Hate on the streets of Oldham

 

itself against allegations of biased reporting.

The barman in the Fytton Arms joins in. "The Asians make you racist. You're not brought up to hate them, they make you hate them."

Another man in his 20s, who declines to give his name, adds: "They won't live like us. They won't work. I don't believe for a minute they can't get a job because they are discriminated against. They don't want jobs. They should come over here and be taught English. They should go to church and live like us. They say they are British."

Talk turns to "no-go areas" for both whites and Asians. Graham illustrates his point by telephoning an Asian taxi firm on his mobile phone requesting a car for Fitton Hill. The operator turns down the booking. "He said 'We no come to Fitton Hill'. There's no-go areas for whites and Asians. It's tit-for-tat."

The men crack jokes such as: "I like Pakis but I couldn't eat a whole one," and recount a story about 13 different traces of semen being found in the food in a curry house in either Bradford or Oldham.

They bring up the savage attack on a 76-year-old war veteran, Walter Chamberlain, by a group of Asian youths in Oldham in April. "That's how sick and low they are, three lads knocking 10 bells out of an old bloke. What's he going to do back?"

Some say the attack on Chamberlain was the starting point for the violence and the growth in support for the NF and BNP. Chamberlain's daughter told local media it was a thuggish attack rather than a racial incident. According to the police, however, Chamberlain believes it was racially motivated - and that is how they are treating it.

Police figures released earlier this year show that 60 per cent of the victims of 572 recorded racist attacks last year were white. Asian community leaders challenge the accuracy of this figure, blaming the distortion on police bias and under-reporting by ethnic minorities of crimes against them.

The Chief Supt of the Oldham Division of the Greater Manchester Police, Eric Hewitt, acknowledges the under-reporting among the Asian communities but says the pattern of Asian-on-white violence has been the same for the past five years.

He says 10 out of his division's 410 members are Asians and that the first of two racial crime units in Oldham was set up 18 months ago. Last week, in an effort to build bridges, he addressed Glodwick's Muslims in one of their mosques.

"We've got the devil of a job to build confidence," he says. "But we are, and we are being successful. We realise that things went horribly wrong. More and more, we are talking to people to encourage confidence in the police. We realise that if we have to build bridges we have to do it together. We are the local communities' police."

That's certainly far from how the force is viewed in Glodwick, a warren of red-brick terraced houses interspersed with sari shops, jewellers, hairdressing salons and grocery stores.

There are few youth facilities here and young children, many in Asian traditional dress, play on the narrow hilly streets and roads which are pitted and scarred with marks of burnt-out vehicles. It's a close-knit and fundamentally decent community. There's little inter-ethnic marriage here, with many young women and men still travelling to Pakistan to find husbands and wives.

Laddish youths gather outside the Punjab Take Away, keeping a vigilant eye out for unknown faces and greeting each other with handshakes.

Some are dressed in denim or sports gear with heavy gold chains while others wear traditional dress. They are Oldham's radicalised and alienated macho Asian youth, with low prospects and even lower expectations.

One teenager rolls a joint while his mates rail against heavy-handed tactics of the police who regularly patrol the area. Another, dressed in denim, boasts that with one phone call they could assemble a crowd of hundreds to respond to any further threats against their community. "The police have sold out to the BNP," he says.

"There'll be one final riot and there'll be no fights here no more," says an older male calling himself Sylvester, who rails against "anti-Islam" freemasons as he tucks into a carry-out pie with mushy peas. "Tell them there's 200 suicide bombers in Oldham. Write that down," he says.

Tariq Rafiq, a local community worker and university graduate who owns the Punjab Take Away, says these second-and third-generation immigrant youths are caught between two cultures and are struggling to forge an identity for themselves. Their parents worked hard at the mills and kept their heads down despite the racist abuse - and their interaction with the wider community was limited.

"There are a lot of young people saying we aren't going to take the kind of shit our parents took. If someone abuses us, attacks us, we will retaliate," he says.

Rafiq is one of the few role models the youths of Glodwick have. A university graduate, he has ambitions to be the area's first Asian MP and understands that you have to be part of the system to succeed.

"We need to be saying to our young people: 'OK, the police may be racist, you're not getting jobs and you're being discriminated against, but you need to attack them on all fronts. Instead of just beating up white people you need to get educated and take the lead."

Dr Baker from Warwick University says deep structural problems in the local economy need to be overcome if Oldham's racial tension is to be eased. If the Oldham Independent Review comes up with a hard-hitting report like the Scarman report into the Brixton riots in south London in 1981, it could be "a kick up the backside to those in power," he says. The Scarman report only really fed through into policy after the second wave of riots in Brixton in 1985, he believes.

"Money was pumped into areas like Toxteth in Liverpool and Brixton after the riots there in the 1980s and it has improved community relations. Northern Ireland's communities have also had targeted money thrown at them.

"Above all, Oldham needs more sensitive policing. Even the RUC has had to become more sensitive to cross-community feelings."

"One Oldham One Future" is the slogan of the Oldham Independent Review. Its members have hit the ground running and are firmly in listening mode. They will examine areas such as housing, health, jobs, education, law and order, faith and leisure facilities.

The review's chairman, David Ritchie, points to Northern Ireland as a "sobering example to anyone concerned with inter-community relations. I believe we are miles from the situation there, but we mustn't let it get any closer than it is already".

He says there is "a fundamental decency of people in Oldham which gives me cause for hope for the future, however bleak it may seem at times".