Saleem Khan is a cocky 20 year old Pakistani kid raised by the tough streets of working class North London. Here he is partying with
his best mate Julian and some other friends in a dingy nightclub called Deep End, when he and Julian should really be getting a good
night's rest before their 6 a.m. training session with Georgey. Georgey is their boxing instructor who they've known since they were old enough to tie their own shoelaces. Now they tower over him, lanky and lean, their first Olympic qualifying tourney only two weeks away. Amanda, Julian's older sister by a year, is also part of their crew tonight, perhaps to Julian's chagrin. It's not so much that he finds her embarrassing as an older sister but he wishes she didn't so overtly flirt with Saleem.
But, as is often the case with long-held crushes, Saleem and Amanda end up falling for one another and this frays the trust between Julian and his best friend.
The morning of the tournament, Georgey is ringside as he watches both Saleem and Julian qualify for the Olympics in dominating fashion. Then, like a freight train hurtling around a hairpin turn, Saleem's life derails. On his way over to meet his proud father, Faisal, in the stands, Saleem is yanked aside by police officers, placed in cuffs, and dragged off. Faisal too is pulled out of his seat, cuffed, and taken into custody before a gawking crowd and his date, Saima.
Saleem and Faisal find themselves falling into the jaws of a Kafka-like justice system that has somehow tied them to a terrorist attack targeting a London city bus on the morning of the tournament. The attack is perpetrated by two Pakistani men, a couple of years older than Saleem. Although the attack claims three lives, it is thwarted by authorities who intercept the hijacked bus on the expressway before it can reach downtown London and detonate in a crowd. The hijacker, Rizwan, dies when he reaches a police blockade and detonates a device, martyring himself. The lookout, Yusuf, who provided the materials for the explosive device and was supposed to have picked up Rizwan after he planted it, is captured.
Faisal and Saleem know Yusuf through their mosque and, when Yusuf was still a teenager, Faisal hired him to work in his hardware store in Willesden. This association pulls Faisal and Saleem into a quagmire of gruesome interrogations about their knowledge of the terrorist organization behind the attack. When Yusuf is murdered by fundamentalist elements inside prison due to his willingness to cooperate with the authorities, father and son are pulled further down into the beast's belly, where the system threatens to hold them responsible for a crime they couldn't conceive of, let alone commit.
At Saleem's trial, we find out that the government is pinning the charge on him using written testimony from a confidential witness who, for the sake of national security, will not be available for cross-examination. Worse still, Julian takes the stand against Saleem and Amanda does not even show up to his trial. Through Julian's testimony we learn that, a week prior to the attack, he had followed Saleem to Amanda's dorm suspecting them of carrying on a romance, and saw Saleem on his way out of Amanda's dorm where he ran into Yusuf. He testifies to seeing them getting in Saleem's car and driving off. The audience originally sees this scene through Saleem's perspective where he asks Yusuf to keep mum about his relationship with Amanda, especially to his father. Yusuf agrees, but only in exchange for a favor; can he borrow Saleem's car next week for a protest?
The trial ends in Saleem's conviction and he is sentenced to life in Belmarsh prison. Meanwhile, Faisal, who is being held in Long Lartin prison has undertaken a hunger-strike protesting Saleem's fixed trial. Inside prison, Saleem joins a Muslim gang in hopes of using their connections to contact his father. Tragically, when he is finally able to get Faisal on the phone, Faisal dies mid-conversation due to complications from a stroke induced by an earlier force-feeding session.
While Saleem lives the darkest days of his life inside Belmarsh's walls, and Julian goes on to win a silver medal in Athens, a barrister named Sarah Sullivan wins an appeal on the use of secret evidence that directly implicates Saleem's case. This turning point sets the stage for Saleem's own appeal that Sarah orchestrates with Amanda's help. Once exonerated, Saleem makes a return to boxing as a pro, and vies for Julian's title of welterweight champion of the world.