Deaths in custody: Songs for Colin Roach

Colin Roach died of a gunshot wound in the foyer of Stoke Newington Police Station on the night of the 12 January 1983. The subsequent protests and community investigation are covered in the book Policing In Hackney 1945-1984.

There were also cultural responses to this tragic and still unresolved death…

Benjamin Zephaniah – Who Killed Colin Roach? (live recording, 1983)

Who killed Colin Roach?
A lot of people want to know
Who killed Colin Roach?
Dem better tell de people now,

What we seek is the truth,
Youth must now defend de youth
Who killed Colin Roach?
Tell de people now.

Murder, murder, some a shout
Some of you might have your doubts
But what about our liberty
We want public enquiry

Benjamin Zephaniah was a Hackney resident at the time of Colin Roach’s death and was present at some of the protests outside the police station about it and the subsequent treatment of the Roach family by the cops.

Some recollections from him at the 4wardever site.

(And yes, this is a poem rather than a song, strictly speaking.)

The Special AKA – Bright Lights (1983)

I got down to London and what did I see?
A thousand policemen all over the street
The people were shouting and looking at me
They said ‘Colin Roach’s family demand an enquiry’

The track was originally released on the b-side of the group’s “Racist Friend” single which got to number 60 in the UK pop charts. It then appeared as the first track on the “In The Studio” album, which also featured their “Nelson Mandela” anthem.

Demon Rockers – Iron Lady (1985)

Now the council they a take a big liberty
Them a give black people the worst property
Like Nightingale and Kingsmead seh inna Hackney
Me no want fi go end up inna bad property
They killed Colin Roach inna the place Stokey

Demon Rockers was part of the Clapton based reggae soundsystem Unity Hi-Fi and went on to be half of the jungle/rave duo the Ragga Twins.

Some of his concerns about housing had been borne out by this report by Commission For Racial Equality too.

Macka B – We’ve Had Enough (1986)

They said Colin Roach shot himself just for nothing

Macka B rose to fame in the Birmingham reggae scene in the early eighties but appears here on Mad Professor’s south London Ariwa label. The track names the large number of black people who have died in police custody in England when it was made in 1986. It was re-released a few years ago when David Emmanuel (formerly UK reggae artist Smiley Culture) died during a police raid on his home.

Linton Kwesi Johnson – Liesense Fi Kill (1998)

You can’t ask Colin Roach if him really shoot himself

Dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson on a similar note, with a (slightly grainy) video showing the victims alongside footage of protests.

With thanks to History is Made at Night

Next RaHN meeting, May 7th: Political Policing and Surveillance

Radical History Network (RAHN) meeting Wednesday May 7th


How and why are the police used to try to suppress public dissent and any challenge to the capitalist ‘status quo’?

What tactics have protestors and campaigners developed to successfully defend public rights and struggles for a better society?


Kevin Blowe from Newham Monitoring Project on community campaigns resisting oppressive policing and seeking to hold the police to account.

Dave Morris on London Greenpeace – possibly the most infiltrated group in UK history. Despite that it was a highly effective campaigning organisation – the group initiated the Stop ‘The City’ anti-capitalist mobilisations in the early 1980s, and the global anti-McDonald’s and McLibel campaigns in the ’80s and ’90s.

John Eden on campaigns against police corruption in Hackney in the 80s and 90s.

All welcome to come and share experiences, anecdotes, photos, archive material and general thoughts.

Wednesday May 7th
7.30pm, Wood Green Social Club
3 Stuart Crescent, N22 5NJ  (off the High Rd, near Wood Green tube)

Radical Hackney after World War One

Some interesting press articles reproduced over at Anterotesis blog. Both are about people resisting austerity after the first world war: by squatting municipal buildings and via a rent strike in Shoreditch:

In related news there will be a free school on the radical history of World War One on Sunday 18th May at Mayday Rooms, 88 Fleet Street.

1985 TV news report: Police charm offensive in Hackney

Another new upload to the excellent dorlec01 YouTube channel.

This short report covers a lot of ground – the background of the killing of Colin Roach in Stoke Newington Police Station, Hackney teacher Blair Peach being killed by police at an anti-fascist demonstration and of course the general racism and brutality of police in Hackney at the time.

These factors lead to the Hackney Teachers’ Association calling for the Police to be excluded from schools. Their position is summarised in the extremely convincing Police Out of School document which is also available on this site. As you can hear in the report, their proposals were taken up by 18 (about a third) of Hackney’s schools.

The lack of an acknowledgement from police representatives of the deep seated issues in their own force is troubling, but perhaps not surprising: “what has happened to us in the past – is in the past. We must look to the future”.

It’s hard to say in retrospect whether people actually believed that cops spending time disco dancing with kids whose older brothers and sisters still faced daily racism would achieve anything or whether it was a PR stunt. But we do know that serious police brutality and corruption in Hackney continued well into the 1990s.

The Real World War 1

Some friends and comrades have started work on an initiative to put forward a radical history of the first world war.

There is (inevitably) a blog including a very good “about” page and reading list.

Other activities are planned…

If I get time I will try to put something together on the war and Hackney – any suggestions or contributions would be welcome.


Haggerston Food Co-Op opposes market forces, 1973

An incredible short documentary about a food co-op providing cheap food to estate residents – and being opposed by local shopkeepers.
Note the copy of Hackney Peoples’ Press on the wall at the 6:57 mark.

The dorlec01 Youtube Channel has a bunch of material of interest, which I’ll return to soon I think!



Radical History Network meeting February 12th 2014


Jazz agers, beatniks, mods & rockers, hippies, punks, ravers, riot girrls, revolting students, 2011 rioters and other youth-influenced movements here and abroad – what did they do to challenge the establishment and to put forward alternatives, and what can we learn from them today?

Wednesday February 12th
7.30pm, Wood Green Social Club
3 Stuart Crescent, N22 5NJ (off the High Rd, near Wood Green tube).

All welcome to come and share experiences, anecdotes, photos, archive material and general thoughts…

Note: Future discussions proposed include:
* Political policing and surveillance, and resistance to it.
* The 1983-4 miners’ strike – 30 years on
* Decent homes for all
* Radical childcare
* Resistance to World War One