Broadwater Farm revisited

We had barely got to work after Xmas break, as the Inquest verdict in the Mark Duggan case was announced. It was a verdict that people from across the country openly questioned. Micheal Meacher MP for Oldham West announced  ‘This is a sad, bad day for British justice.   It seems impossible to combine the view of 8 out of the 10 members of the jury in the Duggan inquest, on the one hand, that he did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot with the decision reached by 8 out of the 10, on the other hand, that it was a ‘lawful killing’ by the police.’

After the verdict was announced, the press from across the globe headed to Tottenham to see something kick off, yet the only thing set off were white doves from the steps of Tottenham police station, in remembrance of the deaths in police custody. It was a peaceful Tottenham story which did not receive much publicity.

Later this month the press will be heading back to Tottenham because the trial of Nick Jacobs, the seventh person to have been arrested and charged with the murder of PC Blakelock is set to begin.

In a 1987 review of the John Akomfrah film, Handsworth Songs, Salman Rushdie wrote, ‘If I say ‘Handsworth’, what do you see? Most Britons would see fire, riots, looted shops, young Rastas, cops by night’.  The film frustrated him because he felt it failed to show the rich variety and complexity of black people’s lives in Birmingham, relying instead on language and film footage from the media, the richer language of the subjects was lost. He concluded, ‘let’s start telling those ghost stories. If we know why the caged bird sings, let’s listen to her song. ‘ (Rushdie 1991:p115)

Recently Tottenham rap singer, Wretch 32, Jermaine Scott, vented similar sentiments, “I had a no 1 single, and a no 4 album in the album charts. I wasn’t in the Tottenham Journal, but there was a lot of crime stuff in the Journal”.  He felt frustrated that local successful acts like him and Chipmunk were rarely reported as successful Tottenham stories.

It’s an important point, because we don’t want to simply just perpetuate the same stereotypes. If we present the past in stereotypes, it infects our thinking about the present, taking away its rich nuances and complexities. In this sense we have some responsibility to present ‘our’ history properly. It was therefore in this vein, that the Monitoring Group and Tottenham Rights organized an event titled ‘Broadwater Farm Revisited – Nicky Jacobs is innocent’.

The forum revisited the past and explained to the audience just how brutal and violent it was growing up in Tottenham in the 1980’s. There was no violence from the black community (“when you saw a black face from out of town your heart warmed and you smiled, people were glad to see visitors” one speaker announced.) but from the police and public officials, teachers, housing officers, and social workers.

tottenham revisited005The meeting was started by Suresh Grover, recounting events in Southall during the 1970′s. Asian people had lived  in Southall since 1954. During the 1960′s the anti-immigration Southall Residents Association was formed, and Asian children started being bussed out of the area to school across the suburbs, this was to continue until 1978. In 1976 Gurdip Singh Chagger was murdered outside the Dominion cinema, and the Asian Youth Movement was formed. It campaigned on a range of community issues, from anti-racism, for housing rights, for women’s rights and provided legal advice. On the 23rd April 1979, the fascist party, the National Front, held a election meeting in Southall Town Hall. The council and police supported the meeting, even though they were not standing any candidates in the town, nor had any chance of success. A peaceful community protest was turned around when the police invaded the town with over 3,000 officers. One local historian, Nigel Copsey, has described how the police ‘contributed to disorder’ as the day went on, ‘first by making peaceful protest impossible, and then by attempting to disperse the crowd using aggressive tactics, such as “snatch squads”, charging with riot shields, truncheons and horses, and even driving vans into the crowd’.  Suresh explained to the audience that by the end of the day, over 700 people had been arrested, and some 342 people charged, and Blair Peach, a school teacher who had come to support the community had been murdered. This number actually underestimated the number of police detentions. These were the largest arrests in Britain on a single day for decades. No officer faced prosecution for the killing of Blair Peach.

By the 1980’s, the racism from the police was cleverly targeted. Sir Kenneth Newman, Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis from 1982 to 1987 put Broadwater Farm on his list of ‘symbolic locations’, places with ‘criminal rockeries of Dickensian London’ (Rose, 1992:32). The other locations were Railton Road, in Brixton, and All Saints Road in Notting Hill).  All three areas would see severe riots.

tottenham revisited009Dub poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson spoke about the police operation, ‘Swamp 81″, its impact on the black community, and the subsequent riot in Brixton. He treated the audience to a raw performance of his poem about the event, ‘The great insurrection’, The Brixton riot led to the Scarman Inquiry, with statutory recommendations for a more community consultation and consensual policing style. In 1986, these were statutory recommendations that should have been acted on, but ignored by senior officers in Tottenham.

It’s worth pointing out that this consensual style of policing was not just ‘political correctness’ in response to the Brixton riots, but a return to the founding principles of the police service. The police service was founded on principles of being unarmed, non military, non-political and consensual, yet during the 1980′s the English police force was probably more politicalised, distant from communities and aggressive than it had ever been. Sir Kenneth Newman, previously served as  Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and had a very clear political view of the police service. For example compare this quote from him in ‘there are .. particular problems in the western societies which have the potential to affect the balance between order and freedom, the first problem is the growth of multi-ethnic communities‘ (Rose,1992:p33) to this quote from a policing handbook in 1842. ‘The police are reminded of the great importance of not using irritating language or expression,, the more good temper and coolness shown the Police whenever they are called upon to act, the more readily will all the well disposed assist them in preserving the public peace’ (Metropolitan Police Order, 1842 in Mawby, 2002).  The demands of the local community had been the same demands local communities had made of the police service for nearly 200 years, yet what  hash’t been scrutinising enough is why the police service changed during the 1970′s and 1980′s, and how this impacted upon communities.

Since the Commissioner decided that Broadwater Farm required a targeted form of policing, in the months leading to the riots there was one officer for every 20 people living on the estate, and sometime more than that. (‘Summer on the Farm’, London Program, 11/7/86) The 3,000 people living on the estate were the most heavily policed people in London. As a result huge levels of black youths arrested under the ‘sus’ laws. All the speakers at the meeting recounted their personal tales of being stopped, arrested and abused by the police, such was the frequency that it was accepted as an everyday part of life. In the Gifford Inquiry, held after the 1986 riots, even the local white community complained about the racist attitude of the police, ‘Oh, so you’ve had some coons breaking in, have you?’ one was told. (Rose, 1992;42).

The high levels of policing had very little to do with local crime, in fact crime levels fell substantially in the years leading up to the Broadwater Farm riots, mainly due to the activities run by the local Youth Association. However, such was the gulf between the local youths and the police that when the local commander, Jim Dickinson, was asked by Channel 4 to respond to the Youth Association claim that their work had reduced crime, he simply responded, “well, if they claim that, very good.. but it only proves they were responsible for it in the first place.” Black on Black, Channel 4, 1983.

If tensions between the local youth and the police was tense, ultimately what set off the riot was a chain of event set off by one officer, DC Randell. The local youth called him ‘sweeney’ because of his aggressive behavior, and as he set off to search the flat of Floyd Jarrett, even his inspector, Inspector Clarke, remarked he hoped they ‘would not cause any riots’. (Rose, 1992:58).

At the meeting Stafford Scott recounted the events leading up to the riots, the arrest of Floyd Jarrett, the death of his mother Cynthia Jarrett, the refusal of senior officer to suspend any officer, the protest at the police stations, and the eventual disorder, the police response, and the events to the death of PC Blakelock. (see more details here) He also pointed that if the response from police to the death of Cynthia Jarett was shambolic, the police’s immediate response to the death of PC Blakelock was equally shambolic. “With the agreement of the police, the council began a massive clean up operation. The forensic evidence was shoveled and bulldozed and packaged and eventually removed. All the murder investigation had to go on were some footprints in the mud”. (Rose,1992:87) In the aftermath of the riot, a massive police operation which rather than working with the local community, just further criminalised then and created the ‘the climate of fear’.  (see a summary of the police investigation here)

tottenham revisited001In the second half of the meeting the audience listened to Mark Braithwaite and Winston Silcott. As there was no forensic evidence available to assist the police, the officer in charge of investigation, DCS Melvin, forced confessions from vulnerable children, forcing them to Winston Silcott was responsible for the murder. He also produced a false statement in court, with these words Winston was convicted.

(Silcott looks out of the window. Stands up. Moves to the window. Looks out, returns to the chair). ‘You cunts, you cunts” (Leans back in chair. Tears in eyes. Arms about head.) ‘Jesus, Jesus.. ‘You ain’t got enough evidence. Those kids will nover go to court. You wait and see. Nobody else will talk to you. You can’t keep me away from them’.

These were the only words, which convicted Winston Silcott of murder. However, none words had even been spoke by Winston, and it took Winston’s solicitors until 1991 to prove scientifically that the statement used in court was forged. The officers were eventually charged with purgery.

Winston’s and Mark’s accounts were personal and moving. Winston talked about how his was regularly abused. At one stage he stopped eating as prison officers regularly  spat into his food, when it complained he was taken to a psychiatric prison. In the prison’s brutal regime, he often felt depressed and paranoid, but what really helped him were the kind words in the letters and cards he received from complete strangers. He knew people cared him outside, people he did not know or had ever met.

Many eminent people often pay their respects to individuals who were confined in prison unjustly. Especially, like Winston and Mark, when they manage to leave with dignity. Just listen to the tributes for Nelson Mandela, now compared to the 1980′s.  However, how often do people support people who are still in prison? Winston and Marks testimonials acknowledged both the brutality of the racism, but also the emotional support that they received from the letters and messages from the outside world.

It is with this in mind, therefore they the meeting ended with a remembrance to Nicky Jacobs, and the impending trial.

The Nicky Jacobs trial begins on the Monday 3th March, at the Old Bailey, Old Bailey, London EC4M 7HS

The family are asking everyone to attend a vigil between 9am and 11am outside the court.

For more information download the leaflet here nicky jacobs leaflet


Written by Jagdish Patel



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