'Even in death, racism rears its head': Calls for more protection of ethnic minority women

'We had to do the missing persons campaign': Why do some murders not receive the same attention as others? ITV News journalist Natalia Jorquera reports

There was a national outcry when Sarah Everard was murdered, but this tragedy also led to uncomfortable questions for the families of Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry and Jan Mustafa. These women had also been murdered but why didn’t their cases receive the same attention and did the police investigation fail them?

Mina Smallman's two daughters Bibaa and Nicole were murdered by a stranger in a park after celebrating Bibaa's birthday.  

They were found just over a day after they went missing and when they were, police officers allegedly took selfies with the bodies.

Mina told ITV News she felt let down by the police.

"You know, the people who are supposed to protect, honour and do the right thing took advantage in that way." She said.

A memorial for Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman.

Mum of three, Jan Mustafa was missing for a year. Her cousin Ayse conducted searches herself and even made her own posters because she didn’t feel she was being taken seriously.

"She was a foreign national, at the time she did have a bit of a chaotic lifestyle and that's probably the reason," she said.When Ayse heard reports of sightings she would ring the police and ask them to investigate, but she told ITV News they often responded by telling her she was looking too much into it, so she took matters into her own hands.

"I'd drive up and I've been knocking on people's doors, asking if they've got CCTV to give the police the footage to see if it was her."

Jan's body was eventually found a year later, in a freezer with another murdered woman Henriett Szucs.

Ayse felt the police missed vital clues that indicated who her killer was - Zahid Younis, a convicted sex offender.

Jan Mustafa was missing for a year before her body was eventually found.

"I think the most upsetting thing for the family is knowing that five weeks after she went missing, on her phone records that the police had got, there was a phone call between Jan and Zahid. And that was one of the last person that she'd spoken to before her phone was switched off."

Ayse wishes the police had asked her family whether they knew if Younis had any connection to Jan.

"Do you know them? No we don't. If they'd done that at the beginning, we might not be here today. If they went there she might have been alive when they knocked on the door."

Both families feel, if they were white, their cases might have been treated differently by the police and media.

So far in 2021, 109 women have been murdered by a man, or where a man is the principle suspect.

Bibaa, Nicole and Jan's names were added to an ever-growing list of women in the UK who have been murdered by a man, or where a man is the principle suspect.

This year the total so far is 109, already just as many at the whole of 2020. But not all cases have received the same level of attention.

These high-profile cases helped foster the perception in some communities that the way your case is investigated depends on the colour of your skin.

Ngozi Fulani runs Sistah Space a domestic abuse charity supporting women of African and Caribbean heritage. She told ITV News: "Even in death, racism, rears its ugly head."

Their research found 86% of women of African and/or Caribbean heritage in the UK have either been a victim of domestic abuse or know a family member who has been assaulted. However, only 57% of victims said they would report the abuse to the police.

"There is a culture of not believing stereotyping and just generally ignoring the plight of black women. These are the things that stop black women from reporting domestic abuse."   

Sistah Space is now calling for Valerie’s Law, named after Valerie Forde, who was murdered with her young daughter by her former partner in 2014. She had previously asked the police for help after her ex had threatened to burn down the house with her in it, but this was recorded as a threat to property.

Valerie Forde was murdered with her young daughter by her former partner in 2014.

"It's a petition that seeks to make training around black women, mandatory for police and for the violence against women and girls sector, because that's where the problem lies." Fulani told ITV News.

However the government has said it is not necessary to mandate training because existing training on domestic abuse should include recognising the specific needs of victims due to their ethnicity or cultural background.

But a spokesperson from the National Police Chiefs Council told ITV News: "We are conscious of the additional barriers black and minoritised women may face in reporting abuse and we are working hard to address them." 

Reclaim These Streets an organisation set up in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder have separately called for both anti-racism and anti-sexism training for the police.

"They haven’t exactly said no, but no-one has said yes either. I think it's a core ask because if we can't be confident in the people who are supposed to be there to protect us, to do the absolute best they can for women and for communities of colour," Anna Birley from Reclaim These Streets told ITV News. Caroline Nokes, chair of the women and equalities select committee believes the pattern of case handling is all too common and calls for non-bias training.  

"It's not until the police services [are] prepared to look at itself and say, look, we've clearly had a different response to case A, to case B, why is that, why are we continuing to do that? And I think, you know, a certain measure of introspection and understanding why that continues to happen," Mr Nokes said.

The Met Police, who investigated both Jan Mustafa, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry’s murders told ITV News: "Policing is complex and challenging...where we get it wrong we welcome scrutiny and where there are complaints we take these incredibly seriously and expect to be held to account for our actions, including through independent investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct." 

Both cases are subject to ongoing investigations.

A vigil for murdered primary schoolteacher Sabina Nessa.

As people gather to commemorate Sabina Nessa’s life, the latest victim in what is being described as a pandemic of gender-based violence, campaigners are asking the public, why women from marginalised communities are not given the same support and coverage.

They say an act of violence against one woman, is an act of violence against all.