Police appeal for witnesses to ‘first volent hate crime linked to virus’
Police are appealing for witnesses after a Thai man was assaulted and robbed in Fulham Road by two teenagers shouting “coronavirus”.
The attack on Pawat Silawattakun, a 24-year-old tax consultant, is thought to be the first violent hate crime linked to the virus reported to British authorities.
And he told The Observer: “It’s made me very wary, it’s a terrible feeling knowing that they’re still out there. It isn’t just a robbery, there’s also knowing that I’ve been targeted because of my ethnicity, and that they were filming me to humiliate me, as if East Asians are all submissive and easy targets.”
Mr Silawattakun, who works in the City, said he was travelling home in the late afternoon when he was attacked in Fulham Road full view of dozens of passersby.
He was left stunned and bleeding with a broken nose as one assailant stole his headphones and the other filmed the attack on his smartphone.
“I’d just got off the bus at Fulham when I heard a faint sound directed at me from my left across the street,” he told the newspaper.
” I had these noise-canceling headphones on and took them off as these guys just shouted ‘Coronavirus! Coronavirus! Ha, ha!’ in my face while filming me.
” I didn’t get a chance to say anything — ‘Please stop’ or ‘Why are you doing this?’— when one of them snatched the headphones from my neck.”
Neither of the teenagers initially ran away, but instead laughed at him, he said.
“It didn’t feel like a robbery at that point, it felt like bullying, a bit of messing around. “he added.
However things quickly escalated when he gave chase.
“After about 50 metres, they ran across the road and I ran after [one of them] shouting ‘Why are you doing this?’. When I reached the traffic island he turned round and punched me to the ground. There was blood everywhere.”
He said he shouted out to bystanders, but “no one seemed to care or pay attention initially.”
Eventually he was helped by two people and got an Uber to hospital.
His attackers did not bother leaving the scene, so he took pictures of them to pass to the police.
The assault happened as a global poll by Ipsos Mori released last Friday found that 14% of respondents said they would avoid contact with people of Chinese origin or appearance.
Mr Silawattakun, who moved to England to attend boarding school in Surrey before studying chemical engineering at Cambridge, said that after posting about his attack on Facebook, he received dozens of messages from people sharing their own experiences of hostile and racist behavior in the past few weeks.
He is now due to have an operation on his nose and has taken leave from work. His parents have flown from Thailand to support him.
“It doesn’t matter how much I’ve accomplished or how hard I’ve worked,” he added. “None of that shields me or anyone else. I’m still just a target because I’m East Asian.”
The Met has launched an investigation into the aggravated robbery.
A spokeswoman said: “The victim, a 24 year-old man, reported being racially abused by an unknown male suspect in Fulham Road.
“A second male suspect then approached the victim from behind and stole his headphones, and then assaulted him. The victim sustained a broken nose and received hospital treatment.
“The incident happened at around 5.15pm on Saturday, February 8.”
No arrest has been made at this stage and enquiries continue.
Anyone with information should call police on 101 quoting 5823/08FEB20 or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.