Tunde and Jay Abatan

Argus title : We must find thugs who killed Jay

When she was little, my daughter desperately wanted to be a bridesmaid.

She saw an opportunity when our friends Michael and Cathy Abatan told us they’d decided to marry. Before my husband and I could even open our mouths to congratulate them, my daughter burst out “Are you having bridesmaids?”.

Cathy grinned: “Well I’m not sure we’re having any, but if we do you can be one”. She made our little girl the happiest child alive.

The wedding was in an old village church on the outskirts of Bath. It seemed a fitting place for the marriage of an English woman with Celtic ancestry and colonial connections, and a man of both English and Nigerian descent. Bath became famous as the most fashionable Regency spa town of its day. However, long before that it had been a sacred place for both Roman immigrants and the goddess-worshipping Celts who preceded them.

The wedding was a monument to cultural mix. A Roman Catholic married a man from a Methodist and Muslim background in a traditional Church of England service.

Far from having no bridemaids Cathy and Tunde (Michael’s Nigerian name) ended up with nine. My husband took wedding photos and in some the couple are all but buried under bridesmaids. There were big ones and little ones, Black ones and White ones from England, Australia and Nigeria – all wearing frilly dresses and carrying red and white posies.

Cathy looked every inch the traditional English bride in white silk, while Tunde wore equally traditional Nigerian dress in pale blue. They had the bemused, slightly stunned expression that all genuinely happy couples have at weddings.

Elderly aunts sipped champagne and hummed songs from The Sound of Music while giggling teenagers sang the same tunes with ruder lyrics. Australian brothers danced on the tables singing Karaoke and Nigerian sisters served African food.

It was the happiest of days. And yet, there was something missing. Tunde should have had his brother Jay at his side, as his best man. He had a close friend to fulfil the role, but he and everyone else knew it wasn’t the same. Jay’s absence was everywhere.

Jay died aged 42 on 24th January 1999, following a savage beating outside a Brighton nightclub, the Ocean Rooms. Since that time, Tunde – together with Jay’s partner Tanya – has fought a tireless campaign to bring his attackers to justice.

Jay was 11 years older than Tunde, an excellent sportsman and successful in all he did. He was an accountant, proficient in karate, chess and backgammon. Friends describe him as “effortlessly popular”.

Tunde describes him simply as “a good brother”. I do not think Tunde could ever find words to express the depth of his love for his brother and his grief. From time to time you can glimpse it in his face and it is almost unbearable to see.

It seems Jay always looked out for his younger brother and protected him when he had to. But neither was able to protect the other on the day of the beating.

That evening Jay, Tunde and an old friend had gone out to celebrate Jay’s promotion. He was very happy, giving them details of the accountancy project he was to lead for Price Waterhouse. They danced and drank, though not to excess. At times, the brothers spoke to each other in Yoruba, their mother tongue, discussing their father’s health and starting to plan holidays.

There was no trouble during the evening, though some witnesses later said they heard racist remarks such as “This club’s going downhill. They’re even letting Pakis in.”

Whatever the truth of it, at the end of the evening as they waited in a taxi queue, they were attacked. A group of men moved in front of them as they approached the head of the taxi queue. Jay remonstrated and was viciously assaulted, sustaining at least one massive blow to his head. He fell to the ground, smashing his head against the pavement.

Although he was already critically injured and unable to defend himself the attack did not stop there, but continued with additional blows as he lay on the ground.

When the attack was over the men simply drove away in the disputed taxi. Tunde, who had also been badly beaten and kicked, was left shocked, bruised and bleeding, faced with the dawning horror that his formerly invincible brother lay mortally wounded.

The investigation which followed was badly mishandled not least because Sussex Police failed to explore the possibility that the assault was racially motivated. Jay lived for several days and had periods of consciousness, but was never interviewed. Though the minor injuries of alleged assailants were photographed, Jay’s facial injuries were not – so there is no record of the bootmark which Tunde recalls seeing on Jay’s forehead.

Time and vital evidence were lost, potential witnesses were allowed to scatter while alleged assailants were allowed to confer with each other. Jay’s family are aware that one of the alleged assailants had given vital evidence on behalf of police in a previous case and believe that there was little willingness to pursue him. Two men were charged with Jay’s manslaughter, but the matter was later dropped.

Two men were charged with the assault on Tunde, but were acquitted. The judge ruled that it would be “prejudicial” to the defence if the jury were told about Tunde’s brother’s death. So Tunde was forced to stand in court and, under oath, give an account of events which excised his brother’s death.

It is impossible to imagine how Tunde felt in that court – or what the jury thought. They may have speculated Jay was absent because he would not support Tunde’s account of events. Tunde’s face twists with grief when he describes how the acquitted men laughed at him as they left court.

It was not the only time alleged attackers laughed at him. He recalls being in his car in Brighton one day and stuck at lights. One of the suspects came out of a shop, crossed over to his car, tapped on the windscreen and putting his face close to the glass, mockingly waved and smiled at him. Tunde says that he was so frightened he was going to be attacked that, to get away, he almost drove the wrong way down a one way street.

I have heard one person connected with the case say “It was just a punch which went wrong.” But this does not explain the additional blows, the stamping, the failure to assist and the subsequent cruel mockery.

Sussex Police eventually acknowledged the failings of the first inquiry. The force apologised and launched another far more thorough investigation. Regrettably, despite many months of intensive work, no arrests were made. Crucial information lost in the first hours and days following the assault could not be retrieved. Key eye witnesses did not come forward and suspects kept silent.

Supt Ken Probert of the Sussex Police headed the second investigation. He said: “The case remains open, but the only thing that is likely to bring a conviction now is if eye witnesses find the courage to come forward. There were hundreds of people in front of that night club. I just don’t believe no one saw anything.”

He added” Even if it was a result of temper, attitudes usually change when someone is injured. There were four men there, four. Not one saw fit to offer first aid or call an ambulance. They just left in the taxi, leaving him lying there. I find that unforgivable.”

For the past 7 years Tunde has been seeking ‘justice for Jay’. He needs to know why the first investigation failed. He wants those responsible for the attack to face trial. And yet, if someone somewhere had the courage to admit what they had done and apologise, I think he would accept it.

There are some who think that it is time for Tunde to ‘move on’. I’ve heard one person suggest he is ‘vindictive’ to pursue prosecution and another hint he is ‘obsessed’.

In fact, Tunde carries out a reponsible job, is a loving husband and father and an affectionate and loyal friend to many people. But there is some part of him that will never be at peace until he feels he has done all he can to achieve justice for the brother he loves.

In the face of such profound grief, 7 years is just the blink of an eye. And so, if there is anyone reading this column who is able to give information about that dreadful night, I beg you, come forward.

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