Safia Mohamed was amazed to discover that one of the last men hanged in Wales was a Somali like her. Most British Somalis arrived after 1990 and Safia never imagined they had been around for more than 100 years. The story of Mahmood Mattan, as she dug in to it, also told a bigger story about Somali sailors in the UK and the racial prejudice they faced.
It all started with a conversation over dinner. I don’t know how we got on to the subject, but as we were leaving the restaurant my friend mentioned Mahmood Mattan, who was hanged for murder in 1952, and – I stared at her with wide eyes as she said it – later exonerated…
I was shocked and intrigued. We spent the rest of the evening on Google, trying to find out everything there was to know. And the more I read about Mattan, the more I found about the long history of my people in the UK.
When I was growing up, among Somali families who arrived here in the 1990s and early 2000s, no-one ever mentioned that Somalis had been in the country for more than a century. I had no idea.