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.

Sinead O’Connor was inspired by Colin Roach’s death to write her song “Black Boys On Mopeds” which appeared on her biggest selling album “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”. The album sleevenotes include the dedication “thanks to the Roach family” and this image of Colin’s parents:



Hackney Gazette 23rd January 1990

With thanks to History is Made at Night