Sister tells of UK gang abuse that led to death of Egyptian student Mariam Moustafa

Sister tells of UK gang abuse that led to death of Egyptian student Mariam Moustafa
A vigil held in memory of Mariam Moustafa, who died after being attacked by a gang in Nottingham. (Rex/Shutterstock) Inset: Mariam at the hospital.
Updated 28 March 2018

Sister tells of UK gang abuse that led to death of Egyptian student Mariam Moustafa

Sister tells of UK gang abuse that led to death of Egyptian student Mariam Moustafa

NOTTINGHAM, England: A table laden with vases of flowers and get-well cards are the dominant feature in the front room of the Moustafa family home.
The cards are for the eldest daughter, Mariam. Tragically, they are now redundant. The 18-year-old died in hospital on March 14, three weeks after being attacked by a gang of girls in the center of Nottingham, where she had lived for the last four years.
There is an air of impermanence in the rest of the house. Mallak, Mariam’s 16-year-old sister, apologized for the lack of milk for tea. “We are traveling,” she explained.
She means the family — father Mohammed, mother Nisrin Maher, Mallak and 12-year-old Adam — are getting ready to take Mariam’s body to Egypt for burial.
As to when that will be possible, nobody knows — least of all the Moustafas. Their grief is compounded by the agony of uncertainty.
The bare facts of Mariam’s untimely death are by now well-known. On Feb. 20, she was set upon by a group of girls outside the Victoria Center, a shopping mall in the center of Nottingham, in the East Midlands region of Britain, at about 8 p.m. The attack continued after Mariam got on a bus to try to escape.
She went to hospital and was discharged the same evening, but she felt unwell and was readmitted the following day and was then transferred to Nottingham City Hospital. Soon after that she fell into a coma and from which she never woke up.
Those are the bare facts. But the fuller story, as her sister, Mallak tells it, is even more disturbing.
The sisters had gone to the city center that day to get their nails done, then planned to meet their mother.
“Mariam finished before me, so she said she was going to get a drink and walk her friend to the bus stop while I finished,” said Mallak. “She was attacked as she was coming back.”
The next time Mallak heard Mariam’s voice, her sister was on her way to hospital.
“She said: ‘Don’t worry, I’m in an ambulance,’ which, of course, made us even more worried,” Mallak recalled. “When mum and I got to Queen’s Medical Center, we saw Mariam with bruises on her nose. But she could speak and told me what happened.”
Friends texted Mallak with information about the attack. Some details differ from the account issued by Nottingham police. The police say six girls were involved in the attack, but Mallak insisted she has been told there were “at least ten” and as many as 12.
She said that she also knows the names of some of the culprits as she and Mariam had already an altercation with two of them back in August last year in a park near their home.
“Mariam and I and a couple of mates — there were five of us altogether — were just sitting on the swings when these two girls came up and accused us of staring at them,” says Mallak. “We said we weren’t staring, but they pushed us off the swings, saying they wanted to get on. We said, ‘You could just ask or say ‘excuse me’,’ but they came behind me and grabbed Mariam. She fell on the ground and one of the girls tried to jump on her, but Mariam managed to push her away with her leg, and that’s when she got hurt.”
Mariam’s injured ankle was put in plaster, and then later in a surgical boot.
The sisters reported the assault but, at a press conference last week, police said they had not identified the perpetrators, despite the fact that Mallak said that she not only gave them the girls’ names, but also their ages and the school they attend.
Speaking from what was to be her deathbed, Mariam herself told Mallak that the two girls who assaulted them last August were in the gang that attacked her on Feb. 20. Mallak is convinced that she and Mariam were followed into the city.
A video allegedly showing the assault on the upper deck of the bus, a 27, shows another, older girl, whose name is also known to Mallak, apparently railing at Mariam who is silent and cowering.
After being discharged from hospital within hours of the attack, Mariam deteriorated quickly and was readmitted and transferred to Nottingham City Hospital.
“She had a blood clot and two strokes,” says Mallak. “She was screaming with terrible pain in her head. She’d been punched in the head and it was swollen and bleeding.”
Mariam was especially vulnerable because she was born with a heart defect. “She was born with only half a heart,” Mallak explains. It meant that Mariam became breathless after even mild exertion and even needed help with basic tasks at home.
About two weeks ago, the Moustafa household was woken at night by a noise outside their three-story house.”It was at late at night. We came out and saw eggs all over the pavement. We’ve also heard someone knocking on the front door but when you open it, there’s no one there,” says Mallak.
The bay window of the front room still has eggs stains on the outside.
Mallak believes Mariam was targeted because her attackers mistakenly thought she was Black Rose. “Apparently this Black Rose swore at them on Facebook or something. Mariam said it wasn’t her, but they just called her a liar.”
For Mallak and her parents, one of the most painful aspects of Mariam’s death was that virtually no one came to her aid, either in the busy street outside the Victoria Center or on the bus.
“I know it’s scary, but you can still call the police, can’t you?’ Mallak asked. “My sister was such a gentle person who would do anything to help someone. But no one helped my sister. No one.”
Nor did any witnesses come forward. “I don’t understand why nobody rang the police,” said Mohammed Moustafa, 50. “Nobody informed the police about it until I rang them the next day.”
Nottinghamshire Police confirmed they heard of the incident for the first time the day after it happened.
One who it seems did try to help was a youth, a fellow student at Nottingham College, who is seen in the video standing between Mariam and her attackers as if to shield her. Mallak knows his name too, but has asked Arab News not to reveal it because he has also been threatened.
“After Mariam went into a coma, they warned him that next time they’d come after him with a knife.”
The Moustafas have lived in Nottingham for four years. Mohammed Moustafa and his wife left their native Cairo to move to Italy two decades ago, settling in Rome where Mohammed ran a restaurant and sold furniture. Their three children were born in Rome.
He moved the family so his children could get an English education. “He said it would be better and more useful to have an education in English,” says Mallak.”My sister died for education.”
Mariam flourished at Nottingham College, a further education college. She wanted to study engineering and had already received an offer from East London University. An offer from Birmingham, her top choice, arrived when she was in a coma.
The family returned to Egypt each year to see their extended family— grandparents, aunts and uncles and many cousins.
The family seem to be struggling with who to be angriest with: The hospital that they believe discharged Mariam too soon or the police who they accuse of failing to take their report of the first attack in August seriously or their fears of repeat attacks.
From Cairo, Amr El-Hariry, who is Mariam’s uncle by marriage, has been vocal both in his criticism and his appeals for justice. On behalf of the family, he has released 26 questions for the authorities.
Nottinghamshire police have arrested a 17-year-old girl on suspicion of assault causing actual bodily harm, who has been released on conditional bail. Chief Superintendent Rob Griffin told a press conference last week that the investigators were making “really good progress,” and believed they had identified the six girls involved in the incident.
What exactly caused Mariam’s death remains unclear, further tests are to be carried out following an inconclusive post-mortem. As to why she was attacked, her family are convinced it was racially motivated, as are around 9,000 people who signed the #JusticeforMariam petition. Chief Supt Griffin said that while police do not believe the motive “was in any way hate related,” they are “keeping an open mind.”
Nottinghamshire police have not yet responded so far to the list of questions Arab News has submitted twice in the past five days.
As a dual Egyptian and Italian citizen, the authorities in both counties are monitoring developments closely. Egypt sent a delegation to Nottingham last week to liaise with the police and the Moustafa family. The Italian Embassy said the ambassador “is personally following the case in co-operation with his Egyptian counterpart” and will support “any action that the Egyptian Embassy might want to take to find the truth as quickly as possible.”
Around 200 people attended a vigil for Mariam on March 19, organized by a Nottingham College student. The mood among some students — especially Muslim girls — remains apprehensive.
“I wouldn’t say I’m really scared, but something like this does make you feel a bit more nervous,” said one, who gave her name only as Sara.
Mallak says she has “no idea” what the mood is at her own school. “Since this happened to Mariam, I’m too scared to go anywhere without my mum and dad — not while those people who attacked her are still out there with the police doing nothing,” she said.
Of the vigil she said: “Now people are saying nice things and want to help. But it’s too late.”