Qatari father vents anger over sentence given to UK killer of his son

A man whose teenaged son was beaten to death in Hastings, England, criticises the British system for what he sees as a lack of justice.

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DOHA // After the killing of his 16-year-old son Mohammed in England, Abdulla al Majed vowed, "justice has to be done". Some 16 months later that justice has come, but it is not the sort the grieving father envisioned. The judge Anthony Scott-Gall last week sentenced George Austin, 22, from South London, to four and a half years in jail for the killing of Mohammed. Austin has been in police custody since November 2008. With more than a year of time served, plus a possible early release for good behaviour, he could be a free man by early 2011.

"I'm not happy, I'm angry," said Mr al Majed. "The judge was very good, very fair - the fault is with the British justice system. Their penal code encourages killing because it does not punish harshly. What guarantee do we have that when he's released he will not kill again?" In the summer of 2008, Mohammed al Majed left Doha to study English at an international school in Hastings, England. A few days before he was due to complete his studies and return home, Mohammed was with a couple classmates outside a kebab shop. Austin and two of his friends, all of whom had been drinking alcohol, began harassing the foreign students with racist taunts.

Austin struck Mohammed in the face as the teenager tried to run away. Mohammed's head slammed into a kerb. He suffered a fractured skull and a brain haemorrhage and died in hospital three days later. Austin was convicted of manslaughter last month and sentenced on November 25. His attorney, Susan Rodham, argued that the killing "was not premeditated", and that the head wounds were "indirect" and "not foreseeable". The British newspaper The Observer termed the sentence "lenient".

"He should have gotten either a death sentence or 25 years in jail," Mr al Majed said. "Sharia says, 'An eye for an eye.'" In Qatar, such a killing would probably receive a harsher penalty. "The sentence would depend on many factors - including the age of the defendant, did the victim die immediately, the anger of the victim's family - but it would certainly be more than this," said Hanan Malaeb, a law professor at Qatar University.

She estimated the punishment could vary from the death penalty plus a "blood money" payment of up to 150,000 Qatari rials (Dh151,322) to the victim's family, to a much smaller fine and a dozen years in jail. "If this happened to my son, I don't think a few years would be enough," Prof Malaeb added. "This would not give me the satisfaction that he got his punishment." Mohammed's family remains unsatisfied. His mother, father and four siblings live together in Doha, and recall the 16-year-old who liked football and was a member of the Kashafa, or scouts.

"Still no days pass without shedding tears," said Mr al Majed. "It still makes me too sad to remember him - I don't like to think about it. All of his family is missing him. But now we are not only upset about losing him, we are upset about this sentence." Each year, about 40,000 foreign students study English in Hastings, an East Sussex town of about 85,000. Police say confrontations with locals are not uncommon. Just hours before the incident, the owner of the kebab shop had warned police about the potential for violence from Austin and his friends.

"This was the duty of the British government, but they have failed," Mr al Majed said. On Tuesday the killer's mother, Jacqueline Austin, pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice. She helped her son flee the country to evade capture a month after the killing. In sentencing Austin, the judge said: "What a sad indictment you are for the youth of Britain." The victim's father puts the killing in context.

"We have respect for the British people," said Mr al Majed. "But some like this George, they defame the country. They are a danger to their own society." Mr al Majed believes the scars left by Austin will be deep and lasting. "The Quran says: 'To kill one man is to kill all of humanity,'" he said. "He has not just killed one person he has killed against a family and a nation."