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'End of era' for Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit

HISTORICAL: Maxie Hayles at the centre of a protest in the early days of BRAMU

MAXIE HAYLES, the embattled warhorse of countless campaigns against racism over several decades is finally calling it a day by officially winding up the group he founded 23 years ago.

In a poignant extraordinary meeting, volunteers and supporters watched as Hayles, the group chairman, and two board members signed papers for the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit (BRAMU) to be officially taken off the register of companies at Companies House.

It marks the end of an era in this country for ordinary people of any ethnic origin who found themselves the victims of racist attacks. Those who didn’t know who to turn to found support, guidance and friendship at BRAMU.

GOODBYES: Maxie Hayles signs papers with fellow board members Gordon Lyew (centre) and Ferlando Pennant

Over the decades Hayles and his team have dealt with more than 30,00 inquiries and worked on more than 6,000 live cases from suspected deaths in custody to hate crimes. He’s survived death threats and attacks from the BNP, but bounced back denouncing the latest injustice ever more passionately.

Perhaps the hardest battle of all has been the financial one. In 2010 Birmingham City Council withdrew its £60,000 funding commitment as the recession began to bite.

“There comes a time when you have to say ‘enough is enough’ and I have to go through this procedure of officially winding up BRAMU,” said Hayles, who is in his mid-60s. “BRAMU has given me some sleepless nights and now it’s really time I retired. I cannot go on indefinitely and it is not fair on my family.

“I will always be known as a former chairman and be more than happy to give strategic support, but I will no longer be leading BRAMU. As of tonight BRAMU is dead.”

He paid tribute to all the volunteers and in particular his colleague Doreen Osborne, saying: “Doreen is the reason BRAMU has survived this long and I don’t know what I would have done without her.”

During the meeting, led by Dr Frank Reeves, some were keen for a voluntary group to be set up immediately in the wake of BRAMU’s closure, but Bishop Dr Joe Aldred advised a period of reflection like any time of mourning ‘to soak up the gravity of the situation.’

But he warned that any potential new group should be self-sustainable to avoid being dependant on the very organisations it is supposed to be holding to account.

Sonia Webster, from Edgbaston, whose son Julian died in a Manchester bar after being restrained by security staff, spoke of Hayles’ unstinting support during the most traumatic time of her life. This was echoed by Inderbir Kaur, an ex-West Midlands Probation service employee who found herself at the heart of a racism case.

“Seeking justice is much harder than being the victim of racism, but Maxie supported me throughout,” she said.

Over the decades Hayles, who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from Reverend Jesse Jackson in 2008 for his outstanding work defending human rights and race equality, and who also received an award from Tony Blair, has taken BRAMU’s campaigns across the globe to Geneva and South Africa.

But now it’s time for someone else to take up the cudgels. Community activist Desmond Jaddoo, who joined everyone in an official vote of thanks to Hayles, said: “Maxie has done the right thing and I am prepared to pick up where Maxie has left off."

“But we live in a hostile society – the rest of the community needs to step up politically and take up the civic duty expected of us – there needs to be less talk and more action.”

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