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A Tortoise File

Shukri Abdi

What happens when a death – in this case, the death of a 12-year-old refugee – becomes a cause?

First published
Tuesday 4 May 2021

Last updated
Wednesday 12 May 2021

Why this story?

What happens to a death when it becomes a cause? After news broke in 2019 that a 12-year-old refugee had drowned in a river, in apparently suspicious circumstances, and that the police had refused to investigate, it was taken as another powerful example of the institutional racism that pervades our police and our schools; where racist bullies can get away with murder. As an editor, it was that narrative that drew me to this case. I wanted to investigate what had happened, and what it could tell us about the reality of Britain today.

But the more we discovered about the circumstances of Shukri Abdi’s death, the more fraught this story became. Our reporter was racially abused online for asking difficult questions. This tragic story became revealing in ways we had not expected, as our pursuit of the truth began to crash into the pursuit of a cause, revealing the lines between what is journalism – and what is activism. Basia Cummings, editor