Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Racist attack victim left 'broken'

By Damon Embling
BBC South, Home Affairs Correspondent

Vinod Puthiyaniram
Vinod Puthiyaniram said the attack left him broken mentally

The victim of a racist attack in Hampshire, which resulted in the death of his friend, has spoken of how he was shunned for months after the assault.

Indian sailor Vinod Puthiyaniram was out for a drink with his shipmate and friend Gregory Fernandes when the pair were attacked by local youths.

On Monday three teenagers admitted killing 32-year-old Mr Fernandes.

Mr Puthiyaniram, 30, who suffered a broken collarbone in the attack, said he was shunned after the attack in October 2007

The pair were enjoying a soft drink at the Falcon Hotel in Fawley, near Southampton.

As they returned to the cargo ship Garonne, at Fawley oil refinery, they were attacked by a group of about 20 teenagers, first outside the hotel and then further down the road.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Mr Puthiyaniram said in broken English: "I was in the telephone box, when I saw the crowd.

Gregory Fernandes (Photo: Hampshire Constabulary)
Mr Fernandes died from heart failure after being attacked

"I saw a girl talking and not fighting and after that I went back to the [Falcon] hotel. I put my glass back. I asked him [Fernandes] what happened?

"He said nothing, they were talking. After that there was a small fight, some slapping. I said 'run away'. What happened before that I don't know.

"I was on the phone so I don't know what happened. I asked somebody, 'what happened?'

"Someone slapped me on my face, and hit me, he pulled me. He broke my collar bone and I fell down on the road.

"There were two or three. I said 'sorry, I don't know what happened'.

A passerby tells how he stopped the attack and tried to save the sailors' lives

"I was not worried about me because I had done nothing, there was some violation between [GF] and them. They were pushing me, I was saying 'sorry, sorry'.

"They did not want to attack me at first, they wanted to talk to me. I said 'if something happened, sorry, sorry for that'.

"They were violent. They did not want to hear me. Someone pulled me, someone slapped me. I was scared."

A passer-by broke up the fight and took Mr Fernandes to the docks, where he collapsed and died of heart failure brought on by the stress of the attack.

Mr Puthiyaniram, whose wages support his parents and four sisters in Kerala, India, said the incident left him disturbed and shunned by his Indian community.

"I couldn't imagine what happened," he said. "He [Fernandes] was a nice fellow, I felt really bad.

"After that I got signed off because my shoulder was broken and the captain was strict with shore leave.

From left: Daniel Rogers, Chay Fields and Stephen Pritchard
Rogers, Fields and Pritchard denied murder but admitted manslaughter

"It will affect my life forever. Basically my arm is okay but in the winter it's painful. I can't lift my arm.

"Mentally I'm broken because after this all the family and friends [in India] look at me as a troublemaker, but I'm not. I am a simple boy coming from a simple family in Kerala."

Mr Puthiyaniram, who had known Mr Fernandes for two years, was only re-employed eight months later after Hampshire police contacted his bosses to reassure them that he was not a "troublemaker".

He said: "I remember he [Fernandes] was a nice fellow and we were staying together on two ships. He was a good friend.

'England is safe'

"Sometimes if I remember him it is happier times. We were put together on that ship and before that we had sailed to Sacramento [California]."

Despite his experience, Mr Puthiyaniram has not been put off England.

"England is safe. The people are nice and helpful - so we never think poorly of this," he said.

At Winchester Crown Court, Stephen Pritchard, of Cathay Gardens, Dibden, Daniel Rogers, of Falcon Fields, Fawley, both 18, and Chay Fields, 16, of Priest Croft Drive, Blackfield, appeared charged with murder. They admitted the lesser charge of manslaughter and will be sentenced later.

They also pleaded guilty to inflicting grievous bodily harm on another sailor.

Two 15-year-old boys from Fawley, who cannot be identified, also admitted causing grievous bodily harm to, and assaulting, Mr Fernandes' and Mr Puthiyaniram.


Gregory Fernandes was the sole breadwinner in his family

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Basingstoke Gazette Humble home is a shrine to dead son, Gregory Fernandes - 16 hrs ago Teenage British gang confesses to killing Indian sailor - 41 hrs ago
The Hindu UK teenagers plead guilty to killing Indian sailor - 48 hrs ago
Irish Examiner Race attack teenagers literally scared sailor to death - 50 hrs ago
Rye and Battle Observer Race attack teenagers scared sailor to death - 57 hrs ago

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