Nominated BEST TRUE-CRIME PODCAST at The British Podcast Awards, 4th Best True Crime Podcast by The Week, The Telegraph's Top Five True-Crime Podcasts, The Guardian and TalkRadio's Podcast of the Week, Podcast Magazine's Hot 50 and iTunes Top 25.
Welcome to the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, all set within and beyond the West End.
EPISODE TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SIX:
On Saturday 22nd of June 1968, a petty thief tried to steal a small amount of cash from Taj Mahal at 21 Romilly Street in Soho. It wasn’t a daring heist, but a petulant act which would have resulted in a fine or a few weeks in prison. And yet, allegedly using ‘acceptable force’ to restrain him, three men would be charged with murder.
CLICK HERE to download the Murder Mile podcast via iTunes and to receive the latest episodes, click "subscribe". You can listen to it by clicking PLAY on the embedded media player below.
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations, to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The location is marked with a lemon exclamation mark (!) near the words 'Soho'. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other maps, click here.
SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing on Romilly Street in Soho, W1; a few doors north of the loo irradiated for life by Russia’s most incompetent spies, two doors east of Dennis Nilsen’s favourite pub, and within sight of the restaurant where the daily special included a dose of death - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Snuck between Old Compton Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, Romilly Street is a soulless void. Being nothing more than a dirty backstreet riddled with the ramshackle rear-ends of some very questionable restaurants, you won’t see a shop, but you may see a gang of rats roughing up a one-legged pigeon, two crack-addicts playing backgammon using their displaced teeth, and a stain-spackled chef keeping his filthy hands warm by ferreting about in his ‘back garden’ and then fondling his ‘trouser vegetables’.
But oddly, this was (and still is) a place where people would come to find good food.
At 21 Romilly Street currently stands Gauthier, a high-brow vegan restaurant ran by award-winning chef Alexis Gauthier, and back in the late 1960s, this was also an Indian restaurant called ‘Taj Mahal’.
As an Indian eatery catering to bland British tastes, the staff at the Taj Mahal were well-used to a little spice in their day; whether being whinged-at by a halfwittery of has-beens who start every sentence with the words “I’m not a racist, but…”, or a spew of yobbos scoffing napalm-flavoured vindaloo to impress their pals, as on a regular basis the staff are threatened, attacked, spat at, abused and robbed.
On Saturday 22nd of June 1968, a petty thief tried to steal a small amount of cash from Taj Mahal. It wasn’t a daring heist, but a petulant act which would have resulted in a fine or a few weeks in prison.
And yet, allegedly using ‘acceptable force’ to restrain him, three men would be charged with murder.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 226: Overkill.
By the end of the day, three men would be charged with the Taj Mahal murder - Ali Mian, Ali Mokbul and Abdul Subhan. Having committed (what many regard) as one of society’s most heinous crimes, you may assume that these three were all vicious, cruel and remorseless killers… only they weren’t.
As the temporary manager of Taj Mahal, Ali Ahmed Mian was born on the 6th of April 1935 in Datra, a small rural village in the Comilla district of what was then British India, now known as Pakistan. Being the fourth of five siblings to two elderly parents and with his father said to be in his 90s, he was raised to be one of the family’s breadwinners and unlike his friends, he had the blessing of a good education.
As farm labourers, many of the boys in his village were barely literate, but being intelligent and bright, up until the age of 23, Ali studied Bengali, English, Civics and Economics at college, and although he was part way through his degree, he had to quit to his education so he could work on his family’s farm.
This was the way his life would be, by putting his family first and himself second.
By 1962, as a married man with two sons aged 6 and 7, although he was earning a decent wage as a clerk for the Water and Power Development Authority in Rangpur, both he, his wife and his children still lived – as many men did – with his elderly parents, but with his plan – one day - to move out.
It was then that a golden opportunity appeared.
On the 14th of June 1962, his company sent him from the newly formed country of Pakistan to the old and slightly creaky land of England, with the plan to research how the British utility companies work.
Britain on the cusp of the so-called swinging sixties must have been a shock to his system; a mess of sex, drugs and sausage rolls; a population of long-haired men and short-skirted ladies neither of whom wore enough clothes to keep warm in a sun-less summer of perpetual drizzle and sometimes snow; all while eating - without doubt - the blandest beigest food ever, so bad, it has to be drenched in salt.
Still pockmarked with Victorian slums, crumbling ruins and bombsites from the Blitz, 1960s London was a fiery melting pot of different faces and voices, fighting for space and the right to earn a living as underneath a tension of hostility, sirens, strikes and (what would be known as) Paki bashing simmered.
The city was a place of unease and disquiet, but for a man with a dream of a better life for his family and so many mouths to feed, London was a land of potential and promise, but also of peril and pain.
Having arrived, he quickly terminated his contract with the company, and went in search of work.
And there lied the problem, as although well-educated, his visa restricted him to menial jobs and being described as “thin and sparsely built”, Ali wasn’t physically equipped to be a bouncer or a labourer, so in September 1966, he started work as a waiter at the Taj Mahal Indian restaurant on Romilly Street.
Promoted to manager during the months when the owner returned to Pakistan, regarded as “honest” and “reliable”, he worked long hours and slept in a squalid shared room above this busy restaurant.
For six years he slogged his guts out, sending - from his wage of £18 per week - the lion’s share back to his wife, his children and his parents, hoping that – one day – he could return to his loved one’s.
Ali Mian was a kind man, a good father and (to many) a loyal friend…
…and then, on Sunday 23rd June 1968, along with two others, he was charged with murder.
So, where did it all go wrong? When did his life go rogue, his morals vanish, and fuelled by drugs, a bad crowd led him down a path of doom and despair? Well, it didn’t. Ali was just a regular man doing his job on an ordinary day when his life was changed forever… the same was said of his two friends.
Born in Mandaruka village in Eastern Pakistan in 1941, Ali Mokbul was the only brother to three sisters and two half-sisters, and with his 65-year-old father paralysed down his left-hand-side, he needed to put a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. But not being an academic, his skill was cookery.
In 1963, as a married man with two children, keen to provide them with a good life, Ali Mokbul came to London and – working from the ground up – he was as a kitchen porter at ‘The Talk of the Town’, a cook at Anglo Steak House, and was later promoted to a cook at some of the West End’s most affluent restaurants, like Royal Garden Hotel, the White Hall Court and finally at the Café Royal in Piccadilly.
Earning a decent wage of £20 a week, he could have partied hearty and lived the high life, but focussed on supporting his family, he worked late, rarely went out, and – rented out by the owner – he lived in small and cramped room on the third floor above the Taj Mahal restaurant with his pal, Abdul Subhan.
Also born in Sylat in eastern Pakistan, as a married man with four children, Subhan had met Mokbul when they worked as lowly kitchen porters and dishwashers; and having been promoted to butcher and cook at the Royal Garden Hotel, they shared the £5 per week rent, they lived humbly, and although they had never worked at the Taj Mahal, they were good friends with its temporary manager, Ali Mian.
As devout Muslims, they didn’t drink. As family men, they didn’t cause trouble. As law-abiding citizens, they had never been arrested or even questioned. And keen to continue being decent hard-working people, they didn’t break the rules, especially as Subhan was applying for his British citizenship.
Their story was typical of many workers from overseas, who just wanted to do well…
…but for one man, this chance at change was an opportunity he would squander.
Bashir Meah was a 46-year-old unemployed wastrel and petty-thief who was described by the Police (as few people knew him as a friend) as short, stocky and unpleasant. Like Ali, Mokbul and Subhan, although he also came from eastern Pakistan, neither of them new him before the week of his murder.
With his parents dead and with no known relatives still living in Pakistan, in 1947, 19-year-old Bashir fled to Britain, and according to his wife Eileen “he hasn’t worked a day in twenty years”. Living off National Assistance handouts, they drifted between council houses, and although they would have two children together – a daughter and a son – their 14-year-old boy was later placed into social care.
With a lengthy criminal record and an aggressive streak, Bashir was the kind of blight on society that the Police often questioned, rounded up for line-ups and would turn a blind eye to if he got attacked.
Within his first few months in the UK, he was sentenced to six months in prison for assault. In 1952, he served six months for armed robbery and ABH. In 1955, six weeks for stealing 15 cigarettes. In 1956, five years for armed robbery, but just three months after his release, he was back inside serving 21 months for robbery with violence. And so it went on, as like a foul whiff, he drifted between prisons, as being the epitome of a shitty half-witted criminal without a single brain cell, he always got caught.
Again, after his release, in 1962 he served 2 years for the theft of a radio, 30 months in 1964 for stealing a briefcase, and 14 days for stealing 13 fruit dishes and 6 months for shoplifting both in 1967, which meant across his career, he spent more time inside than out, which was a blessing for his wife.
By April 1968, Bashir and Eileen had moved into a dirty unfurnished council flat at 300 Lewisham Road in Deptford, where he returned to after his release from prison. On the 11th of June 1968, just eleven days before his murder, he was sentenced to three months at Woolwich magistrates court for the charge of shoplifting. But with the magistrate – for whatever reason - being lenient on this repeat offender, his sentence was suspended, and Bashir went back to being a petty thief, a notorious pest…
…and a violent thug who beat his wife.
Eileen stated: “we fought a lot”. Several times she had threatened to leave, and staying at a friend’s house, “I went home to collect my stuff… my husband arrived. I was frightened. I did not open the door. He picked up a brick and broke it down”, and although they argued, that night she left for good.
The last time she saw him alive was on Friday 21st of June 1968 at about midnight, just 20 hours before his death. “He was in bed…”, Eileen said, “I asked him to leave, but he refused. I called the Police to eject him, but they were unable to do so”, and so having begun legal proceedings for a separation, “we were due to be heard at Greenwich Court on 22nd July”. But by then, her husband would be dead.
Bashir wasn’t the big-time gangster he thought he was, as to those who had the displeasure of crossing his path, he was nothing but a petty thug and a pointless waste of space, a leech on society who would nick whatever wasn’t nailed down and extort paltry sums of money from hardworking persons. And as a notorious pest who never failed to annoy, one of the places he pestered and pilfered from….
… was the Taj Mahal on Romilly Street.
Bashir seen as little more than a nuisance, as according to Isak the cook: “he came now and again for nothing, but sometimes he came to sell stolen items”, only now, he had become very desperate.
On Thursday 20th June, two days prior, Ali Mokbul was lured out of his third-floor lodging over the Taj Mahal by Bashir Meah, supposedly “to get some fresh air”. Hailing a taxi, he didn’t know where they were going or why, and neither was he introduced to the stocky white males sitting either side of him.
According to Mokbul, they drove for miles to somewhere unknown, until suddenly stopping the taxi “he put a big knife to my throat and said, ‘give me what you’ve got’”. They took his watch, two rings (including his wedding band) and the £5 he had placed in an envelope to send to his wife and children.
Mokbul didn’t report the robbery to the Police as he didn’t want to risk losing his job and his visa…
…but they all knew one thing, that (like a bad smell) Bashir would be back.
Saturday 22nd of June was a day which began as ordinary as any other. Being a little after 5pm, the Taj Mahal on Romilly Street was ghostly quiet, except for Isak prepping the food in the basement kitchen, Ali in the manager’s office organising the cash float for the nights’ business, and three floors above, connected by a single stairwell, Mokbul and Subhan were in their bedroom, resting between shifts.
According to their statements, the incident was as unremarkable as any Saturday night in Soho.
Ali stated “I was about to open. I looked towards the counter and saw a man pick up my cash box and begin to make off with it”, the man was Bashir Meah, and the cash box held just £3 (or £50 today), but with Ali being the manager and the money belonging to the business, the responsibility was his.
Like any decent person, Ali said “I ran after him and jumped on his back. I shouted for help”, screaming ‘come quick, he’s taking my money’, and hearing his cries, Mokbul and Subhan raced down to see this small-time petty thief trapped; in his left hand - the cash box, as in his right – a terrifyingly large knife which he thrust like a striking cobra in Ali’s petrified face, hissing with venom “I’m going to kill you”.
Approaching stealthily from behind, Subhan said “I grabbed his right wrist, swung him round, we both fell to the ground. Mr Ahmed & Mr Mokbul assisted me to overpower him”. And with Bashir’s manner described as “aggressive” and “extremely violent”, “we keep him there until the Police came”.
With the call logged at 5:38pm, PC Wright arrived at the Taj Mahal restaurant at 21 Romilly Street to the report that the manager and two others “had detained a man for the larceny of cash from a till”.
And that was it.
A petty-thief and a local pest had failed to steal £3 in loose change; he was cornered, restrained and receiving a few minor cuts and bruises to his face, hands and neck, with the room speckled with a few shards from a broken wine glass which broke in the struggle, the staff were questioned and with Bashir unable or unwilling to respond to questions, being semi-conscious he was taken to hospital for tests.
The so-called incident was so uneventful, that with the restaurant late opening and the theatre crowd already queueing up outside, Isak the cook would claim “I went into the kitchen and lit the gas rings”, as to those who were there that night, this was nothing that they hadn’t witnessed many times before.
Only this night was about to turn deadly.
Taken to Charing Cross Hospital, Dr Dupere, the casualty officer stated “he was semiconscious, and he complained a pain in his leg and difficulty breathing. He was very shocked”. On initial assessment, his injuries were consistent with restraint but also a beating, “he had bruising to his back, grazes down his shins and knuckles, a black eye, a cut to his lip, and a circular wound which looked like a bite mark”.
And suspecting “a fractured skull and possible broken ribs”, he was given two x-rays, but having deteriorated fast and with his heart having stopped, at 7:20pm Bashir Meah was declared dead…
…and all three men (Ali, Mokbul and Subhan) were arrested and charged with his murder.
Interviewed at West End Central police station by Detective Inspector George Chandler, together they had explained how they had caught and restrained him, how he had threatened them and struggled. But interviewed separately, suddenly the story fell apart and a different tale had begun to be told.
Upon arrival at the Taj Mahal, PC’s Wright & Moore spotted that things were not as they seemed; “we were shown into a small poorly-lit backroom, on the floor a man lying was on his right side in a semi-prone position. His clothes were disarranged, there were bloodstains on his shirt, he had a deep cut on his upper lip from which blood was flowing, and he had bruises and reddening about the face”.
Asked what had happened, the constables were told “we overpowered him and held him down until you arrived”, nothing more. But when asked by the officers “who tied his wrists and his ankles in front of him with rope?”, they all denied this, and according to PC Higgins “the Indians were all jabbering loudly…” as if – shielded by their own language - were they deciding what story they would tell.
Isak confirmed that at 5:35pm, seeing all three men struggling with Bashir, “they said ‘we’ve caught a thief’ and I helped them drag him into the small room”. And although proven, none of them could answer why they had dragged him from the hallway to a small, secluded office behind the restaurant?
When interviewed, their recollections of the night were vague to say the least. When asked “was Bashir tied up?”, separately they replied, “I don’t know”, “nobody tied him up”, and “I didn’t see that”.
When asked “did anyone punch or kick him?”, Mokbul said “I didn’t kick him, I only tried to lift him” and stating “no-one else hit him”; Subhan admitted “I punched him once or twice” but he denied that anyone else did “I didn’t see anyone”; and although their statements varied between how many men were fighting – whether three, two, one or none – Subhan blamed Isak the cook, but he denied this.
And although the full extent of the injuries which ended Bashir’s life were yet to be revealed, when asked “did you seen anyone jumping on him?”, separately they would all agree that they hadn’t…
…contradicting the evidence of the autopsy.
Conducted by Professor Keith Simpson at Westminster Public Mortuary at 10:30am the next morning, with the scuffs, grazes and abrasions set aside, although a fracture ran from the side of the skull into the right eye-socket, his death was not caused by a brain haemorrhage, or exacerbated any disease.
It was the bruising to the chest that drew his attention “as there were no external injuries to the front”, where the victim’s wrists and ankles had been tied with rope, but only to the back. And although, all three men had all denied kicking Bashir and jumping on him, “both shoulder blades were fractured”.
His back was a patchwork of black bruises and purple swollen lumps covering from his neck to his hips.
X-Rays had proven that his cheekbones has shattered and that his right eye had ruptured, but also – underneath several flat wounds which bore the unmistakable outline of shoed feet – something akin to the weight of a man had repeatedly jumped and pummelled up and down, squarely upon his back.
Fracturing the shoulder blades and breastbone, the force had snapped 21 of his 24 ribs like dry twigs as his whole chest cavity buckled in. With nothing to protect his internal organs, and these bones as sharp as glass shards; his diaphragm and his spleen ripped apart, both lungs were crushed, and as the life-giving air leaked his flattened chest, his body filled with blood suffocating his heart and his brain.
His cause of death was certified as “haemorrhage owing to fractured ribs and crushed lungs” (End).
Charged with murder at 4:35pm on Sunday 23rd of June 1968, Ali Ahmed Miah, Ali Mokbul & Adbul Subhan gave statements, and agreed to have their clothes, fingerprints and blood samples taken. Held at Brixton Prison, all three “gave a good account of the incident, knew the nature of the crime and were capable of knowing the acts were wrong”, so therefore they were declared “fit to stand trial”.
Tried on the charge of murder – which would not only result in a prison sentence, but also the loss of their jobs and deportation back to Pakistan – their case was heard in a two-day trial at the Old Bailey.
With the prosecution laying-out the evidence against them, uniquely for a murder trial such as this where – with no independent witnesses - it was hard to tell who had inflicted what injuries, each man had a different blood group; Bashir was O, Ali was A, Subhan was O negative and Mokbul was B.
But with no blood found on either of their clothes and the accused sticking to their story that they had struggled and restrained a violent thief who was holding a knife, on the 11th of September 1968, Mr Justice Paull declared “in view of the evidence, it would be unsafe to ask any jury to convict. In those circumstances, I will take the responsibility of directing them to find the defendants not guilty”.
Cleared of all charges – not GBH, ABH or even manslaughter – all three men walked from the court.
But were they innocent of a crime, did they use ‘appropriate force’, was this a case of ‘overkill’ which the investigation couldn’t prove, or were the police given a tough choice – to convict three decent men who were pushed too far, or to bring justice to a petty thief who they knew no-one would miss?
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible, which are freely available in the public domain, including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
Subscribe to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast
Note: This blog contains only licence-free images or photos shot by myself in compliance with UK & EU copyright laws. If any image breaches these laws, blame Google Images.