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
The case comes after the Met faced months of renewed questions about its race record. On Thursday, a film featuring Kwame Kwei-Armah, Denise Lewis, Trevor McDonald, Benjamin Zephaniah and the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, is being unveiled to launch the national memorial day in April for Stephen Lawrence, the black student murdered in 1993 by a racist gang.