Shukri Abdi: Campaigners call for justice amid inquest

Death of 12-year-old in the UK sparked protests, with activists and the girl’s family accusing police of institutional racism.

Shukri Abdi was born in a refugee camp, and arrived in the UK in 2017 with her mother and siblings [File: Matt Dunham/AP]

London, United Kingdom – With the inquest over the death of a 12-year-old Somali schoolgirl drawing to a close in days, anti-racism activists are calling for justice.

Shukri Yahye-Abdi drowned in the River Irwell in Bury, in England’s northern county of Lancashire, on June 27, 2019.

There have been repeated allegations that she was bullied, and since her death, her family, who do not believe her drowning was accidental, has accused police of institutional racism for failing to carry out a full investigation and discriminating against them because of their racial background.

The outcome of the inquest is expected to be delivered on December 4 at Rochdale Coroner’s Court.

Shukri had gone to the river with other classmates, including Child One, as she is referred to in the inquest. Child One says she accidentally pushed Shukri, who had been hanging on her legs.

But Shukri’s mother, Zam Zam Ture, says it was out of character for Shukri to play close to the water as she did not know how to swim.


Maz Saleem, an anti-racism campaigner who has been working with local activists in Bury on the Justice 4 Shukri campaign, told Al Jazeera: “Shukri’s mum has clearly told us she wants justice for Shukri. She came here so her children could be protected. They fled from a war-torn country.

“This is why we decided to get the campaign together, to hold those very institutions to account that should have protected her.”

Saleem said the murder of her own father motivated her to get involved; 82-year-old Mohammed Saleem was stabbed to death on his way home from a Birmingham mosque by a Ukrainian neo-Nazi in April 2013.

‘A tragic incident’

Shukri was described by her family as a responsible child who aspired to be a doctor and helped her mother care for her younger siblings.

The oldest of five siblings, she was born in a Kenyan refugee camp.

The family arrived in the UK in 2017 under the UK government’s vulnerable persons resettlement scheme.

Greater Manchester Police said Shukri’s death was a “tragic incident” but they did not believe there were any suspicious circumstances.

Ture, however, said she had alerted Shukri’s Broad Oak Sports College several times about bullying.

Six months before the accident, Ture claimed her daughter had been pushed into the road by bullies. But the school said it was not aware of any bullying.

Ture believes police prematurely concluded Shukri’s death was not suspicious.

On the first anniversary of her death, thousands called for justice in rallies across the UK which coincided with the Black Lives Matter protests.

What happened?

The inquest has so far heard evidence of Shukri’s last moments from some of the children who were with her.

There are five children connected to the case. At proceedings held in February, Child Five described witnessing Child One approaching Shukri at school at the end of the day, “barging” her, and ordering her to get changed.

It also emerged that days after Shukri’s death, Child One told her foster carer that she had “jokingly” threatened to kill Shukri if she did not enter the water.

On November 25, a coroner read Child One’s written statement, describing the moment both she and Shukri entered the water together.

“She was holding my legs at the back. I pushed her, I accidentally pushed her to the deep end. I couldn’t swim like that, I pushed her.

“She thought she could swim but didn’t know how to swim. She got into the water next to me. She was grabbing my hand. Something happened, she went down in the water to get back up, she didn’t make it. We were calling to Shukri to get up.

“She didn’t get up. We were all crying and shouting. She’s like really small. We were panicking. We were like: No, this cannot happen.”

The inquest heard how Child One swam back and started laughing with Child Two when Shukri disappeared into the water, because she allegedly thought Shukri was joking.

Another known as Child Four said neither One nor Two did anything while Shukri was drowning.

After they realised they could not save her, Child Three and Child Four ran to the nearby Bury police station, while One and Two called emergency services.

A statement from a paramedic who arrived on the scene said none of the children appeared to be wet or distressed.

A separate investigation was launched by Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) last year into Greater Manchester Police. A conclusion has already been made and IOPC’s findings will be made public when the inquest concludes, determining whether Shukri’s death was an “accident” or an “unlawful killing”.

The family’s solicitor, Attiq Malik, said the inquest had been a “very long journey”, arguing that Child One had a duty of care as she knew Shukri could not swim.

“Our position is that it is an ‘unlawful killing’,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The other side will say it is an ‘accident’. If a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’ is given, it forces the Crown Prosecution Service and the police to open a criminal investigation, because their position to date is that there is no criminal act here.”

Source: Al Jazeera