As part of our #HuffPostListens week in Birmingham, we are publishing a series of Life Less Ordinary stories from extraordinary Birmingham residents. Today, campaigner Tariq Jahan speaks about losing his son Haroon in the 2011 riots, the unending loss of a child, and the charitable work he has done in his son’s name. To illustrate the series we have commissioned the respected photographer Vanley Burke to do a series of portraits, which will be on show in Birmingham this week.
It was a normal day in 2011. I’d gone to work like any other. I came back from work and the riots that had started in London had escalated and spread across the country. That evening I was outside by myself, heard a commotion, ran round and found three men lying in the street. I hadn’t any clue, but figured out they’d been run over, even if I couldn’t make sense of why they’d been run over or what happened.
The shock of finding my son, Haroon, among the three is something that will never go away. Giving him CPR and having to go through the motions... time stopped.
Then going to the press, who are asking for a statement, I didn’t know what to say. I’ve never stood in front of anyone and made a statement and I said what I felt through the heart. And I said: well, I would not like to see even my worst enemy go through the pain that I went through and my family went through. That pain is unfathomable and nobody should have to go through that and I didn’t want to see someone else, some innocent human being suffer because some of the young men in our community wanted revenge.
I spoke to many of the young men and I said if you do anything, you’re not doing it for me and you’re not doing it for my son. I know people look back with hindsight and say saying something like that was amazing - no it wasn’t. If anyone was put in that situation, once you’ve got over the initial shock, you do start to understand that as a human being, if I take revenge, there is going to be another father or mother out there in the same situation I am - in tears, broken, having to bury their child. And I didn’t want to see that happen.
The pull from the media was scary in some aspects - I didn’t want to say anything that offended or upset anyone. I was more worried about what people were thinking of me than going through the emotions of - how was I supposed to be dealing with the loss of the son compared to what the world was thinking of me - was I a good human being? Was I going to be made to look stupid? Was I going to be made to look like a demonic person who didn’t care?
The media pushed my son’s case and highlighted it so much. I have thousands of letters, from all around the world, saying what a nice human being I was in that moment. But that didn’t bring my son back and give me the justice I wanted for him. I’m still trying in my own way to get some sort of justice.
I spoke to Theresa May (then the home secretary) and in blatant terms she told me we don’t have the funding for a public inquiry now because it costs too much. And that was it. Nothing ever came back from May. I asked David Cameron, who was prime minister at the time when the incident took place. He didn’t even know who I was, he didn’t recognise me.
That broke my heart. I realised then average person in this country is worth nothing, and that you really have to be somebody important to get justice. Having faith in the system is a long way off I think. I’m not interested in money and compensation, I just want to clear my son’s name. To this day the general public think maybe they did something wrong and that that’s why there was no outcome. I’m having to face a lot of people in the community who ask: “why Tariq, why haven’t you got justice?”
For a couple of years, I didn’t realise until later I dealt with Haroon’s death in a robotic manner. I did what I had to do. Years on, everything seemed to have changed around me, everyone wanted to know what happened in the media, in the local community. Inside myself I was lost but everybody wanted that piece of information - ‘what happened, how did you manage to stay so calm?’. And really all I can put it down to is I was in shock and hadn’t understood the extreme hurt that I was going through.
I visit my son’s grave regularly, at least twice a week. Everyone always has a conversation with the one they love, I still have one with my son but I say very little. I tell him I miss him and I love him and I say: son, I’m so sorry I could not get you any justice. I’m still fighting, I’m trying.As father and son, we were happy and proud of each other. We have a custom where we have to wash the body - when I had to bury Haroon I had to wash the body of a young grown man, my son. It felt like he was a piece of me I was burying. For that reason alone, I can’t let it go. I just can’t let my son go without having some kind of justice.
Years afterwards, I actually walked away. I left my wife and kids and moved into a flat on my own. That was my difficult time. I didn’t want to be a part of this any more, I was so driven to thinking that I just wanted to shut the doors and leave the world behind. That was the most difficult time for me. It went on for a year. Eventually, I realised I couldn’t make it on my own - I needed the support of my family and my family needed me. They were constantly trying to get me back - I got to the point where I was so down and so low, that I thought inside I’m gonna do something stupid and mess everything up for everyone. And I need to pull myself together. That’s when I came back and when charities approached me - and my life changed from there.
The Haroon Tariq Jahan Foundation was set up in honour of my son to help those in need - the only reason I took up the charity work was to leave a good legacy for my son. Today, we’re having many problems for young men in inner city: knife crime, violence, robbery, you name it. The worst thing of all is the hatred - hate crime is up massively throughout the country. Instead of uniting people we’re showing the difference between people’s faith, culture, humanity, whatever. And that’s turning everyone against everyone. I want to show compassion and love - that’s the most important thing we need.
It comforts my heart that I’m doing this work in memory of my son - he wasn’t around to do the good himself, maybe he would have done something good, maybe not. I see it as a blessing for my son, that if I do something good, he will be rewarded in the afterlife.
I’m hoping and I’m praying that one day, I will get justice for my son. Never give up hope, once you give up hope, everything comes to a grinding halt and you’re the one who loses. No one else. Keep fighting, stay strong and don’t lose faith - in people, the systems, politicians, we all lose faith in them sooner or later but the compassion of love in human beings, never give up hope with that either.
I also learned you need to be able to forgive people around you. You need to move on. I can never move on from the loss of my son, but you need to move on, to carry on going. There are times when you look back at your life and ask: what could I have done differently to improve things? Every time I look back, it takes me back to my son and finding him on the ground - even though there is nothing I could have done. And I have to keep reminding family that he is gone, but in our hearts.
As told to Brogan Driscoll
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