Police attack Hackney protest against repressive legislation (1994)

On 20th July 1994 a lobby of Hackney Council, held by trades union and community groups to protest at the Criminal Justice Bill and the Council’s plan to use the new powers to evict tenants and squatters, was attacked by riot police of the Territorial Support Group. Officers were seen head-butting, punching and kicking protesters, before arresting seven people, some of whom they injured badly.

“Criminal Injustice In Hackney” – Public Service Worker’s Network
Arrests outside the town hall – photo by Nick Cobbing for Squall magazine

What was the Criminal Justice Act?

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was incredibly wide-ranging and repressive (although it did also include lowering the age of consent for “homosexual acts” to 18). The legislation curtailed arrestees’ right to silence, increased police stop and search powers and infamously clamped down on the ability of squatters, hunt saboteurs and ravers to organise.

There were several large “Kill The Bill” demonstrations in central London throughout 1994, culminating in a riot at Hyde Park in October. For more information on this and wider resistance to the CJA, I recommend Neil Transpontine’s Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95 in Datacide magazine issue 13.

Summer 1994 in Hackney

In May 1994, Hackney Homeless Festival in Clissold Park had concluded peacefully, but revellers were attacked by the TSG afterwards outside the nearby Robinson Crusoe pub (now the Clissold Tavern). Alongside this, there was the day to day harassment of residents by the notoriously bent Stoke Newington police – and a general climate of cracking down on squatting.

All this meant that the demo was pretty lively:

A large demonstration outside Hackney Town Hall on July 20th ended up as a brief occupation inside. Over 250 squatters and supporters gathered to protest against the council’s ‘para-municipal’ eviction squad, the Tenancy Audit Team, and the worryingly right-wing (Labour) Chair of Housing, Simon Matthews. The occupation and disruption of the first full council meeting since the local elections, was broken up by the police, who violently intervened to eject the occupiers.

Hackneyed Hypocrisy – Squall magazine

Defend The Hackney 7

Those arrested now face serious charges, which could involve heavy fines or imprisonment. Those with the worst injuries have been charged with assaulting the police. All are denying the charges against them.

“Criminal Injustice In Hackney” – Public Service Worker’s Network

The contact address for the Hackney 7 Defence Campaign was the Colin Roach Centre. The charges included criminal damage (to the town hall doors) and obstruction. The Council wouldn’t leave it there though:

The response of Hackney Council to this attack has been to support the police. In an unprecedented move the Council took out injunctions against those arrested which banned them from council property and a named squat in the borough. This blanket ban would prevent the defendants from using public toilets or housing benefit offices, without written permission.

Likewise, those who work in Hackney would be unable to go to offices of their unions without written permission, or they too would be risking arrest.

“Criminal Injustice In Hackney” – Public Service Worker’s Network

The “named squat” was Park Crescent – on the south side of Clissold Park and featured in a Spin magazine article about squatting and Hackney Homeless Festival. The squat was evicted in August 1994.

The defendants successfully challenged the Council’s injunctions in court and that part of the case collapsed.

Two of those arrested worked for the Council – one was a teacher and the other worked for Hackney Independent Living Team (HILT) – and was also an active trade unionist. The Council applied political pressure to get these workers sacked before the charges got to court. The police also gave out information to HILT and the media about the arrests, breaching confidentiality.

Protest for reinstatement of Hackney worker – photo from Public Service Workers’ Network

It appears that John McArthur, the HILT worker, was sacked and I can’t find anything to suggest he was reinstated. It looks like he continued to play an active role in trade union matters in North London, later writing about his experiences with striking JJ Fast Foods workers in Tottenham.

The seriousness of the charges and Council’s victimisation was slightly lightened by the tragic/comic events of another protest later in the year:

“Week of Action” ContraFlow Nov/Dec 1994

Hackney 7 Trial

The trials of the seven people nicked on the Hackney Town Hall demo are now complete. They were arrested during the picket against attacks on squatters and tenants in the borough, and against the then impending Crimjustbill.

The bad news is one bind-over, one conditional discharge and one pleading guilty. The other four got off in exciting courtroom dramas. The cases against Ronnie and Mervyn ended, after a long and fairly positive week of disproving the cops’ stories, when one of our barristers collapsed, and the prosecution decided they couldn’t handle a retrial.

In the other case Simon got off when the magistrate disagreed that the four punches shown on video were ‘reasonable’ restraint as PC Moore claimed, and the prosecution gave up over Jake after the other police witness couldn’t explain his complete invisibility. Countercharges for assault, perjury and conspiracy are planned.

“Hackney Seven Results” – ContraFlow

Simon had been charged with assaulting a police officer, but video footage taken by activists at the protest showed that the reverse was true:

In two cases the judge recommended that video evidence of assaults by members of the Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group (riot squad) be passed on to the Director of Public Prosecutions. We are not holding our breath.

“Council Conspires With Police To Sack Union Activist” – Public Services Workers’ Network

According to the Anarchist Communist Federation, some of the defendants were issued with fines of “up to £3,300”.

The Criminal Justice Act became law on 3rd November 1994. The Labour Party abstained.

Events last week in Bristol remind us that there is a fine tradition in this country of opposing the introduction of repressive legislation – and making it unenforceable if necessary when it is passed.

Thanks to Sparrows Nest Archive and to Steph.

Sources / Further Reading

Criminal Injustice In Hackney – Public Service Workers’ Network #5 October/November 1994 (PDF)

Hackneyed Hypocrisy – The Saga Continues in Squall magazine #8 1994 (PDF)

News From Occupied Hackney – ContraFlow September 1994 (PDF)

Fight The Criminal Justice BillAlien Underground #0 1994

Alternative Media Reveals The Truth And Saves Protesters in Squall magazine #9, Jan/Feb 1995

Fight The Criminal Justice Act – Organise #38 April-June 1995 (magazine of the Anarchist Communist Federation) (PDF)

Council Conspires With Police To Sack Union Activist – Public Service Workers’ Network #6 Spring 1995 (PDF)

Neil Transpontine – Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95 in Datacide magazine #13 2013

Neil Transpontine – These Laws: Up Yours! – Documents Relating to “Revolt of the Ravers”

Past Tense – A Short History of UK Public Order Acts

2 thoughts on “Police attack Hackney protest against repressive legislation (1994)

  1. Pingback: Common Land and Squatting in London Fields, Hackney: A Historical Wander | past tense

  2. Pingback: A Short History of UK Public Order Acts | past tense

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