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Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Marching against racism
A construction worker from Birmingham who was paralysed after an attack by neo-Nazis is to return to the East German town where the crime took place to lead a protest march in his wheelchair.

His challenge to the far right has turned him into a symbol of resistance for anti-racists across Germany. BBC Radio Four PM programme's Angus Crawford reports.

It's four years since an attack by skinheads left Noel Martin in a wheelchair and despite widespread revulsion in Germany, the racist crimes continue.

Noel Martin
Noel Martin was left paralysed by the attack
"Germany - it reminds me of what my father said it was like here in the sixties...people staring....and people shouting nigger nigger," says Mr Martin.

"There was one club I tried to get into. I went onto the dance floor, everyone came off the dance floor...until I finished dancing no one would go back on," he adds.

In June 1996, having worked as a construction worker, he decided to return home.

Racist taunts

After one last night out, he rang his girlfriend from a phone box - several skinheads were drinking beer nearby. He recalls:

"I heard abuse being hurled at us. I told Jackie everything was fine and we were going."

"Suddenly a car came out of nowhere - almost touching the bumper, they cut across, I veered to the left, the car took off and hit a tree. I heard someone say - can you feel your legs?"

Neo-Nazi groups attract the young and disaffected
Two skinheads in a stolen car had thrown a lump of concrete through the windscreen. They were caught and sentenced to eight and five years in prison.

"I just think they are sad people. The thing I would like most is when they have their first son or daughter they bring home a black girl or boy and say this is who I love."

When I comment on his lack of bitterness, he considers the point carefully and replies: "There is no point - you have to think of the future," he says simply.

I just think they are sad people

Noel Martin
And yet when I visit him he is on hunger strike in protest at the inadequate care he says he receives from social services.

Confined to his wheelchair, he needs someone with him twenty-four hours a day.

His wife, Jackie, used to be his constant companion. She died of cancer this year and is buried in a simple grave in the back garden of his Birmingham home. They married two days before her death.

Symbolic case

I ask if he will ever return to Germany.

"I'm going back next year. I've already sent a message to the neo-Nazis - I'm coming whether I'm sick in a stretcher, whether I'm walking or in a wheel chair, I'll be there," he says.

Boris Hermil a journalist with Berlin's public radio describes Noel Martin's experience as a "highly symbolic case".

"Even the federal government wants to introduce his case into a nationwide campaign," he says.

He adds that when he ran reports about Noel Martin he received hundreds of letters and emails.

"People find it astonishing that he wants to return to the place where his life was destroyed - I am certain that when he returns he will not be alone - there will be hundreds of people following him."

Noel Martin doesn't see it as brave, just something he has to do.

He says: "If you can save one life - change two people's minds then you will have done something in life."

Noel Martin
"People were shouting nigger nigger"
Noel Martin
"It's horrific because the youngsters aren't being taught any different about racism"
Noel Martin
recalls the attack
See also:

14 Sep 00 | Europe
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