A lawyer for the estate agent found guilty of attacking two gay men in Birmingham, England, told the court that his client empathized with the victims due to experiencing “hostility” for being Asian.
What happened: On July 21, 31-year-old Usman Murtza, of Victoria Road, Tipton, received a 16-month prison sentence for violently assaulting John-Paul Kesseler and Anthony Smith back in 2021.
The victims were holding hands as they walked back to their hotel after a night out in the city’s Gay Village at 5.13 am on October 10, 2021, when Murtza confronted them.
Murtza told the pair that they “shouldn’t” engage in such behavior because “not everyone wants to see that.” He then hit Kesseler with a glass bottle and used a metal pipe to strike both men as they tried to defend themselves.
When onlookers tried to intervene, Murzta fled the scene in his Rolls Royce. Kesseler sustained a gash on his face and required medical attention following the incident.
Targeted for being gay: In a statement, Kesseler, a student, lamented that they were targeted “because of who we are, queer men.”
He called Murtza a “homophobe” and described the look on his face during the attack as the “purest distillation of hatred I have ever seen.” According to Kesseler, the incident has negatively affected his studies.
Smith shared that Murtza’s attack made him scared of holding his partner’s hand in public or being spotted near gay establishments in Birmingham.
“Out of character”: Murtza abandoned his trial earlier this year and pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm and assault by beating. Murtza’s defense lawyer, Richard Butler, portrayed the attack as “wholly out of character” for the businessman, who is married and has a child.
“Being Asian in this world also comes with a degree of being subjected to hostility,” Butler told the court. “Mr. Murtza knows only too well the effect of his actions.”
In handing down the sentence, Judge Paul McGrath considered the homophobic nature of the attack and its significant impact on the victims. He emphasized that a suspended sentence would not be an appropriate punishment for such a persistent offense fueled by hostility toward sexual orientation.
Murtza’s apology: In court, Murtza offered an apology to the victims, stating that he has gay friends.
“I would like to offer my very sincere apologies to John-Paul Kesseler and Anthony Smith for my stupid and dangerous behaviour [sic],” Murtza wrote in a letter. “I’m sorry you were the victims of my behaviour [sic] and I’m sorry you were injured as a result and you will remember everything that evening from the moment I interrupted you. I am not proud of what I did. My parents are struggling to show support. I am unreservedly sorry and ashamed.”