White Riot by Joe Thomas – a radical Hackney novel

The Radical History of Hackney site sprung out of some conversations with some younger friends of mine. I was trying to explain some of the events of the 1970s and 1980s I’d heard about. They looked at me a bit sceptically, so I promised I’d send them some links. But there were no links to be had. Just my fading memories.

With the help of the comrades at 56A Infoshop I scanned in some old newsletters. But that didn’t really do it all justice. So I started writing and researching and following up links and one thing led to another.

And now there are links about a multitude of struggles, strugglers, victories, defeats and inspiring events on this site. And it’s been gratifying to see people engaging with the various stories here and linking to them or citing them in their own writing. Perhaps one thing that’s missing is telling these stories in a cohesive and non-nerdy manner. Bringing it all together in one entertaining package that is easily digestable. Like a novel maybe.

White Riot is a crime novel set in Hackney from 1978-1983. The crime is primarily committed by the police.

The book draws extensively on material from this site AND is a gripping read. The author does an incredible job of bringing the various strands and events to life – The Rock Against Racism carnival in Victoria Park, the National Front HQ in Hoxton, the death of Colin Roach, the drugs trade and cops, old pubs of Hackney, music, it’s all kicking off here.

I especially liked the way that the same events were looked at by different characters – a downtrodden Hackney Council bureaucrat (who may be based on the author’s Father), a radical female photographer who lives in squats, an anti-racist cop, a Turkish teenager and a Spycop.

About a third into the book my trainspotter tendencies were defeated. I stopped trying to figure out which documents things were from and just enjoyed the unfolding plotline.

I have no doubt that people who were around in the timeframe will have some criticisms of the way that things are described, as do I. For example I think the Spycop is portrayed too heroically given the wideranging testimony of the havoc that these police officers have unleashed on people’s lives – although it is possible this side of things may be dealt with in greater detail in future instalments, as White Riot is the first of a trilogy.

But creating a space for these criticisms to be made is good. One of the valuable things about the book is drawing attention to the struggles of the past and what lessons can be learned from them.

I’m excited to see how the story is received and what conversations can be had about the subject matter.

The book includes some useful notes and bibliography which clarifies which parts of the story are fictionalised and what sources are used.

White Riot is published by Arcadia Books on 19th January. You can pre-order it through Pages of Hackney.

Stoke Newington 8 Defence Group and the Angry Brigade

The Stoke Newington 8 Defence Group was an organisation set up in 1971 in solidarity with the eight people arrested in connection with the Angry Brigade bombings. This post looks at the activities of the defence group through its publications.

A commenorative plaque in Stoke Newingrton Books

During 1971 and 1972 dozens, if not hundreds, of people were raided or arrested in connection with the Angry Brigade bombings of targets as diverse as a BBC van outside the Miss World competition/meat market, Barclays Bank in Stoke Newington, the Department of Employment and Productivity (the day after a big protest against the Tory Industrial Relations Bill), the homes of two cabinet Ministers, the building hosting the Metropolitan Police’s new computer, and fashionable clothing boutique Biba. Nobody was killed or seriously injured as a result of these bombings.

Jake Prescott was the first to have his collar felt, in February 1971. The following December he was sentenced to 15 years, for conspiracy to cause explosions – i.e. his handwriting on some envelopes used to send the Angry Brigade’s eviscerating communiques.

Ian Purdie was arrested in March 1971, but later acquitted. There are a few scans of posters and leaflets from the Ian Purdie and Jake Prescott Defence campaign here.

Speaking to the Guardian from his Hackney home in 2002, Jake reflected:

“‘As the only working-class member, I was not surprised to be the first in and last out of prison. When I look back on it, I was the one who was angry and the people I met were more like the Slightly Cross Brigade.”

A TV reporter outside 359 Amhurst Road

The most high profile arrests took place in August 1971, including the notorious raid on 359 Amhurst Road, Stoke Newington. The accused would become known as the Stoke Newington 8:

  • John Barker
  • Chris Bott
  • Stuart Christie
  • Hilary Creek
  • Jim Greenfield
  • Kate McLean
  • Anna Mendelssohn
  • Angela Weir

(Weir went on to be Angela Mason, who rose to fame as director of the LGBT rights charity Stonewall.)

It’s worth pointing out that a number of other raids and arrests happened before, during and after August 1971.

Defence group logo and contact details- based at Compendium Books in Camden

An extensive defence campaign was swiftly organised, which John Barker characterised as:

“the Stoke Newington 8 Defence Committee which, not uncommonly, was more interesting than the Angry Brigade itself, a widely-based, politically creative organisation of very different people.”

I’ve made a number of scans of SN8 Defence Group material available at archive.org

An early poster summarising the charges – and pointing out that the bombings had continued after the arrests. (Scan courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham).

Conspiracy Notes issue 4, a 16 page booklet with a useful chronology of events. (This also scanned by Sparrows Nest). This also contains some examples of the Angry Brigade’s infamous communiques claiming responsibility for bombings:

I’ve previously transcribed a copy of Stoke Newington 8 Defence Group: A Political Statement, which seems to have been published at some point between February and May 1972:

There is also PDF of that here. This is a rallying call in defence of the arrestees that sets the trial in the wider political context of repression of the time:

“If we are to survive as a movement, we need to do more than just mouth polite phrases of support and outrage in the underground columns as one of us is sent down for fifteen years: this is what happened to Jake. We cannot shout in defence of comrades who are political prisoners in other corners of the world while remaining blind to the fact that eight brothers and sisters, after a year of imprisonment and house arrest will be appearing alone in the dock at the Old Bailey in June in a confrontation with the state, that is, unless we say:

that those who are captured are a part of us — they have our total support.
that those the state accuses of political offences belong to our movement which itself, and itself alone, is responsible for its actions.

If You Want Peace Prepare For War is a longer document, also from 1972 which I’ve typed up here and scanned as a PDF here. It was also republished in 2020 by See Red Press recently, with a new introduction I had some mixed feelings about. If You Want Peace is more confrontational in tone than the Political Statement above:

“What happened to Prescott, and what is in danger of happening to the SN8, cannot be dismissed as isolated acts of repression against maverick sections of the left. The present large-scale operations of persecution which have been going on for the past two years only make sense as an exercise in CONTAINMENT. They are intended as a deterrent against any sort of active resistance undertaken by people on the left, inside or outside left parties.”

The trial of the Stoke Newington 8 concluded on December 6th 1972. It had been the longest criminal trial in British legal history. The outcome was as follows:

  • John Barker (10 years)
  • Chris Bott (acquitted)
  • Stuart Christie (acquitted)
  • Hilary Creek (10 years)
  • Jim Greenfield (10 years)
  • Kate McLean (acquitted)
  • Anna Mendelssohn (10 years)
  • Angela Weir (acquitted)

Jake Prescott’s sentence was also reduced to 10 years at this point.

The campaign did not stop there. The Stoke Newington 8 Defence Group organised a march on Wormwood Scrubs ten days after the trial concluded:

(PDF of this here)

(Dan Taylor states that the SN8 Defence Group had previously organised a march to Brixton Prison on 4th September 1971).

The SN8 Defence Group then seemed to exist alongside The Stoke Newington Five Solidarity Committee and continued to support the convicted whilst in prison:

Top left to bottom right: Jake Prescott, John Barker, Jim Greenfield, Anna Mendelssohn, Hilary Creek

This document is available here as a PDF.

Campaigning for people who have been convicted is a harder job than when they are on trial. Release The Five makes a number of valid points though:

  • None of the five werre actually convicted of the bombings. They were convicted on charges of “conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property”, which isn’t the same thing. (For example Jake Prescott being convicted of addressing some some envelopes in which communiques were posted).
  • The sentences were much more severe than those handed out to people convicted of racist and fascist bombings during the same period.
  • The four acquittals showed that the police work was questionable in many instances:

“The unsatisfactory nature of the verdicts was also demonstrated іп the acquittal of Stuart Christie on all possession charges, thus strongly implying that the jury believed he had been planted with detonators by the same police officers that it is claimed planted Amhurst Road.”

Christie was for a time the most famous anarchist in the UK, having been jailed in Spain for his part in a plot to assassinate fascist dictator General Franco. He died in 2020 and there is a useful online archive dedicated to him at Mayday Rooms which includes over 100 pages of press cuttings about the Angry Brigade trial.

The Stoke Newington Five Solidarity Committee was based at 54 Harcombe Road, London N16.

“The Stoke Newington Defence Group” organised a “teach-in” about the trial and the prisoners in February 1973. Acquitted defendants from the case were due to attend…

Those convicted served a varying number of years in prison. John Barker later reflected:

“In 1971-72 I was convicted in the Angry Brigade trial and spent 7 years in jail. In my case, the police framed a guilty man.” 

Conversely Anna Mendleson continued to maintain her innocence. According to Wikipedia she was:

“quietly released on parole in November 1976, just four years after the end of the trial. Her father gave an interview to BBC Radio explaining that prison had had a terrible effect on her, making it impossible for her to concentrate. He also said that she had taken no part in the bombings and that she and the other defendants were ‘good young people’ who tried to help others.”

Dan Taylor suggests that people involved with the Stoke Newington.8 Defence Group continued to work in similar fields:

“Members of the defence group would become involved in the Up Against the Law collective with several publications over 1972-75, and involvement in other justice campaigns, like the ‘Free George Ince’ and ‘Free George Davis’ campaigns (the latter memorably sabotaging The Ashes of 1975 by destroying the turf at Headingley), as well as assisting the work of PROP [Preservation of the Rights of Prisoners] and the Claimants Unions.”

Inevitably the Stoke Newington 8 Defence Group came to the attention of Spycops, but as far as I am aware, there is no evidence of actual infiltration of the group. Indeed the closest seems to be attending the December 16th march and an undercover officer picking up some literature at a feminst meeting:

Having cited the Angry Brigade as one of her true targets, she was asked about her reporting on them.

Davies had reported attending a women’s liberation conference in 1972. She wrote that one woman associated with the Angry Brigade gave out copies of their ‘Conspiracy Notes’. The ‘Stoke Newington 8’ – a group of people facing serious charges connected with the Angry Brigade – were reaching out to other radical groups at the time for support.

The meeting was reported as chaotic, with calls for better structure to the discussion being heckled by Gay Liberation Front activists.

That appears to be the extent of her reporting on the Angry Brigade.

testimony of former Spycop “Sandra Davies” to the Undercover Policing Inquiry 26 January 2021,- SUMMARISED by CAMPAIGN opposing police surveillance

Sources and further reading

  • The John Barker quotes in this article are all from his excellent review of Tom Vague’s book on the Angry Brigade. This remains one of the best things to read on the subject. There is a great two part interview with him by Working Class History podcast too.
  • A previous post on this blog covers books on the Angry Brigade / Stoke Newington 8.
  • A slightly exasperated/exhausted Hilary Creek and Anna Mendelssohn were interviewed (in a prison garden?) for a World In Action documentary, first broadcast on the day after the trial finished. It is currently on Youtube here.
  • The Angry Brigade: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Britain’s First Urban Guerilla Group is a feature length documentary first broadcast in January 1973. It is currently on Youtube here. It includes interviews with people involved with the SN8 Defence Group at the 32 and 47 minutes mark.
  • Look Back In Anger Guardian interview with Jake Prescott and Hilary Creek from 2002.
  • Jake Prescott obituary from 2009.
  • Dan Taylor – Not that Serious? The Investigation and Trial of the Angry Brigade, 1967-1972. Open University thesis
  • An interesting interview with Tony Swash, who was involved in the defence campaign and who had also been convicted of politically motivated firebombings in the early 1970s.
  • All the previous posts here about the Angry Brigade and the Stoke Newington 8 can be found via the Angry Brigade tag.

If you were involved with the defence campaign or have access to any other documents of interest, please leave a comment or get in touch…

Let’s finish with a song from Hackney’s finest squatter punks The Apostles:

Interview with Christine – Hackney Womens’ Paper 1972

Christine contacted me to ask whether I’d be interested in a scan of Hackney Womens’ Paper – a publication she had been involved with producing in 1972. And of course I was!

The Paper includes invaluable first person accounts from women about their experiences at Hackney Hospital and some demands for better treatment and conditions:

Alongside this, there are some great insights into the paternalistic/patriarchal views of Doctors, and analysis and commentary on contraception, welfare provision, health & class and the effects of proposed Council rent increases on women. And some sharp asides on everyday life for women in the early 1970s:

I think it holds up really well in 2022.

The scan of Hackney Womens Paper #1 that Christine kindly provided has now been uploaded to archive.org so you can read it cover to cover for yourselves.

Christine also agreed to have a chat with me over Zoom about her time in Hackney. We talked about Hackney Womens Paper, communes, squatting, healthcare and a whole lot more…

How and when did you end up in Hackney?

I went to India overland in 1969 when I was 20, as many young people did those days. On the way back, I met two guys having breakfast in a railway station. We got talking, they were architecture students from Cambridge university who had dropped out, which was what I was also doing. 

And they wanted to start a commune. It ended up being in Hackney, Hackney Wick. We bought a house in Hackney for something like £6,000 pounds. A four-story Victorian house with a big garden, near to Victoria Park. 

We moved in there in the autumn of 1970 and lived there for a couple years or so. These were heady times. It started with six of us and a plan of sharing everything. Soon lots of other people were turning up, and coming to live in the house, going in and out of the house, having meetings. We had lots of radical ideas but only slowly asked ourselves “what exactly are we doing here?”

Well, that was going to be one of my questions. Was it already an overtly politicised thing, or just simply a convenient way to live – or was it both?

I guess it was different for different people. Basically, we were idealistic, some were more politicised than others. We all knew there was definitely something not working with society and the world as it was. So much injustice and inequality. I can’t remember exactly the basis of the politics at that time, it was fairly eclectic but we definitely thought that we could live together and share everything and there was a political aspect to that.  I’d never particularly thought of myself as political – but I used to hang out with some ‘anarchists’ when I was at university…

There was “flower power” and there were hippies. Actually, where I first became more politically aware was through Civil Rights movement in the US and then the Vietnam War and Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist teacher – reading his poems in Peace News. When you are, 17, 18, 19, there’s sort of real energy, where you really see the suffering and want to do something, help people, see a change….

I had been to a Bob Dylan concert in 1964 when I was 14 and what he was singing really touched me and changed my life in a way. So I was political, but it wasn’t like I was a ‘Marxist’ or a “this” or a “that”. What did we call ourselves? I don’t know, libertarians maybe. And by the 70’s, the women’s movement was also coming up – “consciousness raising” groups! 

Were those groups held in your commune?

No, that tended to be something that the women from the house went and did with other groups of women. But we held women’s meetings at the commune too. Interestingly, looking back, we had this idealistic naivety, to think that we could just all go in and share everything. We’d all had fairly middle-class backgrounds and didn’t know what was hitting us [laughs]. It went right up against our habits. 

So, doing it became quite difficult, I guess? In the way that communal living throws up all sorts of psychological, economic and political issues. You said you stayed there for a couple of years. Is that why you left?

No, that wasn’t why I left. It was why it was psychologically difficult. We had lots of great times too. There was a wonderful big round handmade table, we used to cook meals together, we renovated the house, grew vegetables, there was always something happening, people coming and going. I moved on because I wanted to focus more on community action.

There was another similar commune nearby, in Grosvenor Avenue, which was much more politically orientated. Some of the guys there had also been in Cambridge with the people that I was with. It was the same tendency you might say. 

Absolutely. I saw a talk recently by some of the Grosvenor Avenue people. Some of them disrupted the Miss World contest at the Albert Hall in 1970… 

And I remember watching it on telly knowing it was going to happen. It was incredible. 

So maybe that leads us onto the context of producing Hackney Women’s Paper. It sounds like it was a natural reaction to the experiences people were having. But in a way, putting something out there – putting pen to paper and printing things is a bit of a step up from what might be a quite insular communal world? So how did it come about and how was it received?

Just to say one other thing about the atmosphere of those times. There had been a Dustmen strike in Hackney and one night we got word “the people in the flats have put all the rubbish out on the road”. So we headed straight down to Cassland Road and there’s lots of people around and there was loads of the rubbish that had accumulated blocking the road. To get the Council to deal with it, you know? So, there was that sort of energy around,  fighting back, not taking it lying down. Of course, the working-class tradition in England is just remarkable. So well organised over many years. I think the Women’s Paper also came out of that.

There were three or four women living in the community who were interested in taking more community action and what galvanised us was the experience of our friend who had her baby in Hackney Hospital. She did have a really hard time, especially because she was unmarried and was French.

And so to begin with, we just researched, we went around the flats knocking on people’s doors and saying, “have you had a baby in Hackney Hospital?” – a mixture of courage and naivety! And so, we collected a lot of these stories and we put them together in the paper. 

And actually, I read it all today, which I hadn’t done for years. The first time I tried to read it recently, I thought “oh, I can’t look at this language. I can’t go there.”  But I quite enjoyed it today, really.

The interesting thing is over the last 10, 15 years, I’ve worked in a place we call the spiritual care center. It’s a place for people who are living with illness or facing dying can come and find spiritual and emotional support. And I also helped run workshops with nurses and carers to explore how to offer that sort of support. So that was interesting, because I’d not made the link, that I’ve always been interested in this. 

I can’t remember all the details of putting the paper together, there were three of us, three of our names are on it. I remember we worked together well, each offering different skills and ideas, and we had some fun with the cartoons. I think the front page is great and actually there’s a lot of humour there and the cartoons are all pretty good. They go in there – at the right sort of level.

It stands up really well, I think. I was really surprised when I saw it because I’m a massive Hackney radical history nerd and I hadn’t heard about it. 

You wouldn’t have heard of it. I mean, it was number one, but there was never a number two. 

Do you remember roughly how many you produced? 

No! [laughs]

I imagine hundreds rather than thousands? 

Yes, absolutely. We knew guys who had a printing press so they did it for us. I think this came out before Hackney Gutter Press?

Yes there were things like Hackney & Stoke Newington People’s Paper that I think became Hackney People’s Press. But certainly, most of the ones that had quite a big distribution seemed to be a couple years later…

At the time that we were putting this together, my address is given as is 96 Eleanor Road [Hackney Central / just north of London Fields]. And that was a squat. I moved out the commune into a house squat in early 1972. So actually, [the paper] must have come out in early 1972. 

So that was exciting, opening up an empty house, putting on a new lock and moving in.

Lots of empty houses to break into, presumably? 

Yes there were. I actually found an article today from October ’72, when Hackney Council took us and the women next door to court to try and evict us.  Our neighbours were West Indian, extended families, lots of children. The women were the strong ones, there were men living there as well of course, but the women were holding it together. In fact, it was these women who showed us how to get into the house. Amazing. So, we ended up living next door. 

When we went to the court, we all went together. We took all the kids, 14 adults and eight kids. And we all went to court and we fought it. What happened was the judge granted the eviction order, but said it couldn’t be enacted until the council actually needed the house. 

And I think that was the first time that had happened. I’m not sure. It says in the article that there was a Councilor involved, but I don’t remember him at all. I thought we did it all ourselves! 

We weren’t a housing cooperative or anything at that time. We just wanted to stay in the houses. There are some great quotes in the article: 

“And people are just saying, we’d like to stay here until the places are needed. We don’t want to be moving into substandard accommodation. We’re angry at the situation. The council leave many houses empty. People around here are glad to be involved because we cleaned up the rubbish and discouraged rats and mice.” 

And we had sort of testimonials from a lot of neighbours saying that we were great neighbours and everything. So that’s a bit of a diversion from the paper…

But that’s the interesting thing for me – that it isn’t just the paper, it’s the wider social context that produces it. By today’s standard, it’s quite an alternative lifestyle and then the paper springs out of that. I was going ask about how it was received – how much tension there would’ve been with men? 

Yes, we were looking for an alternative life style. There wasn’t a lot of tension with the men. In the house, they supported us but also left us to it…

Actually, looking back and seeing what’s happening now, in many ways there have been very positive changes, and there’s a much greater awareness. But these days, I sometimes feel for the young men, it can be hard on them to ‘get it right’ and they come in for a lot of criticism. I can see real paradoxes in where this has got to now, you know?

At the time, there were guys like Roger. [When you sent the link to me] I thought, “is this tongue in cheek?” But I think it was probably just too much psychedelics! 

My impression is that there was that very druggy hippy current and the political one. And at a point they had to break part and be different things… 

I think there was a whole spectrum, from very stoned or trippy to hardline left-wing groups, So at the extremes they were very different, but there was also overlap, people found where they wanted to be and also moved around. 

Coming back to the Women’s Paper, after printing I think we took them around shops and left them there. We also just gave them away. I mean, it said two pence but I’m sure that we weren’t busy collecting the 2p’s. There were quite a lot of other things going on at that time.

Because we do say, [in the paper] “if anyone has been bothered by this, please come and contact us.” But I don’t remember many people coming. I remember the contact with people more from going around and talking and collecting the stories. 

And actually, all the stuff about doctors – it’s interesting again, how things have changed over the last 50 years. But there was a bit at the end, I thought, “wow, were we really writing that then?”.

Do you know this book called Being Mortal by Atul Gawande? It’s a tough read but very good. Basically, it’s about how we’re all going to die, and how people aren’t treated according to what they actually need or want. And particularly around death and dying, because dying is seen as a bit of a failure of the hospital system. Doctors don’t like people to die so there’s all these heroic measures for keeping people alive these days.

And there is an article in the paper saying “we’re being treated not for what we need, but what for others need.” So that’s interesting – 50 years ago, we were writing things like that.

My impression of being a man who’s gone through the birth of our daughter, in Homerton Hospital is that there was still some way to go. But it was described in the paper as being like going to a factory. And from my perspective, in the year 2000, you could see that there was at least a little bit of sensitivity around the parents’ needs and different ways of doing stuff.

Yes, back then the hospital structures were more regimented so it became a bit factory like. Nurses were told ‘You are here to do a job so get on with it’ Today there is a lot more acknowledgement of the need for sensitivity, but staff are still overworked and underpaid which makes this hard to maintain. In 1970’s nurses were also fighting back, looking for better wages and working conditions. 

Sometimes when I speak to people that are a lot younger than me, they seem to feel that things are just terrible – it’s gonna be the end of the world – we’re all doomed. And I think we do need to tease out the things that have got better. Because otherwise, what’s the point? 

Things have got better and they’ve got worse. I live in Ireland now, in Southern Ireland. I was talking to someone today who was involved in a similar movement, at the same sort of time but in Ireland. It was different in Ireland. They were fighting for the right to buy contraception, you know? 

And we were saying that we really thought the world was going to come to an end at the beginning of 1980s, we thought capitalism would collapse and that would be it. So we didn’t look for long term jobs. We didn’t get careers. We really thought it was going to happen. Then slowly but surely, we realised “oh, maybe this isn’t happening”. 

But it makes me think of how it is for people today, because these days we think “climate change, it’s got to be the end.” Not denying that the situation is very serious, but who knows what solutions will come.  My generation thought – nuclear war, we’d wipe all ourselves out. When I was a teenager main thing was CND. There had been two major world wars in that century already. So, in my childhood, my grandparents talked about the first world war. My parents and their friends talked about the second world war. And now there was nuclear weapons. So that radicalised us. And that’s what was making us look for alternatives. You could say it was a revolutionary time. 

I really can’t tell you much more about what happened with the paper, only it was very formative for me! And obviously I ended up carrying these views with me.

I did think of myself as a Marxist for a while, after the paper. We had been busy being active, squatting and working in the ‘Claimants Union’ supporting people to get what they were entitled to, sometimes harassing people working at the social security office. Also helping people to open up houses and squat, all of that. We aspired to be ‘revolutionaries’, so at a certain point we started to study Marx and other communist writers, to learn and understand more about the history and dynamics of class struggle.

Some of the guys from the other commune, were more politically oriented than we were and we started meeting together. Interestingly enough, I only realised afterwards that one of them, his parents were in the Communist Party. It was quite male dominated. I remember saying very little. I bought into it a lot. It was Marxism but with quite a lot of influence from Wilhelm Reich? [Sex-positive psychotherapist and communist].

We called ourselves, but never publicly, The East London Anti Rents Group! We talked, but we didn’t really take much action. This was like ’74, ’75 and there was a bit of a feeling like “it’s not 1968 anymore”. That energy was gone and I think Margaret Thatcher was already around. And so, it was falling apart, in a way. 

Sometimes people have their radical youth and then edge away from it, but still retain some of the values. Especially if you’ve been involved with something quite intense, like squatting and communal living and being a Marxist. So I guess that’s the question: what happened then? Would you still call yourself a Marxist and where did you end up? I don’t want create an idealised version of you that just exists in squats in the early 1970s…

I’d love to show you where I ended up. [Christine turns her camera around and shows me a lovely view out of her window of the sea.]

[laughs] OK that does look quite good!

I love showing it to people. It’s an amazing place, but very windy. In 1977, I moved to Ireland. Because the group disbanded and it seemed the revolution wasn’t happening, I actually worked in Hackney Hospital for a while in the laundry and I delivered glue around shoe factories and I did meals on wheels, different stuff working around in Hackney. 

And, my Mum died suddenly around that time. I was quite young and that threw me into a lot of grief and I decided wanted to move out London.

I drove around England and in a Morris Traveler [iconic 1970s mini-van with wooden window frames] trying to work out where to go. And then someone suggested I went on holiday to Ireland. So I came to Ireland and – there’s space here, you know? At that time, there was something like 4 million people in the whole of Ireland. And there were 8 million people in London or something [laughs]. And things just fell into place for me. I got a job, I found a place to live. I moved to Dublin to begin with.

I’d been doing Tai Chi and I got interested in Buddhism, which is something that quite a lot of the political people did. It’s a bit like the Gandhi quote: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”. And there was always an element of that with the Wilhelm Reich stuff, that we carry the political structures within us. There was a level of trying to work with that within ourselves already. 

Reich said that there could be issues around hyper political activists and their character armour and repression and things like that…

A certain level of it could be very male dominated. Which is probably why there had to be a women’s movement at that time. Because the men articulated and the women…

did the typing and washing up? 

Yeah. Cooked cherry pies and all these things. I couldn’t type!

So this is where I’ve ended up. I helped to found a Buddhist Retreat Centre in the West of Ireland. Which is now building the first Buddhist Temple in Ireland. And we built this spiritual care center, which is quite unique. Though again, it was a little bit, “what are we doing here?” 

We started off thinking we were going to build a hospice two hours’ drive from the nearest big hospital, on the edge of a cliff. It was a new thing. We were saying in Hackney Womens’ Paper that there’s need for spiritual, emotional, care and this is what we were trying to offer. Particularly for people who are facing death or facing an illness that might lead to their death.

So that’s what I’ve been doing, but it’s still being invented… this [is now an issue] for the next generation. 

Yeah I think “dignity in dying” is going to be a huge issue as opposed to keeping everyone alive for as long as possible regardless of the situation…

I think, these days there’s a certain denial of death, partly because of our expectations of modern medicine. So within the hospitals, there’s not an acceptance of death in a certain way. So, people are heroically kept alive over a prolonged time. I worked for a while as a hospital chaplain in Cork and I remember one woman, she was 86 and she just had major heart surgery. And when I was talking to her, she said “I can’t believe God didn’t take me”. 

I recently heard someone say “we need to die because it makes space for other people on the planet, so more human beings can enjoy this planet”. My generation’s been incredibly fortunate actually, just for starters, better pensions than ever before. But there’s a quite lot of us… so it’s a drain on the younger people who are keeping it together, always paradox.

It sounds like you have done your bit, though! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, Christine.

Be well, thank you.

Rosalind Delmar – Sexism Capitalism and the Family: A paper written for the Women’s Liberation Conference, London, November 1972

The racist killing of Ishaque Ali in Clapton, 25 June 1978

Ishaque Ali and his nephew Faruq ed-Din were walking down Urswick Road in the early hours of Sunday morning, 25th June 1978. A white youth approached the pair and asked them for a match. And then for money. He then kicked Ishaque and was joined by two other white youths who attacked both Bengali men. By some accounts Ishaque was also strangled with bootlaces belonging to one of his assailants.

Ishaque Ali died of a heart attack in Hackney Hospital shortly after the assault. He was just 45 years old and had lived with his family in nearby Coopersale Road. Mr Ali had come to London from Bengal nine years previously and worked as a tailor. He had five young children.

Detective Chief Superintendent George Atterwil led the investigation into the killing and told The Times that “the motive here is theft and robbery” – i.e. not racism.

Others, including the bereaved family, took a different view. Ishaque’s cousin Sofar ud Din told the Hackney Gazette:

“He was attacked because of his colour. There was no money taken. It happens all the time in the East End.”

Alok Biswas of Socialist Worker knew the family:

“Faruq, who is recovering in hospital from his severe beating told me that the white youths called the two Bengalis ‘Paki bastards’ and ‘stinking blacks’. Let’s not be mealy-mouthed about this: Ishaque Ali was murdered. Had it not been for a West-Indian man who came to their assistance, Faruq would also be dead.”

Biswas also noted that the family was not aware of Ishaque having any heart problems.

I’m sure that people will come to their own conclusions about this, but given what we now know about the policing in the late 1970s and the general culture of the time, it seems unbelievable that racism played no part in the incident.

Two months previously, another Bengali – Altab Ali – was stabbed to death in a racist attack in St Mary’s Park, Whitechapel (the park was renamed Altab Ali Park in 1998). And two weeks later, the front page story in the Hackney Gazette was “State of siege for us – protest Asians” following an unprovoked attack on eight Bengalis by three car loads of youths in Bow. Alongside all this, the fascists of the National Front were antagonising the community in Brick Lane with their large paper sales there each weekend.

The police and community respoonse

Patrick Kodikara of Hackney Council For Racial Equality told the Hackney Gazette:

“We are fast losing confidence in the police’s ability to defend the ethnic minority communities. If that means black self-defence groups, so be it.”

The Gazette’s editorial suggested more black and asian police officers as an alternative solution and deplored suggestions of vigilantism. A later editorial continued this theme, rebuking the “hysterical prodding that certain hot-heads are resorting to for reasons best known to themselves”

Roy Hiscock from Hackney South and Shoreditch Labour wasn’t having any of it:

“A history of the defence of the victimised and the most vulnerable will not be ignored because some well heeled editor, safe from being stabbed, shot at or otherwise attacked makes hysterical cries of ‘gun law’.”

A letter from Hackney Muslim Council attempted to find some middle ground:

“The principle and the manner of self-defence need to be examined within and outside the ethnic groups. While rash and violent langauge will be dangerously irresponsible, to sit back and do nothing would be criminal and immoral.”

Doomed Conservative parliamentary candidate Tim Miller felt that more police on the street and harsher penalties for criminals was the answer. Instead, the community got out on the street:

The Times 1st July 1978

On Friday 30th June, 300 people marched with black flags and black armbands from the site of Ishaque’s attack to Hackney police staton. The protest was organised by Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Committee. The group announced a day of action for Monday 17th of July:

Hackney Peoples Press #35 August 1978

On the day 70 percent of Asian shops in Hackney were closed and many children did not attend school. A number of pupils from Clapton School attended a rally at Hackney Town Hall and spoke out against the police and SUS laws alongside trade union and other community leaders. The day culminated in a three hour sitdown demonstration outside Bethnal Green police station in protest at three arrests of protestors.

The attackers and investigation

Ishaque’s attackers were described as white and between the ages of 18 and 20. They were reportedly casually dressed and between 5 foot 5 and 5 foot 7.

Newsclipping courtesy of Hackney Archives and Hackney Muslims

Three young men were eventually arrested for the attack and charged with murder: James Mitchell (17 years old, a cabinet maker from Kentish Town Road, Camden) and two sixteen year old males from Homerton.

All three were granted bail at Old Street Court on Friday 30th June 1978 (the same day as the community marched) and were required to live outside London until the hearing, which was scheduled for September 6th.

I’ve not been able to find out definitively if they were convicted but this tweet from Searchlight Archive suggests that they were, albeit one year later in September 1979:

Aftermath

In an article for the Altab Ali Foundation, Rajonuddin Jalal cites Ishaque Ali’s death as being a key factor in the emergence of the anti-racist organisation the Bangladesh Youth Movement (BYM):

“I was involved in the formation of the BYM, which was a crucial youth organisation organising against the then National Front (NF) from back in 1978. I was involved in setting up many cultural projects in Tower Hamlets, for example The Kabi Nazrul Centre. The youth movement played an important role, against the fascist when they became organised and active in Brick Lane area, following the murder of Altab Ali and Ishaq Ali back in 1978.

BYM was one of the leading organisations that organised the first protest march that involved about 2000 of Bengalis coming out in the streets of London, marching from Whitechapel to the House of Commons and back. And the slogan was ‘Here to stay, here to fight”.

In Hackney the National Front became increasingly active in the summer of 1978 and even opened their Nartional HQ in Hoxton in September. In December a black teenager named Michael Ferreira was fatally stabbed by an alleged National Front supporter in Stoke Newington, his injuries greatly exacerbated by the indifference of police officers who were asked to help.

Several hundred people attended Michael’s funeral procession.

Michael’s death and the general climate of violent racism led to the formation of Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation. This set the scene for the community response to Colin Roach’s death from a gunshot wound inside Stoke Newington police station in 1983 and various police scandals unearthed by Hackney Community Defence Association throughout the 1990s.

Notes and a plea for corrections

Ishaque Ali’s death is under-reported online. Usually it appears in passing as part of an article about the murder of Altab Ali in Whitechapel.

Most online reports say Ishaque was attacked on the 26th of June 1978, whereas it’s clear from my research that it was the early hours of the 25th. Ali is also described as young throughout the internet, but was 45 years old.

I think it’s important to try and get these things right – we’re talking about someone’s Dad or husband who was killed in an unprovoked racist attack.

So, for full transparency, I should say that I’ve struggled with which names to use. I suspect this is because of transliteration issues, but I am happy to be corrected. Ishaque Ali (The Times and internet reporting) is also described as Ishakh Ali in Socialist Worker and Ashiq Ali in the Hackney Gazette.

Similarly Ishaque’s companion and nephew Faruq ed-Din is also described as his brother in law. Faruq’s name is also given as Faqruddin (Socialist Worker) and Farique Ud Din (Hackney Gazette).

Press cuttings, sources and further reading

Julie Begum – How a racist murder of Altab Ali changed the way the Bengalis saw themselves in Britain (Altab Ali Foundation PDF)

Past Tense: London anti-fascist history 1978: Blockade against National Front march on Brick Lane.

The Times 26 June 1978
Socialist Worker 1st July 1978
Hackney Gazette, July 4th 1978

With thanks to Hackney Muslims, Hackney Archives and Splits and Fusions Archive.

Roger and The Gang seek “chicks” in Dalston (1972)

A letter to underground magazine International Times, 1972.

Gender balance seems to have been a serious issue for Hackney communes in 1972. I have previously posted a similar notice from the same year by a gay collective in nearby Abersham Road E8. The difference is that Abersham Rd notice explicitly mentioned “we are into smashing our male patriarchy” whereas this would not appear to be a concern for Roger (and/or “the gang”).

For me this speaks to a clash of subcultures – on the one hand the hedonist druggies of 86 Sandringham Road. On the other the hard-edged feminist political milieu that would host figures like the Angry Brigade, Astrid Proll and Dalston Men’s Group. The hedonist faction is less well documented, for obvious reasons… I’d love to speak to Roger and the gang about their time in Hackney if they are still around.

With thanks to Pocock Rare Books on Instagram for posting this. And Paul STN for bringing it to my attention.

See also:

History Workshop Journal: Feminist squatting in Hackney

Book review: The 9 Lives of Ray “The Cat” Jones by Stewart Home

Stewart Home lived in Hackney in the 1980s and his fiction has often included London’s finest borough as a setting. His earliest novels took a sly dig at the anarchist and arty scenes here, mashing up techniques from the avant garde with pulp fiction from the 1970s.

The 9 Lives of Ray “The Cat” Jones is his fifteenth novel, originally published by Test Centre in 2014. (Around this time the publisher was operating a pop up space at the old Sea Scouts building on Stoke Newington Church Street – now a children’s nursery). I missed the original edition, but fortunately Cripplegate Books have republished the book.

“The Nine Lives of…” is a fictionalised autobiography, based on extensive research and conversations with people who knew boxer and cat burglar Raymond Jones. So… perhaps not something you would expect to read about on a website about the radical history of Hackney? Well, dear reader, I am pleased to say that your expectations are about to be confounded.

Ray “The Cat” Jones shortly before his death at the age of 84 in 2001

Ray grew up in the Welsh valleys and worked as a miner before becoming an infamous boxer and burglar in London. He lived at various locations in Hackney including Brougham Road (later to be an epicentre for squat punks and radicals), Colvestone Crescent and Cranwich Road, Stamford Hill (previously inhabited by anarchist Emanuel Michaels).

The author is not someone who thinks that all criminality is radical by nature and there are a number of amusing sideswipes at anti-social scumbags throughout the book. But by all accounts Ray Jones sustained a successful career as a cat burglar over several decades – and robbed purely from upper class poshos. In Home’s hands our hero becomes an entirely plausible class warrior – hellbent on revenge against a system that persecuted him and the working class as a whole. Ray even makes anonymous donations of wads of filthy lucre to causes like a miners’ benevolent fund back in South Wales.

There are a number of vivid accounts of daring raids on country mansions and even a couple of nail-biting prison escapes. This – along with some wry observations on London’s criminal subculture in the 1950s-1970s – is the heart of the book. It’s a proper page turner.

Jones went straight in 1972 at the age of 52 and set himself up as a market trader on Ridley Road. Throughout the story we are treated to a number of passing thoughts on world and political affairs and I found the juxtaposition of a reflective Ray and the unfolding political turmoil of 1980s London to be a ripping read. He even joins Hackney Anti-Poll Tax Union…

Home’s treatment of the subject matter is done sensitively and affectionately but without the cloying nostalgia that bogs down many a gangster memoir. He doesn’t shy away from some of Jones’ mistakes and regrets. At the other end of the spectrum there are some excellent demolition jobs on the scumbags of the aristocracy and judiciary who find themselves light of some jewelry or other luxury items after a daring visit from “the cat”.

Raymond Jones died in Homerton Hospital in February 2001 at the age of 84. One of his last wishes was for his life story to be published as a book and a film. The 9 Lives of Ray “The Cat” Jones is certainly a fitting tribute to the man.

Hackney HOWLers – Write Women Into History

Write Women Into History: Recollections by older Hackney Feminists was published last year as part of the HOWL (History of Women’s Liberation) project.

HOWL was established in 2019 to mark 50 years since the earliest UK Women’s Liberation Groups were formed and to:

“reveal and collect the wealth of stories by grassroots women from diverse backgrounds who were part of this important movement”

The fourteen contributors met online during the lockdown to discuss their lives, their writing and to draw each other for the cover artwork.

The resulting booklet is nicely produced with a great variation of styles from diverse contributors and numerous photographs and illustrations. I especially enjoyed Sue O’Sullivan’s recollections of the Sheba feminist publishing collective in 1980s Dalston, BJ & MJ’s dialogue about their mother/daughter relationship and Gilli Salvat on the first UK black lesbian support group – but there is something of interest on every page. (I was also excited to see a chapter by my next door neighbour – hello!)

The concise (and very readable) contributions tend to focus on the positive (and frankly we all need a bit of that). So this isn’t the place for extended accounts of fallings out and schisms. There are some simply stated differences though. For example Stephanie Henthorne’s “political lesbians (what was that all about?)” is perhaps affectionately at variance with Jan S’s “For me, heterosexuality seems incompatible with feminism”.

I think the most striking aspect of the book is the general impression it gives of the oppressions women faced in the late 20th Century in the UK, the courage it took to join a movement that was battling them – and the fun that could be had being part of that. Of course, some progress has been made since – not least because of the hard work done by the contributors and their allies in the feminist movement. But if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’d agree that there is still a long way to go – so it’s gratifying to see that many of the Hackney HOWLers are still active in a number of radical projects today.

Copies of the book can be ordered from Lulu for £5 plus p&p.

Photo by the project designer Luise Vormittag

“The only black and the only woman reporter…” Hackney Gazette in the 1970s

The following piece appears in the book It Ain’t Half Racist Mum: Fighting racism in the media edited by Phil Cohen & Carl Gardner and published by Comedia/CARM 1982.

It’s a remarkable account of a young black female reporter of working at the paper at the time, and what she had to overcome.

Juliet Alexander

Since this was published, Juliet has worked in a wide range of senior roles including Education Careers Manager at Hackney Learning Trust and with a huge number of local community and voluntary organisations. Her Linkedin profile will tell you more. She tweets at @julietshares

Two tokens in one: the only black and the only woman reporter…
Juliet Alexander interviewed

Juliet Alexander was a reporter on the Hackney Gazette in East London for five years. At her initial interview the editor said that taking her on meant that he was killing two minorities in one. He was joking. She is interviewed by Geoffrey Sheridan[1].

I started at 18, when most people in the office were young, left of centre, and anti-racist. Being black didn’t affect what I did at the beginning — that was in 1975. Being a junior reporter meant that I had to do all the crap that was going. Even after I had been on the paper for a few years, if a kid drowned or something like that, I was the one who went to see the family to get a picture of the kid. That was mainly because I was female. Yet in an area that is a quarter black there was no way I could cover all the black stories. And there was no reason why I should go out on those stories, with a few exceptions.

An obvious case was Maurice Hope, the light middleweight world champion, from Antigua. A reporter went out to interview him, and he couldn’t understand a word that Maurice said. His mother had an even heavier accent. So I was taken along. Maurice was anti-white before he won the world championship and the white press had ignored him. He said in the interview that the Hackney Gazette was the only paper that had given him any publicity, apart from the West Indian World.

Some blacks would only deal with me, such as Eddie Grant, who set up the first black recording studio[2], and Pastor Morris, who does the Finsbury Park Carnival. I covered news from the estates and word went round like wild fire that Juliet did housing stories, so there were lots of blacks there, but whites, too. They found it hard to separate the fact that I was a reporter from the fact that I was black, which is as it should be, I think.

Before I went on to the Gazette there had been trouble at Dalston police station. A black youth had his head flushed down the loo. It was felt it might do the police some good if they got to know a black person in a different way. I probably did very good PR work on behalf of black people. The only blacks the police met were those they arrested. Meeting a black person on professional terms was as much an experience for them as it was for me.

Sexism and racism

In fact their attitude was of a bunch of men to a woman, rather than to a black. They were incredibly sexist in some cases, and began with the attitude: ‘This silly little girl can’t do her job, so we’ll go out of our way to help her.’ Realising that not all blacks wear woolly caps, there was a slight shift in their thinking. With another reporter they’d say: ‘Two niggers were picked up for mugging an old lady.’ With me it was: ‘Two muggers were picked up…’ But sometimes they’d say ‘mugger’ meaning ‘nigger’. It was ingrained.

Racism came from outside the office, not inside. This man called Sid rang up one day complaining about blacks vandalising his estate. ‘He didn’t mind blacks,’ he said, but it was obvious he did. That’s what a lot of people who rang up said. ‘I’m not racist, but…’ I told Sid his experience was really awful — I was doing my middle-class Tory lady bit. I invited him over to the paper and met him at reception. He recognised my voice, dropped his head in his hands, and called himself ‘Sid the Shit’. We had a long talk. There was one of those phone calls every day.

The paper’s policy led to abusive phone calls. We followed the NUJ policy of not putting in someone’s colour unless it was material to the story, such as a black musician where his colour is part of the description of what he does. We would never put emotive terms into the headline or the introduction of an article. The North London branch of the NUJ was very militant and backed the union’s guidelines. The editor agreed with that. But if it was common knowledge that someone was black — if the evening papers had said so — we’d get abusive phone calls wanting to know why we didn’t call ‘a spade a spade’.

Striking against racism

We had a walk-out over racism. During the Greater London Council elections in 1977 a reporter noticed that an advert for a National Front meeting was due to go into the paper. The management said they couldn’t remove it. It was an immediate decision to go out on strike. I was doing the front-page lead article that day. I put it in my bag and walked out. We were out for three days, and picked up a hell of a lot of signatures supporting our action. We normally completely ignored NF meetings. The only time we mentioned them was in unfavourable terms — who they’d beaten up that week. In elections we gave details of all the candidates except the NF’s. We simply said they were standing two candidates, or however many it was.

Before I went to the Gazette it had given coverage to Derek Day[3] — a leading NF member — and to tenants in Hoxton, which was a fascist base. Things changed a bit. When Day’s address was published in the paper, because his son was involved in a court case, he came down to the office, distressed the receptionist, and demanded to see the editor. I volunteered to go down. He was ranting and raving. He came up to me, nose to nose. ‘I’m Derek Day,’ he yelled. `I’m racist and proud of it.’ He described the Gazette in unglowing terms, tore the paper in shreds, and threw it over me. I thanked him for his comment and excused myself.

As far as the NF was concerned, we were a ‘Nigger-loving Commie rag’, which is what they sprayed on the building. When flags were put up for the Jubilee, someone came into the office to lower them. ‘We had no right to fly the British flag,’ we were told.

(Juliet Alexander left the Hackney Gazette to work on the BBC Radio London programme Black Londoners. She now works in TV in the Midlands.)


Some new notes

1. Geoffrey Sheridan who interviewed Juliet also has Hackney Radical History connections. He was son of a tailor, and Communist party member and grew up in Stamford Hill. He was a member of the International Marxist Group and wrote for a number of radical and socialist publications, From 1987 until his death in the year 2000, he worked in business planning for Hackney council. Guardian obituary here.

2. The legendary Coach House Recording Studios, founded in 1972 and based at 81 Osbaldeston Road, London N16.

3. Derrick Day was a notorious racist thug and National Front member. He was in charge of security at the NF’s headquarters Excalibur House in Shoreditch in the late 1970s. Veteran anti-fascist Martin Lux described him thus:

“Times were much harder then and a lot of the NF were very hard, violent people. You just have to look at the head of the Hoxton NF back then, Derrick Day, a fuckin gorilla with a face covered with razor cuts.”

It should go without saying that it would be remarkably brave for a young black woman working as a junior reporter, to volunteer to meet a ranting and raving fascist bully. Derrick Day died in 1995 during a protest against live animal exports in Brightlingsea, where he then lived. It’s unclear whether he had recanted his support for violent white supremacy later in life.

Who killed Michael Ferreira? Part Two

Cover art subsequently credited to Dan Jones

Content warning: archaic racist and sexist language.

The racist killing of Michael Ferreira in December 1978 and subsequent protests inspired some local secondary school children to write a play. This was then published anonymously as a pamphlet.

Teacher, writer and activist Chris Searle later explained that the play had been written collectively by his pupils at Langdon Park School in Tower Hamlets:

“We acted out the play in the classroom, and as the campaign grew in East London, to publicise and protest against the circumstances of Michael Ferreira’s death, we decided to use the play in whatever way we could to make a contribution.

I had already met Michael’s mother and told her about the project, and she too thought it would be a useful idea to publish the short play as a pamphlet for young people. I interviewed her and learned some information about her son… and this became the basis for a short introduction.

The play… became a useful vehicle for informing people, in a narrative and dramatic form, about what happened to Michael and his friends.”

Chris searle

Searle had previously caused a furore in 1971 when he published a collection of poems by pupils at John Cass Foundation and Red Coat School in Stepney. The poems were deemed inappropriate and Searle was sacked. Kids at the school then went on strike, which along with some pressure from the National Union of Teachers, led to his reinstatment.

So that probably explains the anonymity of this play’s publication, which appears to have been well justified. When “Who Killed Michael Ferreira?” was included in an anthology in the 1980s, Searle was denounced in Parliament and the play was mischaracterised as being about “a gang of black youths”.

The full text of the booklet follows below. The biography of Michael and a related newsclipping from the last page are placed at the beginning here instead. A scan of the booklet is available at archive.org.

As Chris Searle says, the play was written by “a multi-racial group of 14 year olds” in 1979 and the words used by the protagonists reflect this: “their dialogue is steeped in sexist banter, there is no attempt to idealize them as characters or sanitize their speech.”

Much of the information above is taken from Chris Searle – None But Our Words: Critical Literacy in Classroom and Community (Open University Press, 1998). This also includes many interesting insights into how the pupils worked together to create the play (and a fascinating chapter on the Stepney incident too, amongst others).

With thanks once again to Alan Denney.

Notes:

There are a couple of references in the text that warrant further explanation in 2022:

Chapel Street Market, Islington – This was one of the National Front’s main pitches for selling their literature – as well as intimidating the local community – at the weekend (another pitch being Brick Lane). There is more informaton about this (and the effective physical resistance to it) in Anti-Fascist Actions’s The Battle For Chapel Market, republished at Libcom.

SUS’ – legisation that allowed the cops to stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824. It was widely used against black youth, and this is often cited as one of the factors that led to widespread rioting in the UK’s urban areas in 1980 and 1981.


MICHAEL FERREIRA, 1959-1978

Michael Ferreira was born in Stanleytown, Guyana in 1959. He died after being stabbed in the liver by a white youth along Stoke Newington Hight Street in December 1978.

Michael, the third child, grew up with his three sisters in the region of Berbice, the scene of a great slave revolt in the eighteenth century. Guyana is drained by huge rivers and covered in tropical forests and savannah, with a cleared coastal area of cultivated land, rice fields and small villages. In the yard of Michael’s parents’ house there were chickens, turkey and hogs, paw-paw and coconut trees- a far cry from the brick and concrete of his later home, Hackney, East London.

When he was six his mother emigrated to Britain, and gradually other members of the family, including his three sisters, left to join her. Michael went to live with his aunt in McKenzie, a mining town inland in Guyana, hacked out of the thick equatorial forest. There he continued his childhood, living near the bauxite mines and spending many happy hours fishing in the rivers and streams that abound there.

His family say that he was a happy, open, fun-loving boy at this stage of his life, even though he was always very small for his age. He never grew much higher than five feet, even when he reached his late teens. But his childhood in McKenzie was cut short in 1971, when he left Guyana to join his mother and sisters in Hackney. When he arrived in such a new environment his personality seemed to close up, and he became quieter and much more shy and withdrawn. It was only after he finally left school and in the last three years of his life that the liveliness and self-confidence of his childhood began to emerge again.

His years at Downsview School, Hackney, were marked by a growing interest in mechanics and practical subjects, and when he left school at 16 he went straight into a job as a motor mechanic. He had a dream of one day opening his own garage. He was never involved in any violence and had a pacific character that always sought to heal conflict rather than provoke it. Even when faced with the knife of the racist attacker he did not think of fighting, but stood his ground trustingly.

Michael’s horrific death, in the face of police connivance and delay, was not an isolated incident. We remember the brutal hounding of David Oluwale, West African, in Leeds in 1969, and the racist gibes and fists of the Leeds police that caused his persecution and death. We remember the young London Irishman, Stephen McCarthy, his head smashed by police against a steel bus stop in Islington in 1971. We remember the lack of inclination of the East London police to defend and support Asians like Altab Ali – murdered on the streets of Spitalfields last year. And we remember Kevin Gately, killed at Red Lion Square, and Blair Peach, an anti-racist teacher from a Bow school, clubbed to death at Southall by the Special Patrol Group.

How much of the reality of a peaceful, five feet one inch black teenager knifed by young white thugs who towered over him and left to bleed to death by London police, truly emerged in the courts? Clearly very little. The truth is still clear: despite a toothless and impotent Race Relations Act, overtly racist groups like the National Front and British Movement give open encouragement to white youths to attack and kill black people on the streets, and they still have the full freedom and protection of the law to continue to prompt them. British racists who publically talk of genocide and ‘one down down, a million to go’ after the murder of an Asian youth are acquitted and congratulated by British judges. The mentality of gas-chambers is upheld and promoted. Michael’s assassin, from the evidence presented in court, carried a knife for the express purpose of ‘having a go at coloureds’ and was a known associate and newspaper seller of the National Front. And yet the court and all-white jury declared that there was no racist motive for the killing.

This short play was written collectively by secondary school children shortly after Michael’s death. They never knew Michael or his friends or his killers, and so clearly the play is their attempt, through their imaginations, to understand the incident and and the characters, rather than a strict documentary drama. The children who wrote the play have their family origins in England, Scotland. Ireland, St Lucia, St Vincent, Barbados, Jamaica, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Somalia, Morocco, Turkey, Cyprus and Mauritius. They are a part of the British People who will live and work to carve out a new life in London, and carve through the bigotry and racism that exploits and threatens us all.

1979 article from West Indian World

‘NO JUSTICE’

“There is no justice in this land for Black people.” That’s the way Mrs Ann Moses, the mother of 18 year old Michael Ferreira of Hackney, East London who was stabbed to death by a white thug late last year, reacted to the 5 year sentence passed against her son’s killer by Justice Stephen Brown at the Old Bailey Court, last week.

All White Jury

An all-white jury sitting in judgement of the two accused men, Mark Sullivan, 17 years old and a market street trader of Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, East London and 18 year old James Barnes a meat porter of William Penn House, Shipton, Bethnal Green, returned a guilty verdict on Sullivan and set free his accomplice, Barnes,

The court was told that both men had been involved in a fight with Michael and a group of his friends in Stoke Newington Hight Street late last year when Michael was fatally stabbed by Sullivan. Half an hour after the stabbing Sullivan and Barnes were picked up by the police for questioning and admitted that they had committed the crime. A few minutes after Michael was stabbed, he was taken to St Leonards Hospital in Hackney where we was announced dead on arrival by doctors.

A mass demonstration was organised by the Hackney Trades Council and Black organisations in the area following this and other murders of Black people in East London, with the protestors claiming that supporters of the racialist party, the National Front, were responsible for Michael Ferreira’s death. In the trial however, the judge dismissed any connection with the National Front in the murder and in passing sentence on Sullivan said:

“You used a deadly weapon on a completely harmless young man who had done you no wrong.”

“It must be made plain to all those who go forth with weapons of this kind that they can expect serious punishment if they use them.”

I interviewed the bereaved mother at her home in Rushmore Road, Lower Clapton, last Saturday, and with tears streaking down her cheeks, she said: “I am completely flabbergasted with the sentence. I cannot see Black people given proper justice in the courts of this land. I myself felt like dying when [I] heard that the judge had sent that “murderer” down for just five years. I expected that Sullivan deserved to get 14 years for killing my son.”

Mrs Ann Moses was also very critical of the racial composition of the jury and cast doubts on the integrity of the judiciary for their failure to include a black in judgement in cases of this nature.

After the trial in which the public gallery was filled with supporters of the National Front, a roar whent up in the court room when the judge announced the verdict.

Who killed Michael Ferreira?

Michael Ferreira, a West Indian youth, died during the early morning of December 10th, 1978, in Stoke Newington, East London.

This short play is a collective attempt, written by a class of third year school students from an East London secondary school, to trace the events leading up to his death.

Characters

West Indian Youths:

  • George
  • Dexton
  • Michael
  • Delroy
  • Leroy
  • Tony

White Youths:

  • Mark
  • John
  • Peter

3 policemen

2 ambulancemen

Mr and Mrs Daniels: Parents of Tony and Leroy

Mr and Mrs Ferreira: Parents of Michael

Mortuary attendant

Narrator

PROLOGUE

The evil wings of racism have once again
spread over this country,
The evil that has brought fear—
and I warn my black brothers
stay clear!
The police are racist
the employers are racist
the bosses won’t give you a job
if you’re an Asian called Abdul
or even a West Indian named Bob!
The police pick on us
because we’re black,
they nick us on ‘SUS’
they beat us up
insult us…
Now, there’s a dirty word—N.F.
and when the racists insult us
we have to act deaf.
But we’re not going to act deaf no more
because we know the N.F.
are rotten to the core!

There have been demonstrations
against the N.F.
but that won’t do no good!
The racists are cowards,
they’ve got no sense—
just young hooligans.
If you’re black, brown or even colourless
but red—
the N.F. want you dead!
Get together, let the people know,
there’ll be no fun if the Nazis grow!

WHO KILLED MICHAEL FERREIRA?

SCENE 1: Stoke Newington High Sheet

NARRATOR: The time is 1.15am. A group of youths are walking home down Stoke Newington High Street from a late night disco. The date is December 1978.

Enter George, Dexton, Michael, Delroy, Leroy and Tony. They walk a group down the street, talking together and sometimes staring into lighted shop windows.

LEROY I can’t wait to get home.

MICHAEL Hey—did you see those girls in the corner?

DEXTON Yeh, did you see that one with the big tits?

GEORGE Yeh—weren’t they massive?

DEXTON Monica looked great, didn’t the?

TONY She’s really good-looking—I could fall for her myself.

DELROY Keep your eyes off man, she’s mine!

GEORGE What about that girl with the red straights on – she had a right old pair of knockers.

LEROY But it was a great disco—wasn’t it?

GEORGE Hmmm…. not bad.

LEROY What do you mean ‘not bad’—it was brilliant.

GEORGE It was quite good, but the beer was too dear.

TONY Well—maybe the disco wasn’t very good, but the birds were.

Delroy stops at a shop window.

DELROY Hey, look in this sports shop here. They’ve got those new Adidas boots – hey George, what do they call them now?

GEORGE I don’t know!

TONY They’re called ‘World Cup’ 78′.

MICHAEL Hey—Tottenham lost 7-1 today.

LEROY That’s a lie—who was it against then?

MICHAEL The greatest team in the world.

LEROY Who’s the greatest team in the world then? I thought it was Tottenham?

MICHAEL Tottenham? Bunch of wankers! Liverpool are the best team in the world!

DELROY Hey- I like that track suit.

LEROY Do you lot know what the time is? It’s ten past one already.

MICHAEL Is it? God, my mum’s going to be worried about me man.

DELROY Look-I’m running, otherwise I’m going to get hit man. You coming?

TONY Yeh—I’ll come on with you.

LEROY Me too.

MICHAEL All right, we’ll walk on behind you then.

TONY Okay—see you!

Delroy, Leroy and Tony walk on ahead.

Enter three white youths, walking along the other side of the road, opposite George, Dexton and Michael.

Mark, John and Peter begin to signal and hoot at the boys opposite them.

LEROY Hey, who are that lot over there?

GEORGE I don’t know them, do you?

MARK (Shouting across to the other side of the road.)

Hey, look at that one (pointing to Michael) he must have come from the deepest part of the jungle by the looks of it.

PETER Pity there’s no trees here for him to swing on!

JOHN Ahhhh—there’s no bananas neither.

PETER Funny—I’ve never seen a monkey fight, have you?

MICHAEL (Shouting back to them) Come on then you….

DEXTON No it’s not worth it, Michael. We’ve already had that trouble with the police.

GEORGE Yeh, we don’t want no trouble with them.

DEXTON All right then, let’s move on a bit.

GEORGE (Pointing) I know them boys. I’ve seen them down Chapel Street Market giving out National Front leaflets.

MARK Oi-you black bastards! Get back to your own country before I kick you there!

DEXTON You know, I feel like going over there and smashing their faces in.

GEORGE No, we can’t do that. That’s asking for it. We’ve had enough trouble with the cops – you remember that SUS business?

PETER All you blacks are chickens! If you had any guts you’d come over and fight, you bloody monkey-chasers!

DEXTON Why don’t we go and do them?

GEORGE Cool it man—the Babylon shop’s just down the road.

DEXTON No—let’s go and teach them a lesson.

MICHAEL Look—it’s not worth it, is it? They’ve done us enough times for SUS, we don’t want no more trouble.

MICHAEL But don’t walk any faster because of them or they’ll think we’re a bunch of shitters.

George, Michael and Dexton walk on up the street.

JOHN Yah, look at you lot, running up the road already.

Going home to your mammies are you?

GEORGE Come on, let’s let it.

MICHAEL No, don’t run – just ignore them.

DEXON But they’ve got to learn not to provoke us like this, man.

MARK You bloody niggers! Come and fight us you load of wankers!

GEORGE Come on, don’t take no notice, we don’t want no trouble.

MICHAEL Look – we’ve had enough of the SUS, haven’t we? Just keep walking normally.

The three white boys cross over to their side of the road. They start to sing ‘Go Home You Blacks, Go Home!’

MARK Hey, come on! Three onto three’s a fair fight.

JOHN Yeh, come on you peanut-heads!

DEXTON (Turning) Come on then, come on!

MICHAEL Knock it off Dexton! Keep on walking.

DEXTON No man! They want a fight so they’re going to get a fight – I’m not chickening out of this one.

MICHAEL You’re giving them just what they want, you berk! They’re trying to get you into trouble. Don’t take no notice of them.

DEXTON We could beat them easy.

MICHAEL Look—we’re not chickens, we just don’t want no more trouble.

MARK Come on peanut-heads, what you waiting for?

PETER What? Expect a black to fight back? You must be joking!

JOHN Right—come on, let’s get them!

John, Peter and Mark jump on George, Dexton and Michael.

DEXTON Right—you started it, now you’re going to get it.

GEORGE Watch that one there—he’s got a knife.

JOHN (To Mark) Come on, put the knife away Mark!

DEXTON Look out Michael, he’s coming at you!

JOHN Put that bloody knife away Mark. We don’t need that.

DEXTON Michael, look out!

Mark runs at Michael with the knife. He stabs him in the liver.

MICHAEL AE.E.E.E.E.E.

DEXTON George—he’s bloody knifed him!

GEORGE Bloody hell—Michael!

JOHN (To Mark) I told you to put that bloody thing away. Now look at what you’ve done. Let’s get the hell out of here!

MARK Yeh, you’re right—let’s split!

Mark, John and Peter run off up the road. Michael collapses on the pavement.

DEXTON Michael—come on, you’re all right really, get off the floor.

GEORGE Come on, get up Michael.

MICHAEL Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h…..

DEXTON Bloody hell, that’s all we need now.

GEORGE Dexton, help me get him up. (They support him on to his feet.) We’d better get him to the hospital.

MICHAEL Bloody hell, it hurts…. I’m bleeding all over.

Delroy, Leroy and Tony tun back to see Michael.

TONY What’s going on?

DELROY Hey, what happened to Michael?

GEORGE One of them bloody skinheads knifed him.

TONY Don’t muck about—now, what happened?

GEORGE They stabbed him, I tell you!

DEXTON Don’t stand there chatting—look, he could be bleeding to death.

TONY Where’s the nearest call box? He needs an ambulance.

DELROY It’s just round the comer.

TONY Let’s go then. (Tony and Delroy run off.)

DEXTON (Supporting Michael) It’s all right Michael, we’re going to get the ambulance for you.

GEORGE Yeh, it’ll be here in no time.

MICHAEL Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h it really hurts now.

Tony and Delroy run back, breathless.

TONY The bloody ththg was broke.

DELROY Some vandals smashed the phone in.

DEXTON That’s all we need, isn’t it?

Michael groans, almost continuously.

GEORGE What are we going to do then? He’s really hurt.

LEROY The nearest phone’s in the police station.

GEORGE What—take him to the Babylon shop? Once we’re in there we’ll never get out.

LEROY What choice have we got—look how he’s bleeding.

GEORGE All right then, let’s get him down there.

MICHAEL (Almost delirious) Yeah…. come on…. take me there.

DEXTON Oh Christ, I suppose we’ll have to.

LEROY Bloody hell, I hope it’s all right.

They support Michael to the steps of the police station. They half lift and half drag him up the steps.

GEORGE Come on all of you. Let’s get him up here and find a phone.

End of Scene I.

SCENE 2 In Stoke Newington Police Station

The boys enter the police station. There are two uniformed policemen behind the desk.

POLICEMAN 1 What do you lot want?

POLICEMAN 2 What have you been up to?

POLICEMAN 1 Yeh—what’s going on?

GEORGE Please…. look, our friend’s bleeding. Can we call an ambulance?

POLICEMAN 1 Hold your horses, I want to know exactly what’s going on here.

GEORGE There ain’t time for that—look how he’s bleeding.

POLICEMAN 1 Shut up – now first of all, give us your names and addresses.

GEORGE Look, just phone for an ambulance first, we’ll tell you all about it afterwards.

DEXTON Yeh, he’s hurt, you know.

MICHAEL Please…. help me…. phone for an ambulance.

POLICEMAN 2 Keep quiet son, we’ll attend to you in a minute. I’ve got to take a statement first.

DEXTON Look, I can tell you very quickly. In a few simple words. We were jumped on by three white kids. One of them stabbed him.

OFFICER 1 Where was this?

DEXTON Opposite the park.

POLICEMAN 1 Did you recognise any of them?

DEXTON No, but we’ve seen the all down Chapel Street handing out National Front leaflets. Now come on, please call us an ambulance.

MICHAEL (Groaning) Please…

Enter a third policeman.

POLICEMAN 3 What’s going on here?

OFFICER 2 These boys have been starting trouble.

DEXTON What? We didn’t do nothing, they set on us. Now are you going to phone for a bloody ambulance?

POLICEMAN 3 Watch your language with me Sonny. Now, have you lot been in any trouble before?

DEXTON We were picked up once for SUS.

POLICEMAN 3 Ahhh! So you started a fight eh? Picked on some white boys eh? Then you got the worst of it and come here with your lies about other kids?

GEORGE (Pushing forward) Look – can’t you see how our friend is bleeding. Send for an ambulance!

TONY Yeh—if he gets any worse, you’re to blame copper!

POLICEMAN 3 Be very careful son. Now, what time did this so-called attack occur?

DEXTON I don’t know—about half-past one.

POLICEMAN 3 Oh yeh? And what were you little boys doing out at that time of night?

MICHAEL (Groaning) An ambulance….

DEXTON Look, for the last time—are you going to help him?

POLICEMAN 3 Just answer the questions.

DEXTON Look, we’re not the bloody criminals – they set on us, they knifed our mate. Why all the questions?

POLICEMAN 3 Just answer the questions.

DEXTON All right, we were coming home from the disco.

POLICEMAN 3 A likely story.

DEXTON It’s true for Christ sake, it’s true.

POLICEMAN 3 I don’t want no lip from you Sambo. Now, what street did this happen?

DEXTON This street.

POLICEMAN 3 What street’s this then?

DEXTON Stoke Newington High Street – you bloody well know! Now phone the bloody ambulance.

POLICEMAN 1 (Stepping from behind the desk with Policeman 2) Who do you think you’re bloody swearing at? Up against the wall!

GEORGE Leave him alone!

POLICEMAN 1 You too, up against the wall! (The two policemen throw Dexton and George up against the wall.)

LEROY Look—our mate, been knifed, and you’re not doing nothing to help him.

POLICEMAN 3 There’s nothing wrong with him, just a bloody scratch—you can’t have us on.

TONY Well, let’s phone for an ambulance, then.

POLICEMAN 2 Look, the quicker you tell us what happened, the quicker your mate will see a doctor.

DEXTON That’s bloody blackmail.

POLICEMAN 2 Well, I’m using it on the right people then, aren’t I?

POLICEMAN 3 So where were you when he got stabbed?

DEXTON We’ve said already—Look, can’t you see he’s getting weaker?

POLICEMAN 3 Have you even been in trouble with the police before?

DEXTON I told you- I was picked up on SUS once.

POLICEMAN 3 Ah-well that throws a different COLOUR on it, then, doesn’t it? So you could have been out nicking tonight for all we know.

Michael does a terrible scream, followed by low groans.

DEXTON For Christ’s sake, can’t you see the blood on the floor?

POLICEMAN 3 All right Jack—phone for the ambulance.

Policeman 1 phones. The action freezes.

NARRATOR The boys were interrogated for ten minutes by the police before they called an ambulance for Michael. It took another fifteen minutes for the ambulance to arrive. All this time Michael’s condition was getting worse and his blood was dripping on the floor.

Action unfreezes.

GEORGE Look—can we phone Michael’s mum to tell her what’s happened?

POLICEMAN 1 No telephone calls!

DEXTON Look, come on man, all our mums will be worried sick.

POLICEMAN 1 Are you deaf? I said no telephone calls, do you hear?

LEROY Look, it’s our right to let our parents know what’s happened to us.

POLICEMAN 1 Sonny—you black bastards have got no rights in this country. Just shut up.

Enter two ambulancemen with a stretcher.

DELROY Christ, what kept you—look at our mate.

AMBULANCEMAN 1 Come on, get out of the way. Let’s see him.

AMBULANCEMAN 2 Got him Bill? Okay, let’s have him.

Michael is put onto the stretcher, stiil groaning. The other boys move as if to get into the ambulance with him.

POLICEMAN 1 Where do you think you’re going?

DEXTON We’re going with him to the hospital.

LEROY Yeh—he’s our mate, we want to go in the ambulance with him.

POLICEMAN 3 Oh no you don’t! You’re staying here, I’ve got some more questions for you lot.

DEXTON All right—then let just one of us go then.

POLICEMAN 2 Sit down Sonny—you’re staying here, you’re not going anywhere.

DEXTON For Christ’s sake, he’s our mate! We can’t leave him alone.

POLICEMAN 2 All of you! You’re staying here with us for the night.

POLICEMAN 3 Yeh, you’re holding your mate up now, aren’t you? I thought you said he was bleeding to death?

POLICEMAN 2 (To the ambulanceman) All right, take him away.

The ambulancemen take out Michael as the boys look on. The Action freezes again.

NARRATOR It took 45 minutes for the ambulance to reach the hospital which was only a few minutes drive away. Michael was dead when he arrived at the hospital.
Who killed Michael Ferreira?

End of Scene 2.

SCENE 3 Leroy and Tony’s House

It is 7.15am. Mr and Mrs Daniels are eating the. breakfast. They are both very worried.

Leroy and Tony enter, puffed out.

MR DANIELS Where the hell have you been? Your mother’s worried sick. (He stands up at the table).

MRS DANIELS Boys, I was so sick worrying about you.

MR DANIELS Look-it’s breakfast time. You could have been knocked down, robbed, dead on the streets-how were we to know?

MRS DANIELS I was going to phone the police about you.

TONY Sorry mum, look day, it’s a long story—but to cut it short, Michael got stabbed by a white boy last night, and we’ve been in Stoke Newington police station all night.

MR DANIELS What did you say?

TONY And we only went in there to phone for an ambulance for Michael.

LEROY And they wouldn’t even let us phone you up, or Michael’s mum.

MRS DANIELS What…. Michael stabbed?

LEROY And they kept him in the police station for ages before they called an ambulance.

MR DANIELS Have you told Michael, parents yet?

TONY No—Dexton was going to go round there, but he’s dead scared to go.

MR DANIELS Did you say they kept him there bleeding without even calling an ambulance?

The action freezes

End of Scene 3

SCENE 4 Outside the Mortuary

Mr and Mrs Ferreira are waiting to see the body of their son.

ATTENDANT (Opening the door) I’m sorry, but you can’t come in.

MR FERREIRA Look, we want to see our son’s body, that’s all.

ATTENDANT Well, you can’t come in. The coroner said that no one, only the police, can see the body yet.

MRS FERREIRA (Passionately) I want to see my son…. please let me see my son.

ATTENDANT I’m sorry madam, I can’t let you in.

MRS FERREIRA I brought him into the world-now I can’t see him now he’s dead?

POLICEMAN 1 (Entering) Move along please, we don’t want any more disturbances here.

MR FERREIRA You’ve got our son in there. We want to see him!

POLICEMAN 1 Well you can’t, now move along home or have to nick you for obstruction. (He tries to take Mrs Ferreira’s arm.)

MRS FERREIRA Don’t you touch me! You were the ones who killed my boy. You’ll never hear the last of this.

POLICEMAN 1 You don’t know what you’re on about, you blacks are all the same.

MR FERREIRA You! Racist! Listen to me—we’re going to get all our people together and we’re going to fight your dirty racism! We’re as much a part of country as anyone.

MRS FERREIRA We’ll make a movement to help all the black people, and we’ll clear racism right off the streets of this country!

The action freezes.

End of Scene 4

EPILOGUE

THE NARRATOR reads his final poem:

The boys were coming home,
They had been to the disco
in Stoke Newington—
Delroy, Gocrge, Leroy, Tony, Michael and Dexton.
Along came the blokes
looking for trouble
The racists jeered and insulted,
They crossed the road and used the knife,
the lethal weapon
which took poor Michael’s life.
The thugs shouted ‘Let’s run!’
Poor Michael
He was bleeding but nothing could be done.

His friends took him to the police station,
the cops kept him there—
against his will
as if he was the criminal,
as if they were pulling his hair.
They kept him there for quite a bit—
they treated him like shit.
They killed that kid
just like the police in Ireland,
or Hitler with the yids.

The ambulance took half an hour,
the ambulancemen could have been having their dinner
or taking a shower.
By this time he’d lost a lot of blood,
they said they did all they could.
Michael is gone now
but we’ll remember him.
We hate the one who killed him-
he’s a slut.

After this, there’s no turning back,
Black and white unite
and together we will fight!
To stop these rats from roaming the streets.

THE END

Back cover

Who killed Michael Ferreira? Part One

Michael Ferreira (1959-1978)

At about 1:30am on Saturday 10th December [1978], six black youths were walking past the Astra Cinema in Stoke Newington [117 Stoke Newington Road]. They were returning from a party. Three of them stopped to get a drink and the other three waited. While they were waiting, three white men walked past on the other side of the road. They stopped and shouted National Front slogans at the black youths, two of them decided to move off to avoid any aggravation.

One of them, Michael Ferreira, decided to stand his ground. The three white thugs crossed the road, and one stabbed Michael in the chest. He fell and the three ran away.

Michael’s friends returned and carried him the short distance to Stoke Newingtion Police Station. They arrived there at 2am. The police began to question the others about what they were doing out at that time and didn’t seem very interested in Michael bleeding to death. It took 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. (Shoreditch Ambulance Station is less than ten minute’s drive away.)

Michael was eventually taken to St Leonard’s hospital, where he died at 4am.

Hackney peoples press #40 January 1979

Michael Ferreira was born in Stanleytown, Guyana in 1959. In 1971 he emigrated to the UK to join his parents who had moved here a few years earlier. He was a pupil at Downsview School, Hackney and left at the age of 16 to become a mechanic. Michael was still a teenager when he was killed.

According to Hackney Council for Racial Equality:

“The police were more interested in questioning him, instead of getting him to hospital immediately, although they said later that they called an ambulance straight away. His friends saw that he was rapidly weakening but could not get the police to accept that the most urgent action was needed. When the ambulance eventually came, it was too late. He died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.”

HCRE quoted in Benn & worpole

1978 – increased tensions in Hackney

Mentioning that Michael’s assailants “stopped and shouted National Front slogans” was significant. The fascist group had been increasingly active in the borough at the time.

  • On April 29th 1978 the National Front (NF) held an election meeting at Whitmore School in Hoxton, which was picketed by teachers’ unions and others. The day after this, the enormous Anti Nazi League “Carnival Against The Nazis” was held in Victoria Park, attended by tens of thousands of people.
  • In June 1978 the first meeting of the North West Hackney Anti-Nazi League was disrupted by an organised gang of 25 NF sympathisers.
  • Also in June 1978, 45 year old Ishaque Ali died of heart failure following a racially motivated attack on Urswick Road, Lower Clapton. According to some accounts, his attackers strangled Ishaque with bootlaces.
  • In July 1978 a ‘Black Solidarity Day’ was organised by the Tower Hamlets and Hackney Defence Committee in response to racial violence and discrimination in East London.
  • In August 1978 a group of NF supporters paid a visit to community bookshop and cafe Centerprise with rolled up union jack flags on ornamental poles and copies fo National Front News. The group verbally and physically abused customers and staff. One of them pissed in the childrens’ play area.
  • In September 1978, the National Front revealed that its new national HQ would be Excalibur House at 73 Great Eastern Street, South Hackney. Thirty NF members attempted to menace a special meeting of Hackney Council convened to discuss the new HQ.

There had been intense protests against large NF marches in Wood Green and Lewisham in the previous year and the NF was building up to a major campaign in the 1979 general election.

Michael’s death also needs to be seen in the wider context of violent racism throughout London at that time, for example the killing of Altab Ali in May 1978 in neighbouring Tower Hamlets – not to mention the day to day casual and institutional racism of the time.

The Communiy Responds

Over 150 people attended meeting on 21st of December 1978 to protest the circumstances of Michael’s death. They agreed to set up an group called Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation. The group held regular public meetings at Ridley Road market and organised picekts of Hackney police stations.

On Friday 12th January 1979, the men accused of being Michael’s assailants appeared at Highbury magistrates court. They included 17 year old Mark Sullivan (a market trader from Kingsland Road, Shoreditch), 18 year old James Barnes (a meat porter from Bethnal Green) and a third whose identity I have not been able to determine.

According to the West Indian Times, the accused had been picked up by the cops shortly after the stabbing and had confessed to their involvement. Sullivan was accused of being the one who fatally stabbed Michael Ferreira. Barnes’ charge was reduced from murder to “disturbing the peace”. His bail conditons included him not setting foot in Hackney “for his own protection”.

Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation arranged for a large turnout at the second hearing a week later on the 19th of January, which was met with suspicion by the authorities. According to Hackney Peoples Press:

  • All black people entering the court were searched, but white people were not.
  • The hearing was adjourned “due to the large black presence”
  • Michael’s mother Mrs Ann Moses, was naturally distressed at the adjournment and shouted “We want justice!” in the court, at which point the magistrate ordered the room to be cleared. Mrs Moses was then taken into police custody and “manhandled and insulted”.
  • A unnamed young black man protesting at Mrs Moses’ treatment was arrested and bound over.
  • A second young black man, Winston James was physically assualted by police in the corridors of the court with no provocation. He was charged with obstructing the police and assaulting a policeman. Hackney Black People’s Association secured Winston a good lawyer and publicised his case.

(Hackney Peoples Press #41 Feb 1979, p8)

Michael’s funeral was the day after the furore at the court – Saturday 20th January 1979.

Hackney Peoples Press

On a cold and snowy January Saturday, several hundred people gathered in Clapton to join the funeral cortege of nineteen-year-old Michael Ferreira, murdered just before Christmas in east London’s fourth racist murder in eight months.

No banners or placards were carried, no chants were raised, no papers were sold. There was just a solemn procession, about equal numbers of black people and white people following a flower-lined hearse, with an enormous wreath reading “SON”, and two black limousines carrying Michael’s family.

As the march moved slowly up Kingsland High Street, crowds of black people gathered at the end of Ridley Road market to pay their respects. Raised fist salutes were given as “We shall overcome” was sung again and again. And a man standing by the side of the road asked: “Who was he? Was it anyone important?”

Of course Michael Ferreira was important. He had a family, he had friends and they have lost a nineteen-year-old son or brother, cut down in a cowardly attack. But there is more to his name now. By his death he has become a symbol of all that is wrong with our racialist society.

This is why the black people on the procession were angry, and why many demanded that they should protest outside Stoke Newington police station, instead of tamely dispersing when the cortege moved off to the crematorium.

This is why the Hackney Black People’s defence organisation has been formed, to demand justice for the death of Michael Ferreira, and justice for the racialist oppression of black people everywhere.

Hackney Peoples Press #41 Feb 1979 p1

Friend of this site Alan Denney was at the funeral and has kindly sent us his haunting photos:

Police officers outside Stoke Newington police station during the funeral procession

Alan described the procession as a:

“Somber occasion”, with a ‘simmering sense of anger and disbelief’.

In conversation with Tom ramsden

Other attendees agreed:

“The funeral became an occasion for a dignified and very large procession through Hackney; an event which specifically focussed a strong sense of hostility on Stoke Newington police station.”

Melissa Benn and Ken Worpole

Teacher and author Chris Searle recalls meeting up with his friend Blair Peach on the day:

“As we walked with hundreds of others behind the cortege through the streets of Hackney, Blair told me how he had been targeted and attacked by local fascists.”

Three months later Blair Peach was killed by a policeman of the Special Patrol Group during an Anti Nazi League protest against the National Front in Southall. His killer was never brought to justice. Peach’s widow, Celia Stubbs, was monitored by undercover police officers for about twenty years afterwards.

Winston James’ trial

Winston James was charged with assaulting two police officers the initial hearing of charges aginst Michael Ferreira’s killers at Highbury Court. The officers had in fact brutally attacked him when he protested agains the treatment of black people attending. Winston’s case is covered in Hackney People’s Press #42 and #43. PC Drew 563 was cross-examined mercilessly by Winston’s barrister about grabbing his client by the testicles. Winston was acquitted of two counts of assaulting police officers, but found guitly of the far less serious charge of obstruction.

The trial of Michael Ferreira’s killers

Mark Sullivan and James Barnes were eventually both convicted of manslaughter at the Old Bailey. It seemed to be widely believed that Sullivan was a National Front sympathiser:

From Flame: Black Workers Paper For Self-Defence #28 July 1979

According to West Indian World, the judge “dismissed any connection with the National Front”. West Indian World also interviewed Michael’s bereaved mother:

“There is no justice in this land for Black people… I am completely flabbergasted with the sentence. I cannot see black people given proper justice in the courts of this land. I myself felt like dying when I heard that the judge had sent that “murderer” down for just five years. I expected that Sullivan deserved to get 14 years for killing my son.”

Aftermath

A class of local secondary school pupils was inspired to write a short play about Michael Ferreira’s death. This was published anonymously as a pamphlet and will appear here shortly as part two of this post.

Michael Ferreira was not the first black person to die following a visit to Stoke Newington police station. As far as I know that was Aseta Simms in 1971. Nor, tragically, would he be the last.

A year after Michael Ferreira’s death, Hackney’s newly appointed top cop, Commander David Mitchell was exposed as an admirer of the National Front.

In November 1982, Hackney Black People’s Association (possibly the next incarnaton of Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation?) called for an independent public enquiry into the conduct of the police in Hackney. Their concerns were specifically about corruption, and violence against black people.

On the 12th of January 1983, Colin Roach died of a gunshot wound in the foyer of Stoke Newington police station. Corruption and violence by officers at Stoke Newington Police Station would intensify throughout the 1980s and 1990s – and so would the campaigns for justice by the local community….

Sources / Further Reading

Hackney Peoples Press – issues 32-43. Available as PDFs here.

West Indian World – undated clipping from “Who Killed Michael Ferreira” booklet. (1979)

Melissa Benn & Ken Worpole – Death In The City (Canary Press. 1986)

Policing in Hackney 1945-1984: A Report Commissioned by The Roach Family Support Committee (Karia Press, 1989)

Chris Searle – Remembering Blair Peach: 30 Years On (Institute of Race Relations, 2009)

John Eden – They Hate Us, We Hate Them” – Resisting Police Corruption and Violence in Hackney in the 1980s and 1990s (Datacide #14, 2014)

The clipping from Flame: Black Workers Paper For Self-Defence is courtesy of Splits and Fusions Archive.

Newsline 10th January 1989