2 British Men Burned in Attack at Gay Pub

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday October 27, 2011

Two men have been attacked and injured after being doused with a flammable substance and set on fire at a gay pub in Leicester, England, an Oct. 26 news story at ThisIsLeicester.com reported.

The attack took place in the wake of another man was burned to death in Scotland after having been viciously beaten and, police said, possible subjected to sexual assault.

The Oct. 25 attack that injured the two men took place at the Rainbow and Dove, a pub with a gay clientele that is located in Leicester's city center. One of the victims suffered "horrific" facial burns, the article said, and was put on a ventilator in the hospital. The other man suffered burns to his arms. Both men were in their early 20s.

Another man, 24 years of age, was in police custody, the BBC reported on Oct. 25.

Police refrained from calling the attack a hate crime--yet. But they said that the investigation would not rule out that possibility.

The injuries suffered by the two men were "not life-threatening," according to Detective Inspector Simon Preston, who went on to say that in the case of the more seriously injured man, the injuries "will be life-changing because he will require a number of operations and possibly skin grafts because of the injuries to his face."

Preston called the purported attack a "horrific incident," and told the media, "We are in the very early stages of our investigation, and from initial enquiries we are treating the incident as an assault, but we are looking into the circumstances surrounding the incident and the events leading up to it.

"Incidents of this nature are extremely rare and we would like to reassure people that we will leave no stone unturned."

Leicester's LGBT Center sought to reassure members of the gay community.

"People have come into the center and are clearly upset by what they have heard," said the Center's head, Ian Robson. "Hate crime is a big issue and people are scared enough as it is. But at the moment, from what we understand, this was not a homophobic attack."

Indeed, anti-gay violence has soared in Great Britain over the past few years. But the incident that might be the most horrific example of anti-gay attacks took place last weekend, when a young man, Stuart Walker, 28, was brutally beaten, possibly sexually assaulted, and then set on fire and killed in the early hours of Oct. 22.

Walker, an openly gay bartender and resident of Cumnock, Scotland, was found in an industrial area of the town by a passerby at 5 a.m. on Oct. 22. Walker had last been seen alive earlier that morning at about 2:30 a.m., police said. The young man had been out with friends, and police speculated that he might have gone to a house party in a nearby subdivision.

"It is imperative that we find out where he was between 2:30 a.m. and 4:50 a.m. hours, whom he was with and why this happened to him," said Det. Inspector John Hogg.

"From our inquiries so far, we understand that there may have been a number of house parties in the nearby Netherthird housing estate in the early hours of the morning--between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.," Hogg added.

Police speculate that the brutal beating--which left Walker with "horrific injuries," newspaper accounts said--and his having been set on fire may have been motivated by anti-gay bias.

Early reports said that Walker's burned body had been tied to a lamppost, but police said this was untrue. Early reports also indicated that Walker's body might have been partially unclothed. Police said that the young man might have been sexually assaulted prior to being killed.

Divisional Commander of the Strathclyde Police John Thomson told the press that there was the "possibility of a sexual assault" against Walker by the killer or killers, an Oct. 25 article in British newspaper the Daily Mail reported. Authorities anticipate that autopsy results will show whether sexual assault did indeed take place.

Thompson also speculated that Walker knew the person or persons who subjected him to what Thompson called a "vicious attack."

"I don't think it was a random attack by someone who will strike again," said Thompson. "I suspect Stuart may have known this individual or met this individual shortly before his death."

Authorities have no evidence as yet that the killing was a bias crime targeting Walker for being gay, but the vicious nature of the killing and the possibility of sexual assault would not be out of character for a violent anti-gay hate crime. Thompson told the media that the question of whether Walker's sexuality played a part in the crime was a "main focus" in the police investigation.

"I am aware of all the speculation in the media regarding Mr. Walker and his death," Hogg told the press. "At this time, we have nothing to indicate that this is a homophobic crime.

"Until we know the exact circumstances surrounding this murder, we will not rule anything out and will keep an open mind on any possible motive for his terrible crime," Hogg continued.

Earlier, Hogg had verified that the young man's murder was "an extremely violent crime," the BBC reported on Oct. 24.

The community was "shocked and horrified" by the killing, according to a local government official, Adam Ingram, who told BBC Radio, "Stuart was a very nice young man, very popular and well-known within the Cumnock community, and their thoughts and hearts are going out to the family at the moment.

"It's shocking and horrifying, and it's come completely out of the blue," added Ingram.

The leader of a GLBT equality advocacy group spoke out, saying that the brutal slaying was troubling for the gay community.

"Stonewall Scotland are deeply worried that the police feel there may be a possibility that his death was a hate crime," said Colin Macfarlane, the head of Stonewall Scotland.

Violent crimes targeting gays are often marked by intense violence and sometimes involve attempts to burn the bodies, either as a further attempt to obliterate the victim or as a means of destroying evidence.

Last August, a San Francisco gay man, 23-year-old Freddy Roberto Canul-Arguello, was found dead, and his body burned, in Buena Vista Park. Authorities arrested and charged David Munoz Diaz, 22, in connection with the crime, but hesitated to say that the killing and burning was a hate crime.

The language of anti-gay religious individuals and organizations are replete with images of punishment involving fire. One commonplace claim from the anti-gay religious right is that gays are destined to burn in Hell.

It is not uncommon for attacks against the property of GLBT individuals and families to involve fire. In some cases, the homes of gays are targeted; in other cases, arsonists attack gay-owned businesses.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.