Hate mail sent to Preston Muslim families

Booklets ridiculing Islam were hand delivered through letter boxes at six addresses in Preston.

Paz Akhtar with the leaflet that was hand-delivered to his home and his nephew and niece
Paz Akhtar with the leaflet that was hand-delivered to his home and his nephew and niece

The leaflets included cartoon making vile slurs against Muslims and victims today told the Post they believe they were deliberately targeted because of their religion.

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Pav Akhtar, 40, a resident in Blackpool Road who was among those who received the booklet, is incensed at the hate mail.

Ian Mills

He said: “We had a hand delivered note addressed to us directly.

“What was most concerning for us is that each note was a handwritten letter sent to six specific households. How they know which households to target I couldn’t tell you.

“It was sent only to Asian people in the neighbourhood. It was targeted especially to Asian Muslim families. None of the white neighbours received it and our Sikh neighbours also didn’t get them.

“We were purposefully targeted.”

Other cartoons featured in the booklet show a man wearing a headscarf acting in a threatening manner.

A caption says: “Islam is the second largest and fastest growing religion in America… and you should fear it.”

Pav, a Cambridge graduate and governor at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Basically it is a really hateful, distorted narrative that is feeding the views of far right extremism, and seeking to radicalise those in the English Defence League (EDL).”

Pav says that despite discreet conversations he has had with his neighbours about the booklet, the children in his extended family are aware of the hate mail.

“The children feel nervous and unsure,” he said. “They’re asking why do they hate us? Why don’t they like us?

“If the idea had been to intimidate us then it achieved that.”

Pav added: “I have tried to do a little bit of homework on the group behind it. It appears to be from quite a right wing Christian organisation – that’s what we think.

“A lot of money has been spent on this. It’s not like with Jehovah’s Witnesses. With them we have rational conversations and that is all well and good.

“This was not like that at all, there was no opportunity for conversation.

“We’re really angry – it’s been reported to the police. We’re not going to put up with that kind of attitude. We shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of nonsense being put through our letter boxes.

“They’re trying create that hostile environment.”

Lancashire Police confirmed that the force was investigating the reports.

A spokesman said: “Between 10am and noon on October 9, an anti-Islamist book was delivered to an address on Blackpool Road.

“A further report of the same book being delivered to another address on the street was received on October 12.”

Pav told the Post that since the Brexit vote he has noticed a change in the attitude within the UK and a spike in hate crime.

Among the abuse he has been forced to tolerate was a driver who overtook him shouting racial slurs at him and another man who threatened to punch him.

“That one I didn’t even report,” said Pav, referring to the latter incident.

“Even reporting is exhausting, you waste half an hour of your life because nothing happens.

“I’m not blaming the police but there aren’t enough officers.

“My neighbours are hard-working citizens.

“We do so much good work, we shouldn’t be treated this way.

“I was born here and lived here all my life.

“What is going on?”

Although Pav is speaking out over the hate mail on principle he is also very frustrated at the lack of response by authorities in addressing the issue.

“Some of our neighbours threw it in the bin,” he said. “They felt, what’s the point, it doesn’t matter. People have no confidence in an authority to help them so what do you do - you become more insular.

“People have hate fatigue, they are tired of dealing with it, tired of confronting it. That can’t be right.

“People need to speak up and confront it.

“This kind of behaviour shuts doors rather than opens them.

“We are contributing to our communities to make our city better and we just get vilified for being Muslims. My sister is so great, she helps at a food kitchen and homeless shelter three times a week. We are your neighbours, we are your friends.”

As well as reporting the booklet to the police Pav posted the details of it onto Twitter where he was immediately labelled a terrorist and met with further abuse and degrading racial slurs.

He duly reported that to the social media company but to no avail.

A response from Twitter seen by the Post stated: “We have reviewed your report carefully and found that there was no violation of the Twitter Rules against abusive behaviour.”

Incensed at the reply Pav said it was exactly that kind of response which gives victims of hate crime little faith in the purpose and power of reporting such incidents.

He said: “Online platforms have a responsibility to step up and take this seriously.

“What do they have to do for it to be abusive behaviour?

“People say report it - report it to what effect?”

Anyone with information can about the booklet contact police on SA1821692.

Massive impact on victims

“The impact on a victim is massive for everybody who suffers from it.”

In 13 words Chief Inspector Ian Mills of Lancashire Constabulary summed up the impact of hate crimes.

Speaking at a hate crime conference held at Runshaw College, the county’s top police officer told how he had seen firsthand how lives are scarred by hate crime and called for greater awareness of the issue.

In 2016/17, 2,096 hate crimes were reported in Lancashire.

Mr Mills believes many more are going unreported.

And he cites social media posts are a prime example of how individuals can be targeted for abuse.

He said: “If you do not stand up and be counted as someone else is being abused, if you ‘like’ it (abusive posts), you are actually being complicit in it.”

Mr Mills told college students hate crime can easily develop into more serious offences.

He said: “This all starts out as a bias. Where do those biases come from? It can be influences from the way they’ve been brought up or peers.

“Our job in all this is to stop hate crime proliferating and going forward and stop it in its infancy.”

In 2016/17 there were 420 reports of hate crimes in Preston, 351 in Blackpool and 400 in Blackburn with Darwen.

But police believe these figures represent just a fraction of the real number, with many going unreported.

Of the official numbers, 74 per cent are reported a racially motivated, 14 per cent homophobic, eight per cent disability and seven per cent religious and three per cent related to the victim’s gender identity.

Mr Mills added: “That’s less than one per cent of crime labelled as hate crime.

“It doesn’t feel right. The goal is to educate people and ensure police can find out more about where hate crime is happening.

“People need challenging - probably 70 per cent are under reported.”