Meet the anti-racism heroes who came to the aid of two Muslim women as they were being attacked in a bigoted tirade in Newcastle.
The friends, who were skating at Newcastle West when they intervened to help the mother and daughter on Monday night, say more people need to take a stand against “weak” and “cowardly” vilification.
Scott William Papworth, 27, has denied verbally attacking the women and threatening to kill those who came to their aid, claiming he was only one of numerous people in the vicinity and that he had been acting in self-defence against the skating group. It’s alleged he swore at the women and told them: “We are Westerners and you’re not meant to be here.”
Mr Papworth, of Bingleburra outside Dungog, pleaded not guilty to five charges in Newcastle Local Court on Tuesday, including that he intimidated and stalked the women, assaulted one of the men who came to their aid and stole two mobile phones. Mr Papworth was refused bail after magistrate Ian Cheetham described the verbal assault as “made on a racial basis upon persons who were innocently going about their business”.
Prosecutor Sergeant Karl Moir urged the magistrate to consider the charges “in the present climate”. “We are not just looking at a vacuum here,” he told the court.
In a statement tendered to court, police alleged the two women were wearing traditional Muslim hijabs as they drove along Smith Street about 7pm on Monday. A man allegedly approached their vehicle and said, “We are Westerners and you’re not meant to be here” and then he punched the driver’s side wing mirror.
The daughter drove five metres and got out to fix the mirror. But as she tried to get back in the car, police allege the man forced the left side of his body into the car, took hold of the steering wheel and put his foot on the accelerator for about 10 seconds. The car was in park and didn’t move.
The statement said Patrick Burgess, James Turvey and four other men saw what had happened and became concerned for the women’s safety.
As they approached the car they heard the man yell out “you Musi c—s”. Police allege the man turned on the six friends and threatened to kill them. The man allegedly stole two of their mobile phones and ran off but was struck by a skateboard thrown by one of the friends. He later allegedly punched Mr Burgess.
“He was saying the worst things [to the women], racist profanities [then] he started swinging at each of us while we were trying to defuse situation as best we could,” Mr Burgess told the Newcastle Herald.
Mr Burgess said he felt “so disgusted” the women had been subjected to the abuse. “People need to know that this is not OK,” he said. “The way this situation has gotten is so not acceptable, and people need to start taking action and actively condemning this sort of activity. It’s the indifference of good people that is bringing us down.”
The case comes at a time of increasing community unrest and concern that Australia’s mission against Islamic State in Iraq is fuelling attacks on Muslims in Australia.
Mr Turvey said he felt “frustrated” that other people had driven past while the attack was taking place. “If you look at YouTube videos of verbal or physical assaults on public transport, there’s grown men … guys I’m sure on the weekend are watching footy talking about how tough they are – but when people are being abused or bullied on the streets these people are so quick to turn a blind eye,” he said.
The statement said Mr Papworth was arrested a short distance away and claimed to police that three young men had been set upon by the skaters and that he was acting in self-defence. “The accused stated he was unaware of any Muslim lady or any incident involving a vehicle,” the statement said.
Solicitor Bryony Barber said her client denied being the racist attacker, telling the court he was in town to go to the beach and visit his sister and was one of numerous people in the vicinity.
Mr Cheetham said Mr Papworth represented an unacceptable risk and refused him bail.
See also “Skaters leap to aid of Muslim women, lecture public for ignoring abuse”, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 October 2014
Update: See “Newcastle Muslim Association thanks skaters for standing up to bigotry”, Newcastle Herald, 12 October 2014