Satpal Ram

Articles reprinted here:
The Guardian, 15 June 2002 - Satpal released
The Guardian, 20 Sept 2001 - The prisoner
The Guardian, 10/11 Sept 2001 - CCRC refuses to refer / Jack Straw vetoed parole
The Independent, 8 Jan 2001 - CCRC decision expected
Daily Express, 28 Nov 1999 - The campaign to have Satpal Ram's conviction quashed
The Guardian, 30 Jan 2000 - Interview with Satpal Ram
The Guardian, 24 June 2000 - 'Victims and villains', Jeremy Hardy's view of Satpal Ram's continuing imprisonment

Guardian Unlimited
15 June 2002
Asian who killed man in
race row freed after 15 years

An Asian man who says he was wrongly convicted of murder after defending himself from a racist attack is to be released after 15 years in jail, the Home Office confirmed yesterday.

Friends and supporters of Satpal Ram, 36, who was jailed for life in 1987 for stabbing a white man in an Indian restaurant in Birmingham during a fight say he is the victim of one of the worst miscarriages of justice in recent years.

Mr Ram said the man, Clarke Pearce, had racially abused him before attacking and slashing him with broken glass. The judge at his trial had recommended he serve an 11 year sentence, but Mr Ram was kept in jail longer as he refused to admit his guilt.

His freedom, expected next week, was a result of a European court ruling last month.

In a separate case, Strasbourg judges ruled that the home secretary had no right to overrule a decision of a parole board to release a prisoner, known as the Stafford ruling.

This is what had happened to Mr Ram in 2000 when, in an unprecedented move, the then home secretary Jack Straw reversed a parole board decision to free him. The board had said Mr Ram no longer posed a danger to the public.

This week government lawyers decided they could not oppose a court challenge to Mr Straw's decision launched by Mr Ram's lawyers. Mr Ram could be released from Blantyre house, Kent, as early as Monday.

Mr Ram's lawyer, Daniel Guedalla, said: "It does not mean they accept he is innocent and he is still challenging his wrongful conviction. This is a victory but not complete vindication. He is still on a life licence until his conviction is quashed. He lost 18 months or more of his liberty because of Jack Straw interfering."

Mr Ram was 20 and working as a warehouseman when he clashed with Mr Pearce in November 1986. He was eating with two friends when a group of six white people arrived in the Sky Blue restaurant in Lozells, Birmingham.

A fight broke out when the white group started racially abusing the waiters. Mr Pearce smashed a glass on the table and stabbed Mr Ram twice in the face and in the wrist. Mr Ram claimed he was then pushed up against a wall with no means of escape, and he used a small packing knife from his job to defend himself.

Mr Ram's family and supporters say that he was wrongly convicted because his original lawyers failed properly to prepare his case and made basic errors during his trial. A crucial witness who could have supported Mr Ram's account was not called. No translator was provided for another witness who spoke only Bengali.

Mr Ram has been in repeated clashes with the prison authorities and has been moved more than 65 times to different prisons. He says he has been victimised by prison officers.

A Home Office spokeswoman said various procedures would have to be completed before Mr Ram was released. "The Treasury solicitor decided not to contest the judicial review as under the terms of the [European] judgment there was no point."

The prospect of Mr Ram's release was condemned by the dead man's family. Mr Pearce's sister, Jane Smith, told the Birmingham Evening Mail: "I'm disgusted. Life should mean life. He murdered my brother."

Mr Ram's case became a cause celebre, with pop bands backing his cause.

Guardian Unlimited
20 Sept 2001
The prisoner

15 years ago he was stabbed twice with a broken glass after being racially abused. He killed his attacker with a penknife and was subsequently imprisoned for murder. The parole board has now recommended he be released, but he is still in prison - and no one will explain why. Simon Hattenstone on the story of Satpal Ram

It all started, and finished, in a Birmingham curry house 15 years ago. At one table was Satpal Ram, a 20-year-old Asian warehouse worker. At another was Clarke Pearce, a white man out with five friends. The Sky Blue Restaurant was playing Indian music. Ram liked it and asked the waiters if they could turn it up. Pearce didn't like it. "We don't want any more of this fucking wog music," he told the waiters. There was an argument. Pearce smashed a glass on the table and stabbed Ram with it twice - in the face and in the wrist. His five friends began throwing plates and glasses. Ram was trapped in a corner. When Pearce came for him again Ram took out a knife and stabbed him.

Both men were taken to hospital. Ram received treatment. Pearce, drunk and in shock, resisted treatment and died of blood loss. When Ram heard that Pearce had died, he went into hiding. He knew the implications of killing a white man. A few days later, he emerged with a lawyer and gave himself up. Ram says that when he heard Pearce had died it seemed as if his own life had just ended - and in a way it had. The all-white jury found him guilty of murder and he was sentenced to life. The trial judge recommended 12 years, reduced by the then lord chief justice, Lord Lane, to 10, and increased by the home secretary to 11.

September 2000: Fifteen years on, Ram is still in prison. He has been transferred from jail to jail 65 times, and is regarded as a troublemaker. He has refused to accept that he was guilty of murder, refused to do prison work, and often challenged the authorities. He was turned down for parole in 1997. He expects to hear from the parole board next week, but his friends and family believe he will be turned down again.

Why has he been refused parole? The prison service says it cannot comment on a specific case, but offers a general statement: "Release on or after tariff expiry is dependent on whether the prisoner's risk has reduced to a level compatible with public safety." According to the prison service, Ram, with a couple of minor convictions to his name before the incident (including one for assaulting a police officer in 1985), and having committed no crime while in prison, is still a risk to the public.

I make a request to visit Ram. He is currently in Full Sutton, a high-security category-B jail. It took almost 10 years for him to get an appeal against his conviction, which he lost. Now he's waiting to hear if he will be allowed to appeal again. Any prisoner appealing his conviction is entitled to one visit from the media; the prison service replies that Ram would prefer to be visited by Panorama. I write to Ram. He says he would love me to visit and suggests I go to see him as a friend. He sends me a visiting order.

Ram has a lot of friends, many of them famous. He has become an unlikely cause for pop stars: Asian Dub Foundation, Primal Scream and Apache Indian are all vocal supporters. When I ask Deeder Zaman, formerly lead rapper with Asian Dub Foundation, why they support Ram, he says it's simple - because he shouldn't be in prison. Why has he been given such a hard time there? "Innocent prisoners have a harder time than guilty ones. It is harder for them to deal with it mentally."

Zaman talks about how they've tried to break Ram down - the constant moves, the beatings, the five-and-a-half years in solitary confinement. "Every day he has to defend himself against prison officers. They deliberately target him and are hellbent on jeopardising his release."

What has Ram done to offend them? Zaman say he has made legitimate complaints about his treatment, and they don't like that. Another possible factor is that Pearce's brother-in-law was an officer at Winson Green prison at the time of the killing.

Ram's supporters say his trial was a farce. He was given only a 40-minute consultation with his barrister shortly before going into the dock. He was advised to change his plea from self-defence to provocation, and not to speak in his own defence. There were no interpreters provided for the Bengali-speaking waiters who gave evidence. The judge, Mr Justice Ognall, tried to assist with interpretation problems but he could speak no Bengali. Important defence witnesses were not called, while the group that attacked Ram gave evidence for the prosecution. The jury were never asked to consider the racist nature of the attack.

October 2000: Ram rings to say he is still waiting for the decision from the criminal cases review commission (CCRC). Is the delay getting to him? "I've been weathering the storm for 15 long years now. I've reached a stage where I take it a day at a time. I've come through the pain barrier." He says no matter what they do to him now, they can't break his spirit. He's become immune to it all. He sounds so positive on the phone and he says that communication with the outside world is what keeps him going. More specifically, phonecards keep him going.

January 2001: Ram has been transferred to Wellingborough, a category-C prison. When we finally meet face to face, he is waiting for me at his table. Like the other inmates he wears a blue vest that could pass as a football training top. He looks different from his pictures - softer, slighter. Younger, in a way, without his moustache. His hair is gelled and combed pedantically to the side.

We talk about the killing. Ram says the more time that passes the clearer he can replay it in his head. He was 20 years old, had no experience of life. He demonstrates how he was attacked and stabbed with the broken glass and how, when Pearce came for him again, he drew the penknife he used for opening parcels at the warehouse. He shows me the scars on his chin and on his forearm, where he was stabbed on the night. There are also marks on his wrists from the last time he was ratchet-cuffed in prison. Ram has always said he remembers stabbing Pearce once, and acknowledges that he must have stabbed him a second time. But because there were many more cuts on Pearce's body the lawyers advised Ram he could not argue it was self-defence. The only option available was a defence of provocation. "The other wounds were caused by falling on broken glass that came from his own friends, who were throwing plates and glasses at me," Ram says.

In his recommendation about Ram's life sentence, Ognall concluded: "The verdict was to a degree unexpected. There was independent evidence which suggested that the deceased may well have initiated the incident both verbally and physically, by wounding the defendant with a broken glass." Ram did not hear that Ognall had expressed surprise at the verdict until 10 years later. "If he had such doubts, why didn't he direct the jury?" he asks me. "If he had, surely I wouldn't still be serving life for premeditated murder."

Ram recites Lord Lane's conclusion in reducing the tariff. "There were mitigating circumstances here. I suggest a somewhat lower than normal tariff. I suggest 10 years." In 1996, after finding out about Ognall's remarks, Ram wrote to the retired Lord Lane and said he considered the home secretary's intervention was political interference. Lane wrote back, saying he agreed.

Ram says that right from the early days the officers abused him. While on trial he was held at Winson Green in Birmingham - the prison Pearce's brother-in-law worked at. "A group of screws would come into my cell and call me a Paki and subject me to all forms of racial abuse. At times they beat the crap out of me." He claims they encouraged him to kill himself. "They'd come to my door and say, 'Go on, Ram, why don't you hang yourself.' Prison is meant to be about rehabilitation, but in reality it's about subjugation, humiliation and degradation."

Over the years, Ram has read up on the law and human rights. Fellow prisoners now visit him for advice. He recently challenged the prison authorities on their monitoring of telephone calls. "Officers had to make a log of all the phone calls, and when we were talking in, say, Punjabi, the officers recorded their own comments, signing and dating each entry. The log was full of stuff like: 'They were talking Paki crap. Well dodgy.' If they can express such blatant prejudices in these official documents, can you imagine what they are saying in private? The reality is that we can't get a fair hearing within this environment."

His complaint led to the officers concerned being spoken to and sent on a retraining course. As a result, he says, he was twice assaulted by prison officers at Full Sutton and put back in segregation for three months.

Ram's father died two years after he was imprisoned, but his two brothers and three sisters still visit. He no longer see his mother. "She's in her 70s now, and it's difficult for her to travel due to ill health. In the early days she visited all the time, but she'd get upset and that would get me down, so now we just speak on the phone."

Why does he think he's still in prison? "Because I've never admitted my guilt. While I've always accepted that a man died as a result of my actions, at the same time I feel that the circumstances which led up to this incident have never been taken into account properly. I was stabbed twice with a broken glass after being subjected to a torrent of racial abuse. I was in fear of my own safety and acted in self-defence. They outnumbered me and he was physically bigger than me. There was no time to reflect because it all happened so quickly. I've now been punished in more ways than one. That's the basis of my submission to the parole board."

I tell him he's looking good on his 34 years. "Prison keeps you young," he says. "No late nights." What keeps him going? He quotes me a verse by IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands:

It lights the dark of the prison cell

It thunders forth its might.

It is the undauntable thought my friend

That thought that says I'm right

February: We speak on the phone. He sounds rushed, not his usual bouncy self. He seems to be conducting a conversation with me and a prison officer at the same time. Suddenly he explodes at her. He has turned the phone away from his mouth, but I can hear. "Have some manners! You ought not to be doing that to me lady. It's ignorant. I wouldn't interrupt you while you were trying to hold a telephone conversation. Have some manners. This is supposed to be a category-C prison." He warns me they're going to cut him off. Click.

I don't hear from him for a couple of weeks. His campaign group says he has been beaten up by officers and put in solitary, and is to be transferred back to a category-B prison. I phone Wellingborough to find out what is happening: "We have no intention of giving you information on a Saturday night," I am told. Why not? "Because... we're just not. I can assure you he has not been beaten up, though."

He has made a series of complaints about being beaten up in various prisons. None of the criminal investigations has found in his favour, ruling that officers reacted with minimum required force after being assaulted by Ram. The photograph, showing him with a bruised eye, was smuggled out of a prison in Nottingham following an alleged beating in 1997 after he barricaded himself inside his cell. The official investigation found that any injuries sustained were the result of him resisting restraint after threatening officers with violence.

Bobby Gillespie, singer and songwriter with Primal Scream, heard about Ram when his band were supported by Asian Dub Foundation. Gillespie went to visit him in Hull. They had their visiting order, the visit was booked, they had come all the way from London and when they arrived they were told they would not be allowed to see Ram. They were given no reason. "Satpal being Satpal said: 'These are high profile rock'n'roll motherfuckers and if you don't let them visit they'll get a power generator and a lorry and have a huge gig outside the prison gates.' So they let us in." Gillespie says he can't understand how Ram can remain so upbeat. "He's a really soft, warm, loving man. That's all I can say. His spirit's bigger than any of us."

Gillespie has also heard that Ram is back in solitary, and he's worried. "I'm scared for his life. I really do think the prison officers are trying to murder Satpal." Why? Gillespie says he's been a thorn in their side for too many years.

March: Ram is moved back to a category-B prison, Blakenhurst. It is red-brick, privatised, neatly cut off from the rest off the world by barbed wire. Ram is in favour of privatised prisons - he says the officers treat prisoners better because they know it makes for an easier life.

In January he had said he couldn't see himself lasting six months at Wellingborough. In the end, he barely made it through a couple of weeks. What went wrong? He tells me it's a long and crazy story. "There was a young man, a lifer, John Walsh, who'd had some bad news. They knocked back his parole and he'd barricaded himself in. They ordered us off the landing. We knew what they wanted to do to John."

Ram says the Mufti squad were in waiting. "Mufti - Minimum Use of Force Tactical Intervention. In reality, prison officers dressed in full riot gear." Ram and one other prisoner refused to go. "John was upstairs, and I shouted out through the window, 'You may as well come out, you're just making things worse for yourself,' and he came out." He says the others were returned to their cells, but the officers launched an unprovoked attack on him. "I heard one of them say, 'Get Ram!' They then laid into me. I was smashed to the floor with riot shields and repeatedly trod on. I was then ratchet-cuffed behind my back and dragged to the strip cell." He shows me new marks on his wrists. He claims the officers kicked and thumped him before cutting off his clothes with a pair of scissors, leaving him naked in the strip cell for two days without food or water. The temperatures were sub-zero.

"After two days I got my pot and threw the contents at the guards." What was in it? He smiles like a naughty schoolboy. "Piss!" After that, he was moved to Blakenhurst.

Blakenhurst suits him fine, he says. It's closer to home. And there's also the protest to look forward to. His friends are going to jam the home office with phone calls and faxes protesting at his sentence. "We're going to blitz them because they're taking the piss. If they want to piss me off, I'm going to piss them off, yeah, yeah, yeah," he choruses.

May: Ram rings me. He's had flu, and another period in solitary after another beating. He was accused of having too many phonecards. He doesn't deny it, but questions whether it merited the punishment. He claims that every time his parole comes up he gets a beating.

But that's by the by, he says excitedly. He's had some news. "The parole board have recommended my release. They say I'm absolutely no risk to anyone." He quotes the report: "The panel did not consider that Mr Ram's attitudes and behaviour in custody could be taken as indicating a serious risk of violent offending in the future... He has not been involved in fights or violent confrontation with fellow inmates, notwithstanding the racist undercurrents which he perceives around him and bearing in mind the racist taunts were a feature of the index offence.'"

The recommendation of immediate release from maximum security is virtually unprecedented. That's fantastic, I say. "Well, that's the good news. The bad news is that the Home Office has turned down the parole board's recommendation." The Home Office has said he remains a risk to public safety, and must go through the traditional process of decategorisation.

He seems to be caught between elation and despair, and the despair is winning. "It's that Jumping Jack Straw I'm really pissed off with. It's outrageous. The most disgusting thing is the parole board made this recommendation six months ago and the prison service has kept it secret from me." He was due to hear about his right to a second appeal against his conviction months ago, and still nothing. For Ram, this is even more important than his parole - if he doesn't have his murder conviction overturned, he will spend the rest of his life on licence, meaning that if he were ever arrested he could be returned to prison to serve out his life sentence.

The prison service refuses to comment about the parole board's recommendation, beyond stating that the home secretary is entitled to spend as long as he wishes reviewing the parole board's recommendation. The parole board says that whether Ram is released or not is beyond its jurisdiction. Is it normal for the home secretary to overrule the parole board? "No," says the spokesperson. "We are generally in close agreement. But the home secretary must believe that it will reduce confidence in the criminal justice system."

June: Ram is back in a category-C prison: Littlehey in Huntingdon. I've never seen him like this. He looks devastated, broken. He has just heard that his mother has leukaemia. "If my Ma dies, both my parents will have died while I'm in here," he says.

I ask Ram's solicitor, Gareth Peirce, why she thinks he is still in prison. "There is no good reason. The bad reason is that he's failed to address his offending behaviour - ie, he won't admit his guilt and they say his whole history in prison has been one of confrontation. But the parole board refuted that. A significant number of wrongfully convicted individuals have been marked out by the prison service in the same way as Satpal Ram, as troublemakers in permanent confrontation with the prison system." She cites a few of the people she has worked with: Paul Hill and Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four, Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six, and Sarah Thornton.

July: Ram tells me how well he has been treated at Littlehey. He gets on with the officers, and has been allowed home without handcuffs to visit his mother. He tells me there was something terrible and joyous in their reunion. The house was packed with friends and relatives he hadn't seen all these years. His visits have, somehow, given his mother strength. He's recovered some of his optimism. He has heard that he'll be moved to an open prison, and if he behaves he could be out in six months.

September: He is moved to an open prison - and then back again, accused of assaulting an officer. Ram says he'd received news that his mother had been sent back to hospital to die. He spent hours trying to talk to the hospital. When he ran out of phonecards he walked out of his block to get some from another block. He knows he wasn't supposed to do it, but he was desperate. On his return, he says, he was rugby tackled by officers and told he had tried to escape. He was taken to a segregation unit, and he says, racially abused by officers.

Ram is moved back to Winson Green, and then to Blakenhurst. The prospect of parole has receded. At the same time, Ram hears that the CCRC has provisionally refused him right to appeal - the ultimate double whammy.

The governor of Blakenhurst has told him that if he wants to make a final visit to his mother he will have to do so in handcuffs. He says he couldn't do it to her. "I want to spend my last few hours with her in privacy. Is that too much to ask?"

The next day Peirce tells me Ram's mother has died. He never got to make his final visit. Over the years, Peirce has seen it all, but even she finds this difficult to absorb. "You wouldn't treat a dog like this, even if you hated dogs."

The new home secretary, David Blunkett is - like the previous home secretary - unable, or unwilling, to comment on the case of Satpal Ram.

Guardian Unlimited
10/11 Sept 2001
Murderer refused appeal
hearing of race attack claim

By Vikram Dodd

An Asian man who claims he was wrongly convicted of murder after defending himself against a racist attack suffered a severe blow to his chances of freedom yesterday when the criminal cases review commission refused to send his case back to the court of appeal.

The commission, which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice, has decided that the conviction of Satpal Ram is safe. Ram, whose case has become one of the most controversial alleged miscarriages of justice, was jailed for life for murder in 1987 after stabbing a man in a Birmingham restaurant.

He says that Clarke Pearce attacked him first, slashing him with broken glass after first racially abusing him and others.

The commission investigated and deliberated for nearly a year before reaching its provisional conclusion late last week.

Ram and his solicitor, Gareth Peirce, now have 28 days to respond, but the commission rarely reverses its provisional decisions.

Ms Peirce said yesterday the commission's 42 pages of reasons contained "serious errors".

Ram's family and supporters say that he was wrongly convicted because his original lawyers failed to properly prepare his case and made basic errors during his trial. A crucial witness who could have supported Ram's account of the fight with Pearce was not called at his trial. No translator was provided for another who spoke Bengali.

A commission spokeswoman said that Ram now had 28 days to convince it that the provisional decision should be reversed.

On conviction Ram was recommended to serve 11 years imprisonment, but has now served almost 15 years. Last week he was moved from a category D "open" prison to a higher security category B prison, Blakenhurst.

His brother, Mohinder Ram, 45, said: "They've treated us like second class citizens. There's no justice in this country."

Ms Peirce said that they remained hopeful of reversing the commission's decision and taking the case to appeal. "It's very clear to very many informed people that Satpal Ram should not have been convicted of murder," she said.

"I remain confident that the material submitted by us is capable of achieving the quashing of the conviction and therefore further representations to the CCRC should be capable of reversing their provisional decision."

The parole board recommended that Ram should be released, but its decision was overturned by the then home secretary Jack Straw.


Straw vetoed parole for Asian who killed racist attacker in self-defence

By Alan Travis

In a rare ministerial intervention, Jack Straw, rejected a parole board recommendation for the release of Satpal Ram, the Asian man who has been in prison for nearly 15 years for murdering a man in self-defence in response to a racist attack, the Guardian has learned.

Ram's lawyers believe that his case will be seen as a landmark miscarriage of justice if the criminal cases review commission finally decides to refer his conviction for killing Clarke Pearce during a fight in a Birmingham restaurant in November 1986. Ram had been stabbed twice during the attack.

The case has attracted massive support with the parole board receiving more protests and representations from the public in the past 18 months than it did over its decision to release the two killers of James Bulger. Artists including the Asian Dub Foundation, Apache Indian, the Prodigy, Benjamin Zephaniah and Irvine Welsh have been prominent in the campaign for Ram's release.

He has always maintained his innocence and has now served four years more than his recommended tariff as a mandatory lifer.

The European court of human rights has repeatedly restricted the ability of ministers to intervene in decisions on the release dates of convicted killers.

Mr Straw, as home secretary, was within his powers to reject the parole board recommendation but it is believed to have been a rare step.

Ram has been involved in repeated clashes with the prison authorities and moved more than 65 times to different prisons during his sentence, spending an unusual amount of time in segregation because of his disciplinary record. He is in Winson Green prison, Birmingham.

Ram was 20 years old when he was attacked in a Bengali restaurant in Lozells, Birmingham. He was eating with two friends when a group of six white people arrived. A fight developed when the white group started racially abusing the waiters complaining about the "fucking wog music" being played in the restaurant.

In the course of the argument Pearce smashed a glass on the table and stabbed Ram twice in the face and in the wrist when he put his hand up to protect himself. He claimed he was then pushed up against a wall with no means of escape and he used a small packing knife he used in his job as a warehouseman to defend himself.

The CCRC has been given new witness evidence from the Bengali-speaking waiters, including one not called at his trial, which his supporters claim will support his case that he was wrongly convicted in June 1987 and demonstrate he was defending himself against an unprovoked racist attack. His appeal to the CCRC also questions why the West Midlands police failed to make available interpreters to the waiters who witnessed the attack or translate their statements into Bengali before asking them to sign them.

His solicitor, Gareth Pierce, who represented the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, has told supporters: "What is now available could have and should have been found at the time. It is what a jury needed to know to ... find him not guilty of murder."

A CCRC spokeswoman said their consideration of his case is in its final stages: "We do not have an announcement to make at the moment."

8 January 2001
Man jailed for 1986 killing
seeks right to appeal

By Severin Carrell

An Asian man jailed for murdering a man in self-defence is days from discovering whether his conviction will be returned to the Court of Appeal, in a case his lawyers predict will become a landmark miscarriage of justice.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission is expected to decide this month whether to grant Satpal Ram the right to challenge his conviction for killing Clarke Pearce in a brawl at a Birmingham curry house in November 1986. The CCRC has been given new witness evidence from waiters, including one not called at his trial, which his lawyers say supports Ram's claim that he was wrongly convicted in June 1987. They say he was protecting himself against an unprovoked racist attack.

In an interview with The Independent from Blakenhurst prison, Birmingham, Ram claimed he "lashed out" at Pearce, 21, with a small packing knife from his job as a warehouseman only after Pearce wounded him on the arms and head with a broken glass. Ram said the row began after Pearce and five friends racially abused the waiters.

Ram, then 20, asked a waiter to turn up the Indian music, provoking Pearce to shout that he did not want "wog music" on. Ram told him to mind his own business but, egged on by his friends, Pearce broke a glass and stabbed Ram in the face. Ram then produced his knife. "I meant to scare him ... but he came back at me and attempted to stab me in the face I lashed out with the knife. Now it happened quick, I didn't have time to reflect. More than anything I was in fear for my own safety," he said.

Ram's case has become well-known in the Asian community and among anti-racist campaigners as a powerful example of a racial attack victim being persecuted for defending himself. It has also attracted celebrity supporters such as the writer Irvine Welsh, the bands Prodigy, Asian Dub Foundation and Apache Indian, and backbench Labour MPs.

His solicitor, Gareth Pierce, who represented the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, believes his case has never been accurately heard. "What is now available could have and should have been found at the time. It is what a jury needed to know to ... find him not guilty of murder," she has told his supporters.

His CCRC submission questions the failure of West Midlands Police to give interpreters to the restaurant's Bengali waiters who witnessed the attack even though they spoke little English, or to translate their statements into Bengali before they signed them.

Ram, who voluntarily handed himself into the police after Pearce died from a punctured lung, said he would have admitted to the jury he stabbed Pearce if he had testified.

Ram's case has been complicated by clashes with prison authorities. He alleges he has been subjected to continual harassment. The authorities accuse him of serious indiscipline, and have moved him 64 times to different jails. The Parole Board has also refused to give him a release date, but is reconsidering his case.

Daily Express
28 November 1999
Satpal Ram
Satpal Ram (above) was jailed for murder
after killing the man who attacked him

Jailing this man is not a laughing matter

By Shekhar Bhatia

Today, like every other day for the past 13 years, Satpal Ram woke up in his prison cell to dream of freedom and British justice. But his prayers now have an extra significance, for the process which may lead to his release will begin on Wednesday, backed by some of Britain's top television comedians.

Satpal, 33, has been in jail since lashing out with a knife at a man who racially abused him in a Bangladeshi restaurant in Birmingham calling him a "wog", and then attacked him with a broken wine glass.

The argument that he acted in self-defence never came to court. Instead his legal team advanced a defence of provocation and the all-white jury convicted the Asian warehouseman of murder. He received the mandatory life sentence.

Since then the campaign to free him has grown and last Monday 1,100 people attended a special evening in London dedicated to his cause. TV comic Mark Thomas is spearheading demands for the Home Office parole board, which meets this week to consider the case, to grant him liberty.

He said: "Satpal should be freed now. The whole case has been a miscarriage of justice. It is indisputable that Satpal defended himself against a racist attack, yet witnesses who could have corroborated this were not called.

"The judge, who couldn't speak a word of Bengali, said he would translate the testimony of Bengali waiters who were called to give evidence.

"These two facts alone mark out Satpal's case as one of the most vile racist travesties of justice to have occurred in Britain.

"If Britain, and by Britain in this instance I mean white Britain, can feel revulsion and anger at Stephen Lawrence's death, then we have to say, 'Enough is enough, we will no longer tolerate racism of any form.' There is no excuse for the judge's behaviour, nor the slap-dash and ignorant advice from Satpal's defence. It is easy to sloganise that 'self-defence is no offence'. But the law must recognise self-defence against a racist attack is a hugely significant fact in differentiating between murder and manslaughter.

"It is utterly shameful that racist attacks occur every day in this country. But how much more shameful is it that a British court, in effect, condones them by the sentence passed on Satpal.

"The right of a person to defend themself against a racist attack has to be recognised."

Never Mind the Buzzcocks star Sean Hughes said: "There is definitely inverted racism at play here. If it was a white man who had defended himself it would never have got to court.

"I am totally against all kinds of violence but this was self-defence, as I understand it. Being Irish I have seen how minorities get unfairly treated by the justice system in this country and this is another example."

Stand-up comedian Jeremy Hardy said: "When a white man shoots a burglar he receives a wave of sympathy. Satpal Ram defends himself against a racist attack and he rots in jail."

Satpal's brother Mahinder said: "Our main priority is to get Satpal out of jail. He should not have gone there in the first place. He is currently in Full Sutton Prison in Yorkshire and despite all the years he has served he is still classed as a category B prisoner.

"Once he is freed, it will be up to him how we get his conviction overturned. He was never a violent or aggressive man, but he was attacked because of the colour of his skin. None of the other white people in the restaurant who abused him was ever arrested or charged.

"There was no interpreter there to tell the jury exactly what some of the restaurant staff were saying. That is just not right."

Mahinder said the dead man, Clarke Pearce, had refused to let a woman hospital doctor treat his two stab wounds in a Birmingham hospital.

Satpal is being represented by Gareth Peirce, who acted as solicitor for the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six.

Other celebrity supporters include disc jockey Annie Nightingale, author Irving Walsh and musicians The Asian Dub Foundation and Primal Scream. Campaigner Stan Butt said: "Satpal was given a tariff of 10 years and he has served 13.

"If he had not defended himself we would have had another Stephen Lawrence case on our hands. He did not start the fight. He did not use racial abuse. He was picked on and then attacked."

Mr Butt said Satpal had used his time in jail to read up on the law and actively support other cases he saw as legally flawed. A campaign spokeswoman said: "Satpal last came up for appeal in 1995. Once again, Satpal was not allowed to give evidence on his own behalf and the Bengali-speaking waiters who witnessed the original events were not called to give evidence.

"Instead, the Appeal judges decided that Satpal was guilty on the basis of the original, flawed, trial evidence. They said they were not able to pass judgment on the professional practice of one of their colleagues.

"Satpal has been moved 59 times around the prisons and has spent an excessive amount of time in segregation. People only get moved normally about every two years."

Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie said: "The authorities are trying to bring Satpal to his knees. The guy has been in jail for 13 years for defending himself in a racist attack and we want to help the people who are working to get him out."

But yesterday the dead man's sister, mother-of-five Jane Smith, 47, of Frankley, Birmingham, said that she was devastated to hear that the man who killed her brother may be paroled.

She said: "I'm absolutely disgusted. If he got out there would be uproar. It will kill my mum. I hate him. "He shouldn't be on this earth. As far as I'm concerned, life should mean life."

Guardian Unlimited
30 January 2000
A farcical trial and 13 years of
racist abuse in jail - the story of Satpal Ram

The young Asian always insisted he killed in self-defence. Now he speaks out for the first time to Jay Rayner.

Beneath Satpal Ram's right eye is a tight gash of scar tissue, the result, he says, of a beating he received at the hands of racist prison officers three years ago. On his wrists are the grooves left by the constant use of ratchet handcuffs, employed during the 59 transfers between penal institutions he has had to endure. These are merely the physical marks left by more than a decade inside the prison system; years he has served for a conviction which he and a growing band of supporters say is a gross - and racist - miscarriage of justice. The emotional scars doubtless run much deeper.

Ram's name may not be as familiar as that of Stephen Lawrence or Michael Menson, but to many who have followed his story it is every bit as symptomatic of an embedded racism within the criminal justice system as those more infamous cases.

Ram was convicted 13 years ago of a killing which he has always said was an act of self-defence against a racist attack - but which the court ruled was a straightforward case of murder. Since the conviction he has been shifted around the prison system on average once every three months and has spent a total of four years in solitary confinement - simply, he says, for proclaiming his innocence and refusing to submit to inhumane treatment.

'Racism is endemic within the prison system,' he told me when we met at Full Sutton maximum security prison outside York last week. 'Life for me revolves around trying to get through every day without becoming a statistic of another death in custody.'

He has never before been allowed to tell his side of the story. At his trial his barrister, who had misread a pathologist's report, told him a plea of self-defence was unsustainable and advised him not to give evidence. The judge at his failed appeal in 1995 also refused him the chance to speak. It has been left to pop groups like Primal Scream and the Asian Dub Foundation, to high-profile writers and comedians like Irvine Welsh and Sean Hughes, and to a welter of MPs to put his case for him. Earlier this month an early day motion calling for Ram's release was tabled in the House of Commons.

The Home Office would have preferred Ram to stay silent. Until recently journalists were not allowed to interview prisoners serving life sentences for murder, regardless of any claims of wrongful conviction. But last July the House of Lords ruled the policy unlawful. Accordingly this is the first time Satpal Ram has been free to speak. 'I'm finally able to give evidence on my own behalf,' he says.

The facts of the case are deeply disturbing. Satpal was born and bred in Birmingham, where his parents settled from northern India in the early 1960s.

In November 1986, then 20, he and two friends went for a meal at the Sky Blue Indian restaurant in the Lozells area of the city. A table of six white people also in the restaurant started hurling racist abuse at the waiters and complaining about the Asian music that was being played. Satpal responded with a call for the music to be turned up. One of the men, Stuart Pearce, then came at Satpal with a broken glass and stabbed him in the face. Satpal responded by drawing a short-bladed penknife. In the ensuing struggle, Pearce sustained a number of stab wounds and later died.

Satpal, now 34, says that in the racially divided Birmingham of the Eighties, where attacks on Asians were commonplace, his response was understandable. He himself had been assaulted a number of times prior to the incident at the Blue Sky. 'I've never refuted that a man died as a result of my actions,' he says. 'But the circumstances have never been taken into consideration. I accept that loss of life is wrong, but if I hadn't done what I did I would be dead now.' A week after the killing he turned himself into the police.

Prior to his trial Satpal had only one 40-minute consultation with his barrister, the late Douglas Draycott QC, who informed him that because of the number of stab wounds Pearce had sustained a plea of self-defence - which is an absolute defence - was destined to fail. This was based upon a misreading of a pathologist's report. It did list six wounds, but said that only two of them were the result of the blade. The rest were superficial and caused when Pearce fell on to broken glass.

At the trial, a whole series of Asian witnesses, who could have supported Satpal's version of events, were never called. The evidence of the one who did take the stand was dismissed because his broken English could not readily be understood. No translator was employed. At one point the judge told the jury he would translate, even though he did not speak Bengali.

'I put my faith in my lawyers,' Satpal says. 'They assured me they'd do everything they could but the trial was a complete farce. To be honest I didn't know what was happening. I'd spent eight months on remand in inhumane conditions.'

Immediately after his conviction Draycott informed Satpal - wrongly - that there were no grounds for appeal. He was left to draft an application himself, which he did, citing the failure to employ interpreters. He did eventually manage to get two appeal hearings, the last in 1995. Both times the judges ruled that failings on the part of defence counsel were not good grounds upon which to quash a conviction.

It would be bad enough if the issues raised around Satpal's case began and ended with his wrongful conviction, but they do not. His subsequent treatment within the prison system gives grave cause for concern.

'My troubles really started three years after my conviction when my family began a campaign to gain my release,' he says. He alleges he received a beating in Nottingham prison at the hands of prison officers, though no charges have been brought. Another allegation of physical assault while at Frankland Prison in Durham last year is now under police investigation.

He has been thrown repeatedly into solitary confinement, often stripped naked. He describes an incident - also at Frankland Prison - where, after a routine search, six prisoners were forced to strip naked and squat for anal searches. Satpal was not one of those involved but he was outraged at the way fellow inmates were being treated. 'This to me was a sexual assault,' he says. 'I made a telephone call to the Prisoners' Advice Service and requested them to provide legal intervention. The call was monitored and the next thing I know I am accused of incitement and taken to the segregation unit.' Many of the attacks and much of the intimidation he has endured have come, he says, garnished with racial abuse.

Satpal is a fiercely articulate man who has been politicised by his experiences. He has educated himself about his rights in prison and refuses now simply to accept the rulings of authority. 'If I feel I'm being maltreated or denied my rights, I'll say so. I don't get gratification from causing problems.'

He recognises that this is at the root of his problems. For a period he was on the Continuous Assessment Scheme, under which he was transferred from prison to prison, often in a restraining body belt, every 28 days. 'It's designed to isolate you as much as possible from your family,' he says. But this has not dissuaded him from complaining. 'I've gone past caring what they think of me. There's people in this prison, where I've been seven times, who have been responsible for torturing me and now they're all smiles as if nothing ever happened. If there's any kickback from speaking out in this article, I'll deal with it when it happens.'

The prison service refuses to comment on individual cases, so it is impossible to verify any of Satpal's allegations. However, the last time he came up before the parole board in 1997 it recognised that he had been transferred far too many times.

The tariff placed on him at sentencing - the minimum period he has to serve - was put at 10 years, which he has now completed. To be eligible for parole, prisoners must undertake offending behaviour courses on things like anger management and strategic thinking, but there are always long waiting lists. A prisoner moving every single month has no chance of getting a place. Despite the recommendation of the parole board he has been transferred a further nine times since it was made.

Satpal has been at Full Sutton this time round for five months. His treatment has been better: 'It's only because of the intervention of the media and groups like Amnesty International and Asian Dub Foundation that the situation has improved. I've got a very good support group outside. They'll visit me wherever I am and if they don't hear from me by phone they get concerned,' he says.

There's also a new set of legal initiatives under way. His case has been taken on by Gareth Pierce, the solicitor who helped to overturn the wrongful convictions of Judith Ward, the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. 'This is a forgotten case,' she says. 'It is a litany of mistakes, of things not done, of evidence not pursued. Most of it has been touched upon and then shrugged off by different courts.' She is now preparing a submission for the Criminal Cases Review Commission which will focus on the social context in which the original incident occurred.

'Here's a young Asian man growing up in an urban environment where active racist attacks were ongoing,' she says. 'It wasn't exactly kill or be killed but it was defend or be dead.' Home Office Minister Paul Boateng has agreed to a meeting next month with Satpal's supporters to discuss the case. Last weekend Boateng was elected a vice-president of the Civil Rights Movement, founded last year out of the Stephen Lawrence campaign.

These are promising developments, but Satpal won't speculate on what he'll do when he's released. He's been inside too long for those kinds of painful dreams.

Instead he keeps busy, reading a lot - books by Gandhi and Mandela, Martin Luther King and George Jackson of the Black Panthers - and doing courses on calligraphy and design.

But, he says, 'I'm optimistic that something's going to happen, not that I have any faith in the appeal process. It's just things are moving.' He knows better than to hope for quick results. He's been inside for 13 years.

For Satpal Ram, the Asian man from Birmingham who pulled a knife in self-defence, time only ever moves slowly.

Guardian Unlimited
24 June 2000
Victims and villains

Two men stab their attackers. One walks free, one is jailed. Guess which one was white.

By Jeremy Hardy

It is sometimes unwise to draw comparisons to make a point. One has to have a sense of proportion. Otherwise one ends up firing off letters reading: "If you are so concerned about minority rights, why is it that you say nothing about the right of falconers to take our beloved pets into cinemas?"

Some comparisons, however, are asking to be drawn. For example, a postmaster, Richard Watkins, stabs a robber to death and is hailed as a hero, but Satpal Ram is still in jail for stabbing one of his attackers to death in a restaurant fight 13 years ago.

Richard Watkins was held up in his post office by a man wielding a gun. I have no doubt that such an experience is very frightening. In the same position I doubt I would fight to defend, as one local villager put it, "the property of the crown". I didn't even know the Queen owned the cash in post offices. Perhaps her agent swung something because of the use of her image on stamps. Perhaps that's where the word "royalties" comes from - I don't know. Anyway, it seems that, in addition to owning the nation's swans (which is why they have the power to break your arm, whether in self-defence or not), she has a stake in post offices.

Given that her claim to most things is highly suspect, and that we're only talking about a few quid, I would hand over the money and say, "Would you like any TV licence stamps with that?" I would be especially nervous of getting hurt in the Kidderminster area, where hospital services are being hacked to bits to make way for the private finance initiative. So I doubt I would make a grab for an armed robber's gun, unless perhaps I knew it was unloaded, as this one turned out to be.

But it is hard to know what one would do in a situation one has not faced. It would depend on a number of things, such as one's past experiences and one's perceptions of the world. We are told that rural communities live in terror of crime and it might be true.

In the case of Tony Martin, which does not bear comparison with this one, it appears that a man who had been burgled before stored up a lot of anger. He cannot be said to have been defending himself against a man who was legging it, unless the person saying it is a Tory. Conservatives have an interesting idea of what constitutes self-defence, forged in the heat of the slaughter of the young conscripts aboard the Belgrano. Believing time to be curved, Tories see retreat as a potential attack. I suspect that they also view the shooting of minor criminals as a treasured countryside pursuit, believing that the criminals enjoy it and it is more humane than prison. I do not know.

As I say, the post office case is very different. The robber was armed and the victim felt threatened. There was a struggle during which the postmaster sustained a head injury requiring three stitches. He stabbed the robber several times in the chest with a lock knife that he used to open packages. The robber later died. The chief constable said of Mr Watkins: "The starting point is that he is a victim."

This is where I would like to bring in Satpal Ram. He was eating in an Indian restaurant in Birmingham in November 1986. Six white men at another table became racially abusive to waiters and demanded that the Indian music that was playing be turned down. Ram demanded the music be turned up. The men then attacked him with plates and glasses.

One man, Stuart Pearce, broke a glass and stabbed him in the face. Ram fought back with the short-bladed penknife that he used to open packages at work, stabbing his attacker twice. Stuart died later having refused medical treatment. Satpal Ram was never treated as a victim. After going to the police voluntarily, he was charged with murder.

Prior to trial, he was advised not to plead self-defence or indeed to take the stand, because Pearce's body showed a number of other cuts. In fact, these were caused by Pearce falling on to broken glass. It might not be surprising that a jury convicted Ram, but it is appalling that appeal judges should refuse to consider the possible failings of defence counsel.

At trial, most of the Asian witnesses were not called and no Bengali translator was provided for the one who was. The prosecution witnesses were the surviving men who had attacked Ram, men you might think should have been on trial.

The crown, as well as having an interest in postage, has a stake in putting people away and keeping them there. It is not always that choosy about the materials it uses. But it is highly selective in other ways. It would be interesting to speculate as to whether, if Satpal Ram had not defended himself and had perhaps died, his attackers would have been brought to justice. One would need to draw comparisons with other racial attacks.

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