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|Family To Sue Over Hospital Desecration|
Hugh Muir, April 6, 2004, The Guardian
Relatives of the Muslim woman whose corpse was desecrated with bacon as it lay in a hospital mortuary are to sue for damages, it emerged today.
The family of Habiba Mohammed will seek to hold Hillingdon hospital fully responsible after the failure of the police and hospital authorities to bring anyone to account.
Today, 15 months after the incident occurred, the family will return to the hospital, saying they have yet to receive a formal explanation or apology.
Up to this point, Mrs. Mohammed's relatives - distraught at the act of desecration and mindful of police advice - have declined to speak publicly.
But following an admission by the Metropolitan police that there is no expectation of a culprit being caught, they have spoken to the Guardian.
Yusuf Mahamoud, 19, was at Hillingdon hospital with his uncle when the news of the desecration emerged. It fell to him to inform his mother, Habiba Hujale. They kept the crime from Mrs. Mohammed's husband, who was 83 and frail, for another two months.
Mr. Mahamoud, a student, said: "What people should realize is that this could have happened to anyone. Forget the religious aspect for a moment. An old lady went into hospital with cancer. I would say to people, imagine that was your grandmother, or child, or a close friend."
Mrs. Mohammed had seven children, 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She and her husband, a businessman, came to Britain from Somalia in 1991 and the family quickly put down roots in a west London suburb.
"She was our rock," said Mr. Mahamoud. "She loved it here and she loved playing with her grandchildren, teaching them about Somalia."
Mrs Mohammed's illness began with chest pains. Her family took her to Hillingdon hospital, where she was x-rayed and given the all-clear. But her family, doubting the diagnosis, raised money to have her examined privately, and liver cancer was detected.
Mrs. Mohammed was under the hospital's care for about five months. When she was admitted to the hospital for the final time, it was as an emergency case. Within two days she had died.
Mr. Mahamoud's aunt and uncle flew in from the US and, in keeping with tradition, wanted to see the body. Mr. Mahamoud recalls: "The staff didn't want us to see the body, because they didn't have the right people at the mortuary.
"The nurses had to deal with it. We were kept waiting for two hours and I started to get frustrated. After a while, a police officer took us to a side room, accompanied by a Muslim doctor.
"It was left to the doctor to tell us. I almost collapsed. It was incomprehensible."
Mr. Mahamoud asked for his grandmother's body to be moved to another hospital, but he says the request was refused. As the family left, CID and forensic officers moved in.
Mr. Mahamoud and his relatives agonized about what to do next. "I rang my mother, but we didn't know how we could explain this to the rest of the family. They were still grieving. We felt we would have to keep it from them until after the funeral."
The family were called to a hastily convened meeting with the police in West Drayton. A second meeting was arranged for the following day, the day of the funeral. At the suggestion of the police, the family had sought help from Hillingdon Race Equality Council, but they say that from that point on, they were kept at arm's length.
"They said it was to be treated like a murder inquiry. But they also said they could not tie what had happened to any particular crime," said Mr. Mahamoud.
The family's representation by the civil rights campaigner Suresh Grover and the lawyer Imran Khan has been criticized by some, but Mr. Mahamoud said his family had sought their help. "I had my doubts about the police as soon as they said they couldn't fit what had happened to any particular crime," he said.
Mr. Grover said: "This sickening attack on Mrs. Mohammed not only illustrates the depth of anti-Muslim culture in the UK, but also the complacent attitude of the authorities."
The family had lobbied to have the investigation taken over by Scotland Yard's Racial and Violent Crime Task Force, and three men were arrested, two of them former mortuary workers. A third man was arrested in connection with allegations of thefts from corpses. The police found 2,000 photographs and slides of corpses at his home. No charge resulted.
A hospital spokeswoman said it had sought to apologize.
"We have been completely open and honest about this," she said. "We cooperated with the police investigation and changed practices around the mortuary. It is sad if they feel we haven't done all we could."