Failed asylum seeker set fire to himself in Nelson park

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DREAMS of a better life turned to tragedy for three brothers from Iraq when one of them fatally set fire to himself in Nelson.

An inquest heard how asylum seeker Barham Ahmed (28) set himself alight in Victoria Park off Carr Road, fearing he would be returned home after an asylum application was refused.

Mr Ahmed (28), of Rook Street, Nelson, set fire to himself at 5 a.m. on February 18th after becoming depressed about his struggle to stay in this country.

An inquest heard how Mr Ahmed and his brothers Mustafa and Mohammed arrived in England in November, 2002, to escape former dictator Saddam Hussein. They lived in London and Middlesbrough before arriving in Nelson.

Mustafa told the hearing the Home Office had refused their request to stay but they felt they had a strong case to remain but Barham felt trapped and became increasingly upset.

East Lancashire Coroner Mr Richard Taylor was told the brothers had been imprisoned in the North East for six months for an alleged assault but had later been acquitted. Mustafa told the inquest: "Barham suffered a lot in prison. He refused to eat and had tried to hang himself. After we were released, he continued to speak about killing himself. No one has ever apologised for locking us up unfairly.

"He received a lot of help from our GP in Nelson, Dr Francis Ashworth, who prescribed him anti-depression tablets. Our solicitor was also going to challenge the Home Office decision, but said we had little chance."

Dr Ashworth, who works at Reedyford Health Centre, said he feared Barham wanted to kill himself and tried to seek help from a number of different avenues.

He said: "Barham was persistently troubled by nightmares and flashbacks. His mental health problems were in excess of what I could do to help. I tried to enlist the help of social services and the local mental health team but was told they cannot get involved with failed asylum seekers.

"I even wrote to the Prime Minister, Home Office and local MPs but only received non-committal responses. I also took him to the hospital but when he spotted a policeman he ran, fearing they were there for him."

Pathologist Dr Walid Salman, who conducted the post mortem examination, said Barham had died from severe burns. A petrol can, lighter and burned clothes were found nearby in Victoria Park.

Recording a verdict of suicide, East Lancashire Coroner Mr Richard Taylor said the story should serve as a reminder that people awaiting legal verdicts can be seriously affected by stress.