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Irish murder: Sharmas want case reopened

The family of Brij Sharma, who was killed in Ireland in April 2004, want to reopen the case. They insist the killing was an act of racism.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2006 18:22 IST

The family of Brij Sharma, who was killed in Ireland in April 2004, want to reopen the case. They insist the killing was an act of racism.

Seen as some as a miscarriage of justice, Sharma, originally from Gujarat was seen being punched by one Stephen McGlone.

Rosemary Brady, his girlfriend was the first to find him. "Brij was lying in a pool of blood beside his car." She knelt beside her lover and tried to lift him, but couldn't.

Stephen McGlone (20) and his brother Mark (25) were there. She asked them to help and they carried the dying man back into her house and laid him on the floor. "Stephen said, 'Well, he got what he f***ing well deserved'," says Rosemary. "Mark said Stephen hit Brij because of what happened with the child. He said, 'You know who we are. There's to be no police involved'."

The McGlones left then.

"What happened with the child" occurred a couple of weeks before this. A child related to one of the McGlone brothers was kicking a football against Brij's car and Rosemary's window. Brij went out and remonstrated with the boy. "He called Brij a Portuguese bastard," says Rosemary. Sharma, 38 had lived in Belfast for 28 years after his parents migrated from India.

Stephen McGlone punched Brij so hard into his face that he fell, smashing his head against the pavement. Brij was taken to intensive care in Belfast and put on a ventilator.

Back in Moneymore, the McGlones returned to Rosemary's and began kicking Brij's car, causing considerable damage. By this time, word had gone around and some of the neighbours, young women, came out and remonstrated furiously with the brothers.

Mark McGlone reportedly replied, "Sure he was only a Paki bastard." Stephen McGlone had a question: "Who gives a f***?"

Almost two years on, the case may be reopened. The chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM), Patrick Yu said, "People from ethnic minorities become victims of the whole justice system."

Sharma never recovered consciousness and died three days after he was attacked. Stephen McGlone had been charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent and Mark had been charged with intimidation and criminal damage.

On May 7, Stephen was charged with murder and remanded in custody. Two weeks later, he was given bail after Lord Justice Nicholson said in court that there was no evidence of an attempt to murder. The case, postponed three times, was finally heard in December 2005.

Sharma's family had been told the murder charge had been dropped. They were shocked by what happened in Belfast's Crown Court. They heard Stephen McGlone plead guilty to manslaughter and then they heard the judge, Justice Morgan, give him a sentence of 17 months in prison.

Mark McGlone got 100 hours of community service for attempted intimidation.

The Sharma family is united in its anger over the leniency of the sentence. "It is a disgrace and an insult to all of us," says the dead man's widow, Heather Sharma. "I wrote to both the [British] Attorney General and the Public Prosecution Service to say so."

Brij Sharma had been living apart from his wife and their two children, Amit (13) and Kavita (17) for the three months before his death. Brij's brother, Bharat, speaks for his birth family. "When we got to court, the prosecuting barrister warned us we might be disappointed. It flies in the face of humanity to say that 17 months is a proper sentence. Is that all my brother's life is worth?"

Bharat Sharma believes his brother was murdered and that the crime was racially motivated. He is calling for the case to be re-opened and for a public inquiry into the way it has been handled. He has sought and got the support of NICEM.

However, Heather Sharma does not agree. "This isn't about racism," she says. "It is about a stupid game of football. This is very painful for my kids and myself. We need to move on."

The Sharma family had moved from Gujarat to Punjab and then to Northern Ireland in 1976 when Brij was 10. The family lived at the nationalist end of the Limestone Road in North Belfast and Brij went to school at the loyalist end.

Brij was, his brothers say, the rebel in the family, the black sheep. He didn't practise Hinduism. He married Heather, who is Irish and from East Belfast, instead of accepting the family tradition of arranged marriages. He was a playful figure. When he worked as a waiter in Ciro's restaurant in the 1980s, he used to pretend to be Antonio from Italy.

First Published: Feb 18, 2006 18:22 IST