Everyone liked Gurmail Singh – except the thugs who beat him to death http://www.timesonline.co.uk/<wbr>tol/news/uk/crime/<wbr>article7042831.ece Gurmail Singh, a 63-year-old grandfather, ran a corner shop — the only shop — in a village perched on a steep hill above the sprawling former mill town of Huddersfield. His murder inside the store last Saturday evening has provoked anguish and anger in Cowcliffe, where villagers have been mourning as though they had lost one of their own. That they are mostly white and Mr Singh was an Indian-born Sikh, living and working in an area of industrial West Yorkshire that is not famous for greeting foreigners with open arms, is testament to the quality of the man. It was impossible to walk 50 yards along the sloping streets of Cowcliffe this week without encountering someone with a story to share about the small ways in which their quiet, gentle shopkeeper had changed lives for the better. His life and death are the shared story of a model immigrant and a small community that learnt to value character above skin colour, a relationship shattered seven days ago by the casual savagery of four hooded young strangers. Mr Singh’s father, from Punjab, joined the first wave of post-Partition Indian and Pakistani migrant workers who came to Yorkshire in the 1950s to fill a labour shortage in factories, textile mills and iron foundries. His son joined him in 1963 at the age of 16 and worked for many years for a company that made drainage pipes. He was one of four brothers, three of whom eventually saved enough money to buy their own small shops. In August 2003, when Mr Singh paid £55,000 to buy the lease of Cowcliffe Convenience Stores, the shop had been boarded up for two years. He spent six months refurbishing the premises before it reopened and quickly became the heartbeat of the village. Helped by his wife, Mohinder Kaur, he worked long hours, opening for business at 6am and closing at 9pm. People began to pop in for their daily newspaper, a pint of milk or a loaf of bread and could not help liking the small man behind the counter. The turban and the dark, bushy dark beard did not hide the warmth of the eyes. Tales abound of Mr Singh’s acts of kindness, the support he gave to the sick and housebound, the elderly woman whom he insisted on driving back home because she felt unwell, how he pulled a sledge through the snow to deliver newspapers. Marjorie Thornton, 72, who has lived in Cowcliffe — a relatively affluent village with low levels of crime — for 43 years, described the day that she went to the shop to find no copies of the newspaper she wanted. “I said not to worry and that I’d go to the supermarket a mile away, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted on going to fetch me a copy himself. That’s the sort of lovely man he was.” Her friend, Susan King, 65, described Mr Singh, who had three children and five grandchildren, as “a wonderful chap who worked really hard but was so gentle and quietly spoken and went out of his way to look after after the older people in the village”. Ellen Diskin, 63, remembered how happy residents had been “to have our little shop back. He was always smiling, always willing to help, and his whole family was lovely. If you broke your leg, he’d bring you bread and milk.” She recalled seeing Mr Singh when Cowcliffe was snowbound, “dragging that sledge up and down the hill, looking absolutely jiggered and exhausted because he wasn’t a young man, but determined to keep going so that the newspapers got delivered. “He became part of our village and he fitted in so well that people didn’t notice the colour of his skin. He was just one of us and we all help each other around here.” At 8.30pm last Saturday, Mr Singh was preparing to close for the night. Across the road a small group of regulars at the village’s only pub, the Shepherds Arms, had come outside for a cigarette. They noticed two hooded men in their late teens outside the corner shop who looked furtive and began to walk away, glancing over their shoulders.One of the onlookers knew that Mr Singh had been badly shaken after being robbed two days earlier by two young men who had pushed and shouted abuse at him, knocking his till to the floor before running away with a few packets of cigarettes. Suspicious, the villager began to cross the road towards the shop. The two men broke into a run and fled downhill. When he reached the shop, the villager could not see Mr Singh but realised that two more men in black hoods and dark trousers were rifling the premises. Shouting to his friends to call the police, he grabbed hold of the shop’s front door handle to trap them inside. The pair ran to the door and one began smashing the strengthened glass window with a club hammer while his partner threw bottles at it. The resident hung on despite being showered with fragments of glass but the two robbers escaped through the back door and ran off. The villagers found Mr Singh lying unconscious in a pool of blood from a head wound. Police and paramedics soon arrived and took him to hospital but hours later he was pronounced dead. His murderers’ reward for their violence — a post-mortem examination revealed that Mr Singh had received at least nine blows to the head, probably from the large hammer — were a few packets of cigarettes, some loose change and a smashed bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. A couple of miles away, at the Sikh gurdwara, or temple, used by Mr Singh and his family, grief runs deep. Huddersfield has more than 2,000 Sikhs and the community takes a quiet pride in the roots that it has planted in local soil during the past half-century. The Huddersfield Examiner periodically records some of the landmarks: the successful businessmen, the magistrate who served for 20 years, the councillor, the holder of the OBE, the bus driver retiring after 43 years. A few days before before he was killed, Mr Singh was at the gurdwara for the funeral of Parkash Singh Chima, the founder in 1982 of the Bonmarché women’s wear retail group, which now has 380 stores. He started his sales career in Britain riding door-to-door on a bicycle. Balbir Singh Uppal, chief executive of the local Sikh leisure centre and a distant relative of Mr Singh, said that the entrepreneurial spirit found in many British Sikhs was allied to an outward-looking approach to life and a desire to mix with outsiders. Colleagues gently contrasted their positive approach to integration with the defensive, more inward-looking stance adopted by some of their Islamic neighbours. Muslims outnumber Sikhs in Huddersfield by more than four to one. Kirat karni, the duty to work hard to earn an honest living for the benefit of family and society, is one of the three central tenets of Sikhism. It was exemplified by Mr Singh, whose family home less than 100 yards from the shop has a front railing lined with more than 30 bunches of flowers left by villagers. Billy Pickup, the landlord of the Shepherds Arms, visited Mr Singh’s widow a few days ago and hopes to set up a reward fund to help to catch her husband’s killers. “I had a cry and she had a cry. He was the nicest bloke you could wish to meet. I had my arms around his two sons. He’d brought them up right as well. He was my friend and he was certainly a better friend to this community than most whites.” Police believe that the killers may have viewed Mr Singh as an easy target because of his age, height — 5ft 4in — and mild-mannered nature. They think that two of the four people involved may have carried out the robbery two days earlier. A day before his death, the shopkeeper told a relative that he felt vulnerable because his job was becoming “a bit dangerous”. He had worked hard all his life “and wanted to enjoy his retirement”, Darshan Singh said. Three teenagers, two aged 17 and one 18, were arrested on Thursday in connection with Mr Singh’s murder and the robbery two days earlier. Police say that their investigation continues. SIKHS IN BRITAIN The 2001 Census suggests that there were 336,000 Sikhs in Britain but the real figure is believed to be closer to 700,000. They are descendants of Sikhs from Punjab who came here between the wars, after Indian independence, and on expulsion from Uganda in the 1970s. Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak more than 500 years ago and ranks as the world’s fifth largest religion. It stresses the importance of doing good rather than merely carrying out rituals. The early settlers were mainly soldiers who had fought with the British to defend the Empire. Large numbers began arriving in the 1920s to settle in the East End of London where they took over the Jewish peddling trade. Sikh numbers grew swiftly in the 1950s when men from Punjab arrived in Britain’s industrial cities looking for work in foundries and textiles. They are easily recognised by the symbols of their religion: the turban, unshorn hair and beard. In recent years they have campaigned to wear the ceremonial dagger, the kirpan, in public places. Last year a Sikh police officer in Greater Manchester sued his employers for discrimination after he was told to remove his turban. Monty Panesar, the flamboyant spin bowler, is the best-known Sikh in Britain and the first to play cricket for England.