Hackney’s top cops – in their own words

This week Kevin Blowe (formerly of Newham Monitoring Project and now of police monitoring group Netpol) posted a remarkable letter from Chief Superintendant Bernard Taffs from 1994:

The letter is well worth reading in full, so here it is:

According to CARF (Campaign Against Racism & Fascism #26 June/July 1995), the Police Complaints Authority described the letter as “ill-conceived, inappropriate… offensive… totally unacceptable”.

But this was not a one-off. Kevin also posted a letter from Taffs to The Indepedent slagging off Hackney Community Defence Association (HCDA):

I AM NOT, nor have I been, Chief Superintendent of Stoke Newington. PC Mark Moles was not and never has been in any way connected with the Burke case (‘Wrong side of the law’, Review, 21 November).

You purport to be a national newspaper, not an extremist group like the Hackney Community Defence Association (HCDA): H – they are not Hackney people, C – they are not community-based people, D – they attack not defend, A – they are a narrow, highly secretive group and are not open and fair.

When you rest your head tonight you may care to recall that my decent, courageous, hard-working police officers will be on Hackney’s streets trying to keep the peace against the background of your diatribe.

Bernard Taffs

Chief Superintendent

Hackney & City Road

police stations, London E5

(this is dated 2011 on the Independent website but I think it was probably originally published in the mid 1990s).

Police violence, criminality and corruption in Hackney in the 1980s and 1990s is now widely documented, but I was still surprised by how unprofessional these letters were.

Defenders of the police usually start by denigrating their victims – and then proceed to claim that inarguable corruption is the work of a few lone rogue officers. And perhaps that is sometimes true, but sometimes it is also the symptom of a wider culture of corruption and negligence.

Indeed – Hackney Community Defence Association had called for Taffs’ resignation after a string of cases of police brutality had been revealed in 1991:

Following the verdict, the Hackney Community Defence Association, a police watchdog group, called for the resignation of Hackney’s commanding’ officer, Chief Superintendent Bernard Taffs. ‘The issue isn’t a few rogue, officers out of control; there’s something desperately wrong at City Road .station and there should be a. public inquiry,’ said spokesman Graham Smith. ‘Taffs has to take responsibility for his officers.’

Time Out article quoted in HCDA’s – A Crime Is A Crime Is A Crime
Taffs whines about HCDA’s newsletter

Alas, Bernard Taffs was simply following in the footsteps of other senior Hackney policemen…

Commander David Mitchell, the NF and Tariq Ali

Commander David Mitchell with some atypically positive press coverage

Mitchell was appointed as Hackney’s Police Commander in 1979, having previously worked as Chief Superintendent in neighbouring Islington. A puff piece in the Hackney Gazette at the time revealed that he considered the widely criticised “Sus laws” which allowed cops to stop and search black youths with impunity as “a very good law”.

Shortly after his appointment, veteran left winger Tariq Ali wrote about meeting Mitchell at the opening of a restaurant where the top cop was under the influence:

“The opening conversational gambit from Mitchell was characteristic of the man: ‘Why do your lot give us so much trouble?’ I asked whether he was talking of blacks in general or the Anti-Nazi League. The Chief Superintendent was not bothered about such fine distinctions.

‘The problem,’ I said, ‘is the phenomenal degree of racism in the police force. You know that a whole layer of police officers are sympathetic to the fascists.’ […]

David Mitchell once again responded in an open and frank fashion: ‘Yes you’re right. There is sympathy for the [National] Front.’ A silence enveloped the area where we were standing and talking. Everyone was now tense and alert.

Mitchell continued: ‘And why not. They’re the only party that speaks up for Britain.'”

“Introducing Commander David Mitchell” – Socialist Challenge #116 4 October 1979

Ali’s account could easily be dismissed as lefty rabble-rousing, were it not for the fact that the conversation had been overheard by a Hackney councillor and two journalists from the Evening Standard. Mitchell denied he had said any of this, but was dogged by calls for his resignation:

Hackney Peoples Press #58 July 1980

In the clippling above Mitchell distinguishes himself further by saying that he “should not be too concerned with what minority groups think”. His support for the widely criticised paramilitary Special Patrol Group also made him unpopular with the community:

Commander David Mitchell drafted 5 units of the SPG into Hackney, apparently to quell the rise in street crime. According to a special Campaign Against Racism and Fascism Report on Hackney: “There was no consultation with the community. Indeed as resentment against Mitchell’s aggressive tactics grew, the leaders of the community refused to consult with him. An outspoken black councillor called for ‘total non-co-operation’ with the police whilst West Indian youth at Dalston’s Cubies Club barred his entry when he came to address a meeting… (Mitchell’s) policies played no small part in the eruptions of July” (Searchlight, March 1982)

From ‘Policing In Hackney 1945-1984’ a report commissioned by The Roach Family Support Committee

Mitchell had a senior position in policing in Hackney at a time when the National Front had its HQ in the borough and there was an upsurge in racist violence.

Commander Bill Taylor and the death of Colin Roach

Bill was literally a poster boy for the Metropolitan Police, his face was put to use in their recruitment ads in newspapers. The wags at Hackney Peoples Press subverted the text for their own non-advert:

Taylor was in post in late 1982 and would soon be busy. On January 12th 1983, Colin Roach, a black youth, died of a gunshot inside the foyer of Stoke Newington police station. The Jury at the Inquest would later rule Roach’s death was suicide, despite there being no forensic evidence linking the gun to him – and apparently there being no witnesses to the shooting.

Commander Taylor was criticised by Hackney Council for Racial Equality for stating that whilst he recognised there were tensions between the community and the police “there was no racism in the force”.

The death of Colin Roach led to weekly demonstrations calling for a public inquiry outside Stoke Newington police station. Many of these demonstrations were attacked by the police. Colin’s grieving Father James Roach was arrested at one of them as was a Hackney Councillor. Mr Roach was charged with obstructing the arrest of another demonstrator but the case against him collapsed because of glaring inconsistencies in police testimony.

‘Policing In Hackney 1945-1984′ a report commissioned by The Roach Family Support Committee (Karia Press 1989) includes numerous criticisms of Stoke Newington police under Taylor’s watch.

With thanks to Kevin Blowe, who can be found on Twitter here.

Netpol: The Network For Police Monitoring, are doing great work and can be found at https://netpol.org/

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