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Leeds riot sparked by arrest of Asian over tax disc

Independent, The (London),  Jun 7, 2001  by Ian Herbert North

A POLICE officer's decision to arrest an Asian motorist for a suspected tax disc offence was the catalyst that caused six hours of rioting in Leeds on Tuesday night.

Hossein Miah, a 31-year-old Bengali chef who was arrested on Sunday night after allegedly becoming aggressive when challenged by the officer, appealed yesterday for an end to the violence. But the relatively minor incident, now widely accepted as an important contributory factor to riots in which 25 cars were set on fire and two police officers hurt, demonstrates the fragility of community relations in the deprived, multi-ethnic district which - unlike neighbouring Chapeltown, where there were riots in 1975, 1981 and 1987 - has not known serious violence before.

Police blamed the rioting on the premeditated work of gangs which may have been infiltrated by outsiders from Bradford or Manchester.

Anti-racist sentiment was not a direct cause, though a desire to "copy" the example of Oldham's race rioters, who attacked police last month, may have been a motivating factor among youths who were spoiling for a fight, said a leader of Harehills' Islamic Centre, Ahmed Saeed. Consternation about Mr Miah's arrest on Sunday - outside the Spencer Street mosque, where residents had attended prayers - spread quickly through the Islamic community and was of enough concern for a delegation to seek an apology from local police on Monday afternoon. They apparently didn't get one.

Mr Miah, a father of three, is understood to have been sitting in his Vauxhall Cavalier outside the mosque preparing to go shopping with his wife and children when he was approached by a police officer who, Mr Miah alleges, initiated a discussion in which he was accused of stealing the disc. Mr Miah was arrested and taken to Chapeltown police station.

Other alleged details of the incident, including the police's use of CS spray, are enveloped in rumour and counter-rumour, though the incident does seem to have been the only excuse that gangs of Asian, Afro-Caribbean and white youths needed to precipitate the riots by luring officers to the Banstead Park area at 8.15pm on Tuesday.

In a hoax 999 call, the youths claimed a petrol bomb had been thrown. Police could not locate one, but did find a burning barricade of washing machines and furniture, looted from a nearby second-hand shop, in the middle of nearby Harehills Road. A car was also pushed on to the bonfire.

After a two-hour stand-off, police sent in eight vanloads of officers in riot gear, backed by dogs and with the force helicopter hovering overhead, to confront about 150 youths.

After the street was closed, the gangs moved into the labyrinth of banked terraces leading off it, from which they charged at police, hurled bricks, bottles, stones and wooden crates, and drove cars at speed, spinning them around and setting them on fire.

Police vans were bombarded with bricks and bottles. Two officers were hit and slightly injured. The trouble was over by 3am, by which time a journalist from The Mirror had been injured by a blow to his face with a police riot shield. The journalist has lodged a complaint against the force. Police have so far arrested six local people.

In Harehills Road yesterday, tyre marks and blackened areas showed where cars had been raced and burnt out. Carpenters set about boarding up the windows of the Spec launderette, which were broken by the heat from a blazing car. A spokesman for the franchise said: "[The police] have advised us not to reglaze for a few days because this violence might continue."

At a newsagent run by his uncle, Steve Jhakra said a growing sense of helplessness among the youth of Harehills had bred "a growing gloom, a tension, all this year". The young were being denied a say in the investment of money in recreation for them, said Mr Jhakra, a field worker for the mental health charity Mind. He, like most other local people yesterday, complained about the police's strong day-to- day presence and tough action over minor motoring offences. Mr Miah insisted there had been "no need" for his arrest, which had left his wife and children terrified. "People are very angry about what happened," he said. In a statement issued through his MP, George Moody, he said he would take legal steps to defend himself against any criminal charge.

West Yorkshire Police sent reinforcements into Harehills last night as 100 youths gathered at the scene of Tuesday's disturbances. When officers moved in to break up the group, a few missiles were thrown.

Copyright 2001 Independent Newspapers UK Limited
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