Page last updated at 01:11 GMT, Saturday, 31 October 2009

Defiance at hate victims vigil

By Mark Yates
BBC News

Campaigners hold an anti-hate vigil in Trafalgar Square
Campaigners lit hundreds of candles spelling out 'No to hate'

A vigil for victims of hate crime has taken place in Trafalgar Square just yards away from the scene of an assault which resulted in a gay man's death.

Family and friends and thousands of gay, lesbian and transgender people turned out to mourn Ian Baynham, 62.

Tributes were also paid to trainee Pc James Parkes, who suffered skull fractures after an attack in Liverpool.

Rows of candles spelt out "No To Hate" and speeches took place before a two-minutes silence at 2100.

Like millions of people before him, Ian Baynham walked through the square on 25 September, looking forward to a night out.

A little over a month later, thousands gathered beneath Nelson's Column to mourn his murder.

Police believe Mr Baynham, from Beckenham in Kent, was beaten by a group of total strangers because he was gay. He suffered head injuries and died in hospital two weeks later.

From where the candles flickered, mourners could see the spot, just a few yards away, where he became another victim.

Terrible cook

Reports of hate crime in London went up by a fifth in the year to September 2008, compared with the previous 12 months.

The statistics raise the question whether homophobia has increased or whether trust in the police within the gay community has improved, so that more attacks are being reported.

There is a general feeling that things are getting worse again and we need to stop it getting worse
Mark Healey, vigil organiser

Speaker after speaker at the vigil urged people to contact the police if they were a victim of hate crime. There was the same refrain in messages of support from political leaders of all colours.

But the focus of the evening was the life and death of Mr Baynham.

Speakers told of a man who grew up in a world where gay people kept their sexuality under wraps, about his wit and eloquence and his determination to always challenge homophobic abuse.

We learned he had a relationship that lasted two decades, that he was well-mannered and considerate by nature, but a terrible cook.

A statement read on behalf of his sister Jenny spoke of a respectful man with a strong set of moral values. And she said it was "so tragic that his life ended on the streets of the city he loved so much."

'Decent people'

Diana Taylor was one of Ian Baynham's many friends.

"When I heard about Ian's death, I was horrified that hate crime should come to the fore here in Trafalgar Square, and what's more in a city where we are known for our diversity and for being decent people", she said.

Ian Baynham
Ian Baynham died after an attack in London's Trafalgar Square

"I knew Ian - and a kinder, more giving man you could not wish for."

"There is a general feeling that things are getting worse again and we need to stop it getting worse", says Mark Healey, organiser of the vigil.

"Overall, life has improved greatly for gay people but there are still pockets of resistance in this country.

"We have gone through a period when there weren't as many attacks. The impression is that there has been a sudden increase."

Mr Healey thinks hate crimes are still greatly under-reported, making it impossible to establish whether attacks have become more common.

Low convictions

Ten years ago, just a short walk from where Ian Baynam was kicked to death, three people were killed and scores were injured when a nail bomb exploded in a gay pub.

Before the Admiral Duncan pub was blown apart, it had always been out and proud. It reopened painted an unapologetic, lurid pink.

One of the gay men who came to show their support at the vigil was Sean Newport.

"Lesbian, gay and transgendered people are feeling more confident about expressing affection for each other in public, whether that is by holding hands, kissing at the bus stop or just hugging in the street," he said.

"That obviously makes us more visible and with visibility comes, sadly for some people, antagonism."

Man lights candles at an anti-hate crime vigil
Speakers urged victims of hate crime to report incidents to the police

He says that gay people are in a dilemma about what to do if they are attacked or verbally abused.

"You can duck your head and walk away or you can say that's not acceptable. It depends on the situation and it depends whether you feel safe."

His friend Emma Hands said: "In this society you can't always stand up to people because unfortunately it could end in violence.

"I don't answer back. In a public area like this perhaps you would say something, but not in a more quiet part of London."

The irony is of course that the public area she is referring to is Trafalgar Square, the very place where Ian Baynham lost his life.

For all the talk of a brave new world, where gay people can stand up against aggression and trust the police to protect them, the vigil's host, the comedian Sandi Toksvig had a sobering statistic.

She said that just 1% of homophobic attacks end in a conviction.

Diana Taylor has faced her fair share of abuse for being transgender. But she is adamant that people must report hate crime.

"It is beyond me why people should be scared", she says.

"There is little point in people attending an event like this and then being abused on the way home and doing nothing about it."

Print Sponsor

Vigil for victims of hate crime
30 Oct 09 |  London
Safety advice after gay Pc attack
30 Oct 09 |  Merseyside
Homophobic crime rise in London
21 Oct 09 |  London
Youths charged over attack death
17 Oct 09 |  London

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific