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The family who endured seven years of abuse inside their own home
And their journey for justice.
Warning: This article contains language which may cause offence.
A home is more than bricks and mortar. In recent years, when we have been confined to them, we have learnt that. A home should be a place of comfort, a constant in whatever happens outside our front doors and busy lives. But for a family in Glenfield, who are Sikh, they have had to fight for peace.
At face value, you would not suspect anything unusual was happening in this quiet street – at any time of the day.
But behind one front door is a family who moved to Leicester to pursue peace. A family who has endured racist abuse throughout their lives – first living in the seaside town of Eastbourne before moving more or less overnight following a racist attack. Unbeknown to them, it would not be the last time they would face this horrific abuse in their home.
When the family – who have chosen to remain anonymous to avoid further abuse – moved to Leicester, life was good. They soon found themselves at the heart of the community, both in the street they lived in, amongst their neighbours and within their local temple. The family thought they had found peace.
That was until 64-year-old Peter Ziemelis moved in next door.
Seven years of abuse
"I remember when he moved in, and he didn't even tell us his name, I don't think. It feels like he'd always had an issue with us", said the son. He explained that tensions grew over property and boundary matters and how Ziemelis' issue with the family had been noticeable from the moment he moved in.
"Even before Mr Ziemelis shouted racist abuse at us, he was already making remarks in solicitors' letters to us like 'visitors feel threatened by my father's appearance' and referred to our cooking as 'burnt cooking'".
The family described how Ziemelis would, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, bang on or throw things at the wall – exacerbating existing property issues. He would make gestures at the family's windows and cameras looking out toward their driveway and circulated defamatory rumours about the family's character to neighbours – including making false statements involving children in solicitors' letters.
The son, thinking back to that painful time, said: "When he made those false statements in solicitors letters [regarding the property boundary matters], he actually walked past the property and said: "Haha, that's how I deal with it". The family had to alert the NSPCC [National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children] and child services about Ziemelis' false statements.
The father said: "Initially, the police and council were reluctant to do anything, and despite us telling them, 'this is what is happening' – then in 2022 that's when the incident happened".
"We heard him shout 'Paki' and 'flipping coon'"
On 19 July 2022, the father and son were sorting bins from their garden when Ziemelis shouted racial abuse over their fence. "It was half nine at night, and we were sorting the bins to put out – I went outside, and we're so used to his drunken and intoxicated behaviour that we could hear him drunk in his garden. We heard noises, and then within a few seconds, we heard him shout 'Paki' and then 'flipping coon' with added threats, said the son. This incident was caught on video.
Calls of racial abuse were followed by calls for Ziemelis to "come inside" from his wife.
"We kept telling the police that something worse was going to happen. And they [the police] told us 'we cannot act on an assumption', things like that. But we knew what he [Ziemelis] was doing to us. And we knew in the background he had an issue with our race", said the son.
"So, we called 111 and reported it. They said that an officer would come and review the footage. It actually took four weeks for the police to come, and it took about a week and a half for us to go in and give an interview".
Speaking about what his family had to go through to get their voices heard, the son said: "I actually had to call the Police and Crime Commissioner's office to get it assigned – we had to mention the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). It was only then that something started to happen. And he was finally brought in for an interview in August 2022".
Following interviews, the case was scheduled for March 2023 at Loughborough Magistrates' Court. However, it was adjourned after one of Ziemelis' sons, due to give evidence against his father, failed to attend. The case was then rescheduled to 14 July 2023.
The family's son spoke of the ongoing racial abuse and harassment the family faced between 19 July 2022 and the court day. "In between that time, he was trying to indirectly affect and harass us. Knowing there were boundary and property matters, he was piling crates on our property and still banging against our walls. And when my mum and dad were in the garden, he mimicked her Indian accent and then ran inside his house again". Two weeks before the court case, Ziemelis had even been warned by Blaby Council for making gestures at the son whilst arriving home intoxicated late at night.
"I just felt drowned"
"On the 14 July [the day of the court case], I honestly just felt drowned. Because if we do not get a guilty verdict, [I was thinking] what's even stopping him from shouting racist abuse again, from over his fence and saying 'it wasn't me' in the future?" said the son.
"I had mixed emotions there. I was angry. I was constantly shaking my head. I had a banging headache. [I kept thinking] how can these people stand there, falsify a story, and just say, 'it's not us, we didn't do it?'"
Ziemelis denied that the video recording was of him and even claimed that it could not be because his voice had altered since contracting Covid-19. In the past, five neighbours in the street submitted character witness statements on behalf of the family. The family have been approached by individuals who used to live near Ziemelis at a prior residence, who say there had been previous tensions with neighbours.
However, after approximately 20 minutes of deliberation, Ziemelis was found guilty on two counts. The first was racially/religiously aggravated intentional harassment with intent to cause alarm or distress in words, and the second was using threatening and abusive words and behaviour to cause harassment. As a result, Ziemelis was given a 12-month community order, a 12-month restraining order, 120 hours of community service and was instructed to pay court costs.
The relief of the verdict was palpable, as was the anguish from the family upon being forced to relive the years of abuse they had endured, both in Leicester and before in Eastbourne.
"The whole reason we came here was to find peace. We left a really nice home in Eastbourne where we used to live because we had our windows smashed. Part of the story that it does not say in the Leicester Mercury is what we were subjected to back in Eastbourne – with our windows getting smashed and harassment and targeting for about six, seven months. The area was getting worse, and the police didn't do anything, even though we had a camcorder set up and what-not", said the son.
He continued to speak about an incident where he confronted the abusers after the family had their windows smashed. With desperation and courage to seek justice on behalf of his family, the son pursued the abusers. "I actually chased after the people who did it. I ran after them, and when I got there, I called the police. The police actually didn't do anything. They took the kid who did it back to his girlfriend's mum's house and dropped him off. And that was it".
"I told my family, 'We need to get out of here. We need to go. There's nothing here now. We need to move away'. So, we were, in a way, pushed out, but we made the decision ourselves to just leave".
Over a weekend, the family did just that. They packed their belongings into a rented van headed for Kettering, where the family lived for four years before moving to Leicester.
However, justice was served this time, and the family plan to remain at their home in Leicester.
"There is support out there for you"
Reflecting on the abuse that took place over seven years, the father, a softly-spoken man, openly spoke of the impact and trauma inflicted on himself and his family.
"There was a time when I felt very low because of it all. Because of what was going on and because of the way the local authorities also went about things.
"I decided to call Sikh Helpline for support. I went to my temple and said, 'Lord, help me'. With his family's help and support, the father could seek advice and stay strong and resilient. However, with bouts of ill health and ongoing long-term health conditions to manage, the road to justice and peace has not been easy".
"My children, they've been really good support along with my wife. It has been a really tough year, but there is support out there for you". During the abuse, the son underwent five eye surgeries, including a cornea transplant, after nearly losing his vision completely.
Speaking about the abuse during his recovery, he said: "It was really stressful during that time, and honestly, it stopped our life. Right now, we look at it as a huge weight off our shoulders. And to get justice – we're really grateful".
But the family's journey does not stop here. They are committed to raising awareness of hate crimes amongst communities, particularly the Sikh community, where hate crime reports are low.
"We need to get the word out"
After moving 150 miles from Eastbourne in search of a peaceful life, to find themselves reliving the same nightmare, they were adamant that they documented the abuse and reported it to the police.
"We needed to get the word out because many Sikhs don’t report. We were told they are the lowest percentage to report, and even in other communities, it does not get reported enough," said the son.
"People don't push through [with reporting], and then it allows these people who commit these crimes to spread their hate. And when they spread that hate, it will keep happening to other people".
The family's priorities have shifted focus from their journey towards justice to raising awareness for people experiencing racial injustice and hate crimes in the hopes of supporting victims in the future.
"We’re getting the word out there to say to people to report these crimes, keep a log, report to the police and keep evidence to report it correctly. Because the more [information] the police get, the better chance they can do something about it. Leicestershire police pulled through for us in the end" said the son.
This family's story is not over. It is now one of hope that adversity can be overcome in the court of law, our communities, and our streets.
- If racism affects your mental health, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at email@example.com, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.