By FATIMA PATEL
A year ago, this month a mother lovingly prepared her 11-year-old child ready for his first day at secondary school. Sadly, the caring mother will never see her child, Asad Khan again.
Little Asad’s case touched thousands of people not just in his home town Bradford, but across the globe.
The bright young boy was found by his mother hanging in his bedroom at their family home in Tile Street, Bradford on Wednesday, September 28, 2016.
Mum, Farina Jan forced her way through Asad’s locked bedroom door and tried to resuscitate the unconscious child, but he was later pronounced dead in hospital.
Whilst the youngster’s death was not believed to be suspicious there were many allegations of bullying and videos of assault circulating on social media.
West Yorkshire Police, opened an investigation, to look into these allegations. Detective Inspector Alan Flynn, of Bradford District CID who led the investigation told media in October 2016 they were receiving reports that there may have been a bullying issue, which he said he couldn’t corroborate.
He said at the time: ‘If we receive information that he was being bullied, we will look into that.
‘Bullying is not a criminal offence. But if there is criminal behaviour like assault, we will look at it.’
Bullying is not a criminal offence, however pro-equality and anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label say that 1 in 2 have experienced bullying, with 1 in 10 saying that they have been bullied in the past week. With alarming statistics and a number of claims about bullying relating to Asad’s death, it was a natural reaction for Asad’s parents to want a thorough investigation into what led to their eldest son’s demise.
Have they had that? They don’t think so.
Asad Khan’s inquest opened at the Coroners Court in Bradford on Monday 3, October 2016, and ever since it seems Asad’s family have faced a catalogue of concerns, which has ultimately resulted in the family walking out of the most recent pre-inquest hearing held on 16 August 2017.
The walk out was due to a direct conflict with the coroner Mr Martin Fleming, who had refused to hear the statement of a ‘vital’ witness citing speculation as the reason, whereas the family solicitor Ruth Bundey gave six points challenging the coroner’s view. The family strongly believed that all six points raised were importantly interlinked and deserved further investigation and provide evidence which should be included at the inquest into Asad’s death, whether visually, by video interview, or in person, subject to special measures. Mr Fleming however, responded that all these six points whether combined or taken individually were only speculative and would not form part of any further enquiry or indeed part of the inquest proceedings at all, Asad’s family felt there was no point in continuing any involvement whatsoever with the Inquest, and that what was likely to ensue would be an insult to Asad’s name.
They family have told Asian Sunday, they feel the coroner Martin Fleming has been unfair, in his investigation and feel ‘insulted’ by the coroner’s refusal to hear crucial witness statements. They feel they have lost faith in the justice system and are concerned that they will ever get justice for their son Asad Khan.
Anyone hearing this story, will agree that there is no doubt that the family have indeed face a heart-rending and torturous year and with Asad’s death anniversary just around the corner you can’t help but feel the family’s pain.
Particularly, as the family are facing conflict with the investigation into their son’s death and they strongly believe that there has not been a thorough investigation and a fair hearing into their son’s untimely and tragic death.
Asad’s family have spoken to Asian Sunday at length about the challenges and difficulties they have faced during the investigation. It’s been a tough and daunting journey but they share that they have managed to somehow get through it, thanks to the outpouring of grief and support from the community both locally and nationally which has been in its thousands.
Asad Khan’s funeral saw hundreds of people turn up and his parents were inundated with mourners visiting them for months from all corners of the country. Fundraising campaigns raising thousands for charity in memory of Asad were being completed and the grieving for the handsome youngster continued to grow across the world.
Whilst the local MP, Naz Shah has shared the family’s grief, she also expressed to media at the time of the tragedy that we shouldn’t assume the cause to be bullying and allow the police to continue with their investigations which she told reporters she believed to be “very thorough”. The family however, disagree with this and have told Asian Sunday about their horrific ordeal in simply trying to get a fair and transparent inquiry into their son’s death.
Following two pre-inquest hearing’s Mr Khan felt unhappy with how the police were investigating his son’s death. He was unhappy that any information he gave the police was ‘misconstrued’ or being ignored. He and his wife expressed their concerns very quickly to the coroner’s office, by writing to the coroner’s officer on 8 February 2017 telling the office, they were not happy with the investigation.
The email which has been seen by Asian Sunday, describes how unhappy the family were with the approach of liaison officer, PC Jaz Gill and the investigating officer DC Holdsworth towards the investigation.
The emailed letter describes how the family were extremely upset upon being told by DC Holdsworth that he had already ‘spent 500 hours on this case, more than he has done on any other child’s case’ and how DC Holdsworth ‘talks down’ to them.
Asif Khan, Asad’s father speaks limited English and often has to speak via a translator. Mr Khan, feels that the police take advantage of this fact and he feels they therefore, talk down to him as a result of his poor English.
The family told Asian Sunday that since this issue had been raised, they feel relations have continued to decline with the police and they now strongly feel that if their views and witnesses are not going to be heard then they may as well not participate as they don’t feel the investigation to be fair.
Mr Khan explains in detail about a series of incidents that have occurred over the past year which has led him to feel this way. One of his main gripes is the issue of the school and bus CCTV footage.
The family have had several debates with the coroner and the police over the school CCTV footage. At the pre-inquest hearing in February this year, Mr Fleming had agreed for the police to allow the family to view school CCTV footage of Asad’s last day at school and the CCTV footage of the bus journey to school. The CCTV footage for the bus journey home, was not available. Upon receiving the initial CCTV copies, Mr Khan said: “Asad was not in any of those CCTV recordings they gave me. How can that be possible?”
It was later learnt at the pre-inquest hearing in June this year, that DC Holdsworth admitted and apologised for the fact that the family were sent the wrong CCTV downloads and it was an error on the police’ part and that correct copies would be issued. This aside the family were already in a conflict with the coroner as to why they couldn’t also see CCTV footage from the days before Asad’s death to track his movements. Moreover, because witnesses claimed to have seen Asad go to the school’s student manager, Ms Berry with a complaint about being bullied it was important they explored CCTV footage to see if this did in fact happen. Especially as the pre-inquests have already heard that this incident was also described by PC Gill in a conversation with the family, that CCTV footage has been seen where Asad is seen speaking to Ms Berry at Beckfoot School, though without sound, therefore it cannot be evidenced that Asad was speaking to Ms Berry about bullying.
PC Gill has denied this conversation in a statement, but the family have a recording of her conversation with them which Asian Sunday has heard. The family solicitor Ruth Bundey further notes that DC Holdsworth also claimed at a pre-inquest on 27 February that there was no such footage. It becomes clearer from a pre-inquest hearing on 3 July 2017, that DC Holdsworth had never examined or been asked to examine any footage at the school apart from that of the very day of 28, September 2016. Therefore, is it right for Mr Khan to ask for footage prior to 28 September be viewed to see if this footage exists?
Mr Khan feels further agitated on the issue of a summons he and his wife received from the coroner investigating their son’s death.
Just as soon as the family had got over their first Eid without their eldest child, a notice to produce for examination (summons) was issued upon them.
The summons came about, after a dramatic claim by DC Holdsworth, made on the morning of the pre-inquest hearing of 5 June 2017, that Ms Berry, Beckfoot school’s student manager had told DC Holdsworth on 30 January 2017 a game called ‘choking game’ was ‘all over the school’ at the time of Asad’s death.
The family were hugely shocked at the revelation and even more because it took six months for DC Holdsworth to reveal this information. The family asked for the inquest to be adjourned in light of the new evidence, which the coroner refused initially, stating that the adjournment was being sought on speculative grounds, but was later adjourned following a judicial review request by family solicitor.
In light of the new evidence of the ‘choking game’ coroner Mr Fleming wanted to explore if Asad had known about the ‘choking game’ a game where two or more participants play, one participant intentionally tries to choke the other with the goal of inducing temporary loss of consciousness. The other participant can either go all the way till he passes out, or till he feels he can’t take anymore and taps his opponent for release. In order to understand if Asad Khan did know of the game Mr Fleming asked to examine the family mobiles and laptops to explore this.
Despite the family never denying access to the devices rather more a concern over how the downloads of their personal data would take place and how long they would be without their mobile phones, which were the only means of contact between the family, as they did not have a landline, the family were issued with a summons to produce.
No explanation or apology has ever been given for the waste of time and failure to investigate crucial issues over the six-month period by the police and instead Mr Khan told Asian Sunday he has been made to feel like a criminal during his own son’s inquest. Mr Khan recalls an incident where he had to go to Trafalgar Square Police station to drop off his mobile phone to be sent off for data download and was made to wait over an hour, before someone came to collect the mobile phone. No special arrangements were made for him, and he was left to wait where another individual was also waiting for the same, but the difference here was whilst the other person was under investigation himself, Mr Khan wasn’t – he was a grieving father.
Mr Khan told Asian Sunday that all he has ever wanted is to have a fair investigation, hoping to get answers as to how his eldest came to his tragic end. Mr Khan feels the investigation by the police has been unfair, flawed and deeply distressing for him and his wife.
He feels the Coroner has also been unfair in terms of not allowing crucial witnesses to the case to be heard and for CCTV footage to not be viewed. He told Asian Sunday via translation: “The coroner can waste a huge amount of the tax payer’s money to examine mine and my wife’s devices, but when it comes to viewing CCTV footage he thinks it’s going to waste valuable police time.
“The coroner needs to listen and address the evidence we have presented before him. He (the coroner) keeps saying this is a limited inquiry, and dismissing ‘vital’ evidence as speculative. So, what does he want me to do? Get my son out of his grave and ask him directly?” Said the destitute father.
Mr Khan and his wife are also increasingly concerned that despite the outcome of their son’s death, no lessons seem, to have been learnt in relation to findings during the course of this case. As soon as the family were made aware of the ‘choking game’ they felt obliged to safeguard others and via their solicitor Mrs Bundey wrote to Bradford Council Safeguarding and Children’s services to ask them to investigate if any other children knew of this game and to safeguard them from playing it. The response which has been seen by the family, states that for the council to take any action they would need to refer the matter to Mr Fleming, who is investigating this case. The family’s response to this has been of grave concern, they worry, that whilst safeguarding decisions are not being made, let’s just hope no other child loses their life and parents like them are not left with this emptiness for the rest of their lives.
A part two of this story will follow in our next issue.