LONDON // A man who delivered a fatal punch to a Qatari student during a racially motivated brawl at an English seaside town, was found guilty of the killing yesterday. After eight hours' deliberation, a jury at Lewes Crown Court found George Austin, 22, guilty of the manslaughter of 16-year-old Mohammed al Majed on the seafront at Hastings in August last year. Mohammed, who was in Britain for the summer studying English, suffered brain damage when he struck his head on the pavement and died in hospital in London three days later.
Abdulla al Majed, Mohammed's father, said in a statement after the verdict: "Mohammed Abdulla al Majed, our boy, tragically lost his life just over a year ago. We believe that the right verdict was reached today. "We, the family, thank the Emir of Qatar and the Crown Prince for their belief in our family's search for justice. The support of the people of Qatar has been extraordinary." Mr al Majed also thanked the Qatari ambassador in Britain, Mr Khalid Rashid al Mansouri, and his staff for all their assistance along with the British government and Sussex police.
Mohammed and a group of friends, mainly teenage Arab students, were attacked late in the evening outside a kebab shop on the Hastings seafront by a group of English youths who had been drinking heavily. Peter Henworth, 17, one of the students who was originally from Nigeria, became the focal point of abuse. He was sworn at and called "a nigger" before Paul Rockett, one of Austin's co-defendants, threw a punch at him.
The group then chased Mr Henworth along the seafront and Mohammed, his 16-year-old cousin Abdullah Alnowais and their friend Mojeb Qatani, took shelter in the kebab shop to avoid further trouble. After a while, the trio made a run for it but encountered Austin who was returning from the unsuccessful chase of Mr Henworth. It was then that Austin, from south London, delivered the fatal blow, knocking Mohammed off his feet. Contrary to earlier reports, no other youths attacked Mohammed.
Austin, who fled the country after the incident but was arrested when he flew back into Britain last November, maintained at the four-week trial that he had acted in self-defence, thinking he was about to be attacked as the students ran towards him. The jury, however, did not believe him and he showed no emotion as the guilty verdict was returned yesterday afternoon. Rockett was also found guilty of racially aggravated common assault while a third defendant, Alexander Quinn, was convicted of wounding with intent.
During police interviews afterwards, Rockett and Quinn claimed to police that Mohammed's friends had started the fight because they were a gang who were "trying to turn all the kids into Muslims". After the verdicts, Detective Chief Insp Trevor Bowles, of Sussex police's major crime branch, said: "The thoughts of my investigation team are with Mohammed's family at this very difficult time. "This has been a long and painstaking investigation which has taken officers across the world in search of the truth behind what happened on August 22 in Hastings.
"The conviction of George Austin, Alexander Quinn and Paul Rockett sends out a clear message; violence will not be tolerated on the streets of Sussex. "Here we have seen the tragic consequences arising out of a series of violent acts. What happened on that night was unforgivable and entirely unwarranted." Chief Insp Mark Ling, the district commander in Hastings which, annually, attracts about 50,000 foreign students, added: "Incidents of racially motivated crime and other hate crime are taken extremely seriously and fully investigated.
"Hastings has seen reductions in racially motivated offences and indeed in all incidents of public-place violent crime. At the same time, we encourage people who are victims of these types of crime to report them to us." The al Majed family in Doha yesterday declined to add to Mohammed's father's statement. Mohammed grew up in Doha with his two elder brothers, Ali and Saud, his sister, Dana, and his two younger brothers, Hussain and Ahmed. Mohammed was said by his family to be a quiet boy who worked hard at school and hoped to follow his father, a retired brigadier who is now a businessman, into the army.
Mr al Majed was travelling in Saudi Arabia when he heard his Mohammed had been attacked and was only able to reach Britain a day after his son died. Austin and his co-defendants will be sentenced at a later date, after the completion of pre-sentence reports. A memorial website, www.mohammed-almajed.com, which details Mohammed's short life and the events on the night he died, has been created by his family.
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org * Daniel Bardsley contributed to this report