Struggles to save Hackney Libraries

“Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague.”

Eleanor Crumblehulme  (Library Assistant, University of British Columbia, Canada)

Hackney Library staff will be on strike on Tuesday and Thursday this week because of the Council’s plans to make 19 of them redundant. There will be pickets at Dalston CLR James Library, Dalston Lane and Hackney Central, Mare Street, so please go and show your support.

There is an online petition to sign too.

The Council has taken the unusual step of closing all the libraries during strike days.

Libraries are more than bricks, mortar and books. I’ve generally found Hackney Library staff to be very helpful with my often quite esoteric queries and their curation has been spot on over the years. I’ve often stumbled across a random book which has made my day and their CD selection helped to keep me sane during a skint patch after my daughter was born some decades ago…

Whenever there is a financial crunch, libraries are the acceptable bit of public services the Council feels can be diminished or dispensed with. But people feel passionately about protecting these community assets, so there is always resistance. It’s important to remember that the libraries we have today only exist because of the struggles of previous generations.

Previously, in “the fight to save Hackney Libraries”

City Limits

1988: 3 Libraries Occupied for 6 Months

In December 1987 the Council proposed to cut four libraries, two out of three reference libraries and the Schools Project Loan Service. After a series of protests, there was an occupation of three of the libraries planned for the chop on 11th of March. (Howard Road, Somerford Grove, Goldsmiths Row).

From a thesis by Rosemary Illet

Meetings and cultural events were organised in the occupied premises and local estates were leafletted to raise awareness. Library staff continued to work in the occupied Libraries.

In June the Council took the occupiers to court. The hearing was preceded by a mass walk out of council staff which apparently “shut down every white collar intensive service”.

The court awarded the council a repossession order. But this was not acted on until September, when a series of battles took place:

“The time of the eviction was obtained by the simple ruse of ringing the bailiff’s office and pretending to be from the Council. So when the bailiffs, and eventually, eight coppers turned up at Goldsmiths Row Library in Haggerston at about 7:50am on Friday 9th September they found a building filled with 50 people and a picket of 30 outside… they withdrew.”

“Promising to return in an hours time, they then cased Somerford Grove Library where there were about 100 people including TV crews… at this point the Council apparently called the operation off”

“Bookworm revolt” – direct action issue 52

Bailiffs returned to the libraries at 3am on Thursday 22nd September and smashed the doors in, evicting the occupiers. A protest took place later in the day at the Town Hall.

Two of the libraries were then reoccupied:

City Limits

There was a third and final set of evictions on Friday 30th September at 1am, which resulted in two arrests. The three libraries were then permanently closed.

Thanks to Neil Transpontine for the scans from City Limits above. Other sources used:

“Occupational Therapy” – Direct Action issue 49 June 1988 page 5

“Still Fighting” – Direct Action issue 50 July 1988 page 4

“Bookworm Revolt” – Direct Action issue 52 October 1988 page 3

“Libraries Shut In Dawn Raid” – Hackney Union News 1988 page 1

“Outstanding issues: Gender, feminisms and librarianship” 2003 PhD thesis by Rosemary Illet

Photo courtesy of Hackney Archives

1996-1999: Brownswood Library squatted

We now hand over to our comrades Past Tense, who wrote the below as one stop on an excellent radical walk along The New River:

The old Library that used to stand here was closed in the 1990s.  It was squatted in late 1995 (or early 1996), by Hackney Squatters Collective (“with our usual finesse – crowbar through the window”… “hiding quietly while cops shone their torches though the big glass doors just after we cracked it”) who had previously run great squat centres in Mildmay Park, 67a Stoke Newington Road, and the Arch refugee squat (directly opposite the latter), and went on to occupy (and save from demolition) London Fields Lido. One of the soundest bunches of people you’re ever likely to meet.

One of the old collective offered some recollections: “The library was made use of by various groups from the local Finsbury Park Action Group to Class War. Most significant for us was Reclaim The Streets (who at the time we thought were a bunch of crazy hippies), however we would go on to become irresistably entwined.

While we continued our open cafe and bar social nights, Zapatista benefit gigs etc, Peter Kenyon (local Labour scumbag), sent out letters to the neighbourhood declaring that as soon as the squatters had been evicted he would ‘return’ the place to the community. Being a politician, he lied.”

Another recalled “late nights, drinking too much, good friends, Victor’s Spanish punk band rehearsing, games nights, xmas and birthday parties, cold (until we turned the gas on), repairing the roof, getting pissed off with people who just treated the place as a late night drinking club and repopulating the library with books from Middlesex Poly…

There was also a ceilidh held jointly with a local community group who wanted to see the library put back into use, though possibly not quite in the way that we were doing it…”

The Library was a great centre, the local campaigners that had tried to save the library and wanted it re-opened were mostly supportive, there were weekly cafes, regular events, benefits, meetings. Always a friendly atmosphere, kids everywhere… Accessible to all. It lasted about three and a half years, and was evicted by the council. Who then left it empty again despite local campaigns for the library to reopen. Bleuugh.

In 2008-9 the place was squatted again for a while, but later that year work began to demolish it and build housing.

I would recommend Past Tense’s London Rebel History Calendar 2023, which is available online and from all good radical bookshops in London.

Defending Hackney Libraries in the 21st Century

At the turn of the Century, Hackney Council bankrupted itself by purchasing a dysfunctional computer system (ITNet) for its housing benefit payments. To balance the books a huge sell off of community assets was planned including nurseries, council owned properties (most infamously Tony’s Cafe on Broadway Market) and of course several libraries, including Clapton. My recollection is that all the threatened libraries survived this particular battle.

Protest over Cuts to Hackney Library Services. 21-7-11 photo by Guy Smallman

Following the global financial crisis of 2008, the UK government launched a brutal austerity assault on public spending with severe cuts to local government budgets. In Hackney this resulted in yet another proposal to reduce library services which was opposed by Save Hackney Libraries. The campaign resulted in some significant concessions from the council.

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg – if you can remember other campaigns to save Hackney Libraries, please leave a comment.

And do what you can to support the current protests!

Bonus feature: Radical meetings at Hackney Libraries

There is a long history of Hackney Libraries hosting radical events too, with meetings by the Suffragettes and the Women’s Freedom League and radical communist theatre performances by Hackney Peoples Players being held at Stoke Newington Library alone in the early 20th Century alone.

It’s a mixed legacy though…

Also bad things

If you wanted to be scab during the 1926 General Strike, the library was where to go:

Strikebreaking was enthusiastically encouraged by Hackney Borough Council, now no longer in Labour hands. Right from the start they issued a notice calling for volunteers to man essential services. An office was opened in the public library opposite the Town Hall where strikebreakers could sign on and this was kept open from 9am to 8pm.

“Not A Thing Was Moving” – Hackney and the 1926 General Strike

In September 1981 a Council meeting was severely disrupted by Hackney Ethnic Minorities Library Consultative Committee who felt that they weren’t getting anywhere with the issues they were raising with the Council about inclusivity and removing racist and sexist material from the stock. (Hackney Peoples Press October 1981 – front page).

There was a marked improvement after this protest, and it is notable that in 1985 Dalston Library was renamed the CLR James Library in honour of the Trinidadian born writer and political activist Cyril Lionel Robert James. During the redevelopment of Dalston Square, there was some indignation that the relocated library would not retain the name, but sense prevailed. (On a more personal note, a lot of my self-education in black history was through books from Hackney Libraries).

As recently as 2008, Iain Sinclair was banned by the council from speaking events in its Libraries after writing critically about the regeneration of North East London prior to the 2012 Olympics.

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.

Hackney Women’s Centre and Matrix Feminist Architects

I was pleased to see the above flyer included in a post by Glasgow Women’s Library entitled “The Personal is Political: Lesbian Life“. As they say:

This events programme for Hackney Women’s Centre Lesbian Group is typical of some of the social events programmes and flyers which we have throughout the archive. It illustrates the wide range of social activities that these groups promoted amongst the women that used those spaces. Flyers like this are often interesting because they can often underline the intersectional approaches to organising that feminist and lesbian spaces often tried to institute around building access for wheelchair users, childcare facilities and language interpretation.

Glasgow women’s library

I also like that the events are social rather than overtly political – precisely because in the 1980s lesbians socialising together would haven been a political act in itself in many ways.

Hackney Women’s Centre on Dalston Lane, photograph courtesy of Rio Cinema Archive on Instagram

Hackney Women’s Centre appears to have been based at 27 Hackney Grove E8 and then at 20 Dalston Lane E8 around 1984/5.

The Centre’s origins stretch back to at least 1981, with this call to action in Hackney People’s Press:

An early story about the Centre from Hackney Peoples Press #72 September 1981

The group seems to have prioritised a feminist approach to the entire project – the commitment in the article above was matched by ensuring the premises were accessible to disabled women.

Similarly, the renovation of the Dalston Lane property was overseen by Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative – an feminist architecture co-op who were also based in Dalston at the time:

There is an interesting post about their work on Hackney Women’s Centre at Matrix Open Feminist Architecture Archive including a scan of some pages from a brochure about the renovations needed at the 20 Dalston Lane building.

In “Evaluating Matrix: note from inside the collective” Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne note that not all of the GLC funded women’s centres were as successful as the Hackney one:

Matrix was involved in projects for Hackney, Brixton and Bermondsey. Of these, only one, Hackney Women’s Centre, was built. The borough council had made a rundown shop building on Dalston Lane available, and much of the limited funds for building work went into repairing it before it could be converted for use: here the kitchen, built by women joiners, was at the heart of the social space, and as much of the building as possible was made accessible for disabled people.

Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne

Matrix also helped with the development of Dalston Children’s Centre.

Alongside the technical renovations and building work, the Centre commissioned some lovely stained glass by femalie artist Anna Conti and the photos on her site are the only tantalising glimpse of the interior of the Centre I have been able to find:

The flyer below gives a flavor of the sort of activies that the organising group were hoping the Centre would be able to offer. And of course there is the inevitable mail box at Centerprise!

An advert for the Centre, reproduced in The RIo Tape/Slide Archive: Radical Community Photography in the 80s (Isola Press)

Hackney Museum has a nice badge too as part of its collection:

Aside from the Hackney Lesbian Group flyer at the top of this post, I’ve not found a huge amount of material on what actually happened at the Centre after it opened. There are some interesting adverts in the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project newsletter from 1988 and 1990:

An event fron 1988.
A regular event in 1990.

The longevity of these events suggest that the Centre was able to maintain the commitment to intersectionality noted by Glasgow Women’s Library.

Social event at the Centre – probably from 1989

Inevitably it was not all plain sailing, as is evident from this unpleasant exchange of letters between the Pan African Congress Group and the Centre. They concern an argument over a group obtaining a Malcolm X tape which is mainly about homophobia in the black community:

Letters page, Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project newsletter June/July 1990.

It appears that Hackney Women’s Centre was in operation until at least 1993. A lot of organisations that had been supported by the GLC struggled to maintain funding beyond this point. (Although it is worth noting that London Irish Women’s Centre was at 59 Stoke Newington Church Street until 2012).

The Centre appears in several novels: “Calendar Girl” by Stella Duffy (1994), “Hello Mr Bones” by Patrick McCabe (2013) and “All Girl Live Action” by Sara Faith Tibbs (2015)

If you have any memories of Hackney Women’s Centre – or access to archival material, stories, people relating to it, please leave a comment below.

Sources and further reading

Petrescu, D. (ed.) (2007) Altering Practices: Feminist Politics and Poetics of Space, New York and London: Routledge – includes “Evaluating Matrix: note from inside the collective” Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne.

Grace Quah – Beyond the Home: Re-evaluating feminist representations of domestic space through contemporary cinema (Thesis for Bartlett School of Architecture, 2017) – available on academia.edu

Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative Wikipedia page

Matrix Open Feminist Architecture Archive

Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project newsletter is availabe online at Bishopsgate Archive.

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.

Anti- Apartheid and porn “redecorations” in 1980s Hackney

“Daughters of Amazon” attack Hackney porn shop (1983):

From the anarchist newspaper Black Flag 17th June 1983

Anti-Apartheid activists attack Barclays Bank on Green Lanes (1986).

From Black Flag 13th January 1986

Damage to property as direct action was reasonably common in the 1970s and 1980s. It had a dual function of “propaganda by deed”, where the business owner (and the community) were left in little doubt about the strength of feeling against them – and of course there was economic damage to the business too.

Furthermore, activists were able to claim responsibility anonymously through the underground and anarchist press via their political statements. The Angry Brigade excelled at this in the 1970s, with some very powerful manifestos – and one of their early targets was Barclays Bank on Stoke Newington High Street (now Stoke Newington Books) which was firebombed on October 26th 1970.

But most damage to property was far less spectacular than that meted out by the Angry Brigade. Indeed, the attraction of low level vandalism was precisely its accessibility – it was cheap and could be done by one or two people at night, etc.

“Diary of ALF Actions” from Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group Newsletter 10, April 1984

In the 1980s Animal Liberation Front activists must have damaged thousands (if not tens of thousands) of butchers shops and other properties involved with animal exploitation in the UK. Common actions would be anything from graffiti, to glueing up the locks so that the building could not be accessed the next day.

Hackney based anarchopunk band The Apostles (who lived at Brougham Road E8, off Broadway Market) captured the spirit of this particular direct action subculture in their 1983 song “Pigs For Slaughter”:

“Glue the locks of all the banks and butchers – or kick them in,
Spray a message of hate across a Bentley – or smash it up,
Sabotage the meat in supermarkets – poison them all,
Go to Kensington and mug a rich bastard of all his cash.

We’re knocking on your door,
We’re taking no more,
For this is Class War.

Put sugar in the petrol tank,
Deflate the tyres with six inch nails,
That’s the way to wreck a Rolls,
So get stuck in it never fails.
We’ll smash it up and we’ll bum it all down.”

The Apostles – pigs for slaughter

This kind of politically motivated damage to property seems far less common now, mainly because of the increased prevalence of CCTV, but also the laws around incitement are much harsher, so I think people that published manifestos or seemed to be encouraging this sort of thing might find themselves in far greater trouble with the law…

There’s probably a lot more to be written about this area, so any pointers about direct action generally in Hackney or Animal Liberation / animal rights activity in the borough would be welcome.

Further reading

E. Michaels – a Jewish Anarchist in Stoke Newington

The obituary above appeared in Direct Action vol 7 #3, in March 1966. Direct Action was the newspaper of the Syndicalist Workers Federation, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation which operated from 1950 until the late 1970s. The SWF then became the Direct Action Movement before changing into the Solidarity Federation in 1994 – an organisation which is still active today.

A brief death notice in Freedom February 19th 1966

Who was he? Everything starts with an “E.”

It’s easy to understand that a Jewish immigrant revolutionary might want to keep their personal details secret. Googling “E. Michaels” produces some good results in the anarchist archives, but that is only half of the story…

Fortunately there is only one “E. Michaels” listed in the death records for Hackney for 1966:

Further poking about turns up this lovely bit of genealogy, which suggests that Emanuel:

  • Was born in Plock, central Poland on 25 Sep 1890 (near enough to 1891 listed above?)
  • Emigrated to England at the age of ten in 1900.
  • Married Rosie Kitman (3 Apr 1892 – 14 Jan 1963) at Mile End in 1914.
  • Had four children (including Harry, as in the Freedom clipping above, which is reassuring)
  • Worked as a Tailors Presser.
  • Died 12 Feb 1966.

This seems to fit quite well with what we know from the obituaries above and the sort of lives that radical Jewish anarchists would be leading at this time. But I’m not an expert, so if any historians or genealogists out there have spotted any errors, let me know!

Update: a comrade has kindly supplied a passport photo of the handsome Michaels.

Anarchy in the East End!

Most of comrade Michaels’ political activity seems to have been in the East End of London in the first half of the 20th Century. He was involved with setting up a “free school” at 62 Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel, which also hosted The Worker’s Friend Club and the East London Anarchist Group. He was also the secretary of the prisoner support group the Anarchist Red Cross and is listed as a donor in a few issues of the London anarchist newspaper Freedom in the 1910s.

According to census data he lived at the following addresses too:

  • 1911: 25 Hungerford Street, Commercial Road
  • 1921: 73 Sutton Street
  • 1939: 163 Jubilee Street E1

But what about Hackney, eh?

Michaels seems to have remained active up until his death. Sparrows Nest Archive has scans of some his letters from 1958 to 1964. Most of these are addressed to Ken Hawkes, the national secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation. Many of them mention meetings at Circle House, 13 Sylvester Path, E8. I’ve written about the Workers Circle and Jewish radicals in Hackney previously.

Michaels’ letters are largely administrative – donations, exchanges of publications, details of meetings etc. But the letterheads are invaluable:

Firstly, they tell us that Michaels was the Honorary Secretary of the Jewish radical organisations Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labour) and Rudolf Rocker Publishing Committee. (Rocker was a German Gentile who became heavily involved with the Jewish anarchist movement).

Secondly, the letters show us where Michaels lived in Hackney. (This is my assumption, based on the nature of the addresses listed and that meetings etc seemed to take place at Circle House and not those on the letterheads). So it looks like Michaels lived at 12 Cranwich Road in Stamford Hill during the 1950s and then moved to “Morley House” N16 in 1961. Which no longer exists…

But! According to this useful blog, Morley House was one of the council blocks at the east end of Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington and was renamed Nelson Mandela House in 1984. There is a quote from Mandela on the side of it which can be seen here.

A diversion down Cazenove Road

According to Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Morley House was built in 1937-1938 “with a meanly detailed exterior, although the planning of the individual flats was generous at the time”.

Fourteen years after Emanuel Michaels’ death, the flats and exterior would see further anarchistic action.

From Hackney Peoples Press #59 August 1980

Hackney Peoples Press reported that Morley House was due for renovation, which meant that:

“All the council tenants were moved out between 1978 and autumn 1979, and the estate was left almost completely empty.”

Perhaps inevitably some tenacious local people seized this opportunity:

“In November 1979 the first squatters started to move in, even though vandalism and thieving had reduced the building to a dilapidated eyesore.

By February 1980 approximately 80 flats were occupied and some residents approached Hackney Community Housing Resource Centre to ask about licensing the house. (A licence to occupy premises does not imply tenancy as such but makes the occupation authorised by the Council.)

They suggested a direct approach to the Council, and three Council Officers were invited to visit the estate and talk to same of the residents. These officers submitted a report to the Housing Management Committee on 31st March this year, and suggested the granting of a license through Hackney Community Housing (HCH). The Committee however, rejected the recommendations and decided to evict the residents – offering the property to HCH as short term housing instead.”

What followed was a bit of a standoff, with the Council refusing to back down and the squatters getting more organised:

“They held weekly meetings, formed themselves into an Association, cleared up rubbish, and met a number of councillors to discuss the matter. They also formally presented a deputation to the Housing Management Committee asking once again for a licence.”

That all probably seems pretty amazing to people who’ve tried squatting recently, but even in 1980, this was simply delaying the inevitable:

From Hackney Peoples Press #65 Feb 1981

Six months later, the Council’s heavy squad made the 200 squatters homeless:

“Following two dramatic dawn raids by police the Morley House squat in Cazenove Road has had all its electricity and gas supplies cut off. At least 25 people were arrested, mainly on charges relating to the stealing of gas and electricity, but the police indiscriminately smashed through the doors of all the tenants on two of the blocks on the estate.

The first raid took place on 14 January and was made by a large number of police, accompanied by police dogs and gas board officials. The police carried no warrants and yet made extensive searches for drugs and stolen goods. Many doors were broken down in the raid, while others had 6-inch nails driven into their hinges to prevent tenants from re-entering their flats. Whilst searching the rooms the police took many photographs, presumably to be used later in evidence.

Using the excuse that many of the tenants were not paying for gas, the supplies to the estate were cut off, although electric cooking rings were brought in by the Gas Board for those who complained that they were in fact paying their gas bills. But in the early hours of the following morning, the police arrived again, this time with Electricity Board officials, and electricity supplies were cut off under the pretext that all the wiring on the estate was in a dangerous condition.

As a result of these raids about half of the 150 people who lived in the squat have been intimidated into leaving. Speaking to residents of Morley House HPP has discovered that these raids follow several months of police harassment. It is estimated that some 50% of the residents had been picked up by the police prior to the raids. Morley House has been a licensed squat for over one year. In that time Gas and Electricity officials have visited the estate several times, but have not ordered any repairs.”

I hope that Emanuel would have approved of the squatters, but you never know. It’s interesting that the block was subsequently renamed Mandela House – Hackney Council in the 1980s was eager to promote social struggles thousands of miles away, but renaming the block after Emanuel Michaels or celebrating the courageous battle of the squatters was off-limits…

If anyone reading this has more information about either Emanuel Michaels or the Morley House occupation, please do leave a comment or drop me an email.

Sources and further reading

Special thanks to Neil Transpontine.

The Workers’ Circle – fighting anti-semitism in Hackney

Tom Brown – Story of the Syndicalist Workers Federation: Born in Struggle at Libcom, who also have an archive of the SWF’s Direct Action newspaper.

Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner – The Buildings of England: London 4: North, Yale University Press 1999.

George Cores – Personal recollections of the anarchist past (published by Kate Sharpley Library, available at Libcom)

Nick Heath – Echoes of Ferrer in an East End back street at Libcom

Albert Meltzer – The Anarchists in London 1935-1955. A personal memoir (online at Libcom, hardcopy from Freedom Press.)

Rob Ray – A Beautiful Idea: History of the Freedom Press Anarchists (Freedom Press, 2018)

Philip Ruff – Book Review – The Tragic Procession: Alexander Berkman and Russian Prisoner Aid, 1923-1931 (KSL/ABSC, 2010) at Kate Sharpley Library

Hackney Peoples Press #59 August 1980

Hackney Peoples Press #65 Feb 1981

Hackney’s acid house party hysteria (1988)

As moral panics go, Acid House was pretty enjoyable all round. On one side, the press, politicians and police were able to whip themselves up into a frenzy about thousands of young people taking drugs and losing all respect for the laws of private property. On the other side, thousands of young people took drugs and lost all respect for the laws of private property…

Here is not the place to get into a comprehensive history of Acid House, so let me just say it was invented by Afro-American DJs in Chicago in the late 1980s. It was popularised in London from 1987 onwards by clubs like Shoom in Bankside, Southwark and Trip in the West End.

The appeal of the music, and the culture of its parties, smiley face t-shirts and use of drugs like 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA aka Ecstasy) was such that the summer of 1988 was dubbed “the second summer of love”.

By September 1988, the anxiety about Acid House had reached Hackney, with the cops going into conniptions about “a wave of warehouse parties” they claimed were “dangerous drug dens”:

Hackney Gazette 16th September 1988

This first press cutting mentions a party in Commercial Road, Shoreditch – and an attempt by ravers to resist the police spoiling their fun. This sets the tone for the next few years, when rave organisers played cat and mouse with the cops – so clubbers were never certain if advertised events would actually take place or not, which some would say added to the underground illicit vibe…

Hackney Gazette 30th September 1988

It’s interesting that the event above was shut down before it started “thanks to a tip-off from a neighbour”. The tensions between illegal raves (and to a lesser extent, pirate radio stations) and the working class communities where they took place, is under-explored in the literature about the heroic history of the music.

For example, when photographer Dave Swindell spoke to the Gazette about his clubbing days he recalled that:

“…the area around Old Street and Hoxton was effectively “a desert” at the time, making it the best spot in London for warehouse parties, with plenty of suitable venues and barely any neighbours to upset.”

“Barely any” suggests that perhaps there were some – and I’m aware of several people living on estates in Hoxton and Shoreditch more recently who have been upset by clubbers making nuisances of themselves in the early hours. But that is London, really. Which of has hasn’t been woken up by a police helicopter, road rage, the neighbours having a wild one, or whatever…

Hackney Gazette 21st October 1988

By October, the police had used the Acid House hysteria to get funding for a task force “to break a suspected ring of drug pushers they believe are organising the illegal parties in Hackney” after “a surge” of events in the borough. Sounds fun!

The first victory for the task force would follow in November, when a curiously unspecified amount of drugs was seized in a car park in Wheler Street E1. 18 people were arrested, but it’s unclear what – if anything – they were charged with:

Hackney Gazette 11th November 1988

Once again, the piece above demonstrates the tenacity of the ravers in fighting for their right to party. Venue shut down? Screw it, let’s have a rave in this car park…

Hackney Gazette 25th November 1988

In a bizarre twist, by November the drugs squad were trying to play down the “hype” about Acid House in Hackney pointing out that there had been “no large scale seizures” of Ecstasy. It appeared that local residents were more bothered by smackheads in Haggerston than ravers.

This November clipping is also interesting because of the downplaying by the cops of the crack cocaine menace, which was also being hyped up in the press at the time. This is deeply ironic because Hackney police would soon become very familiar with crack:

In 1990, Hugh Prince was in a Dalston shebeen when it was raided by police. An officer ordered Prince into an empty, unlit room to be searched. When he refused, PCs Christopher Hart and James Havercroft threatened Prince with a sledgehammer and planted eight rocks of crack cocaine in his cigarette packet.

Danny Bailey is serving three-and-a-half years for intent to supply crack. He was planted with one rock by DC Peter Popham in Sandringham Road in 1991.

In 1992 Pearl Cameron would be sentenced to 5 years for conspiracy to supply crack cocaine. She revealed in court that she was supplied by a serving Stoke Newington police officer, later to be identified as DC Roy Lewandowski.

Maxine Edwards, who claims she was planted with crack by DC Beinard Gillan and PC Gerrard Carroll.

Cecil Forbes, who claims he was planted with crack by PC Chitty.

Val Howell, who claims she was planted with crack by DC Peter McCulloch.

Mohamadou Njie, who claims he was fitted up by PC Chitty and DC McCulloch for intent to supply crack.

From hackney community defence association: community defence newsletter March 1993

By December, the cops were at pains to say that parties they had raided were not Acid House raves:

Hackney Gazette 2nd December 1988

But little did the police know that this was only the beginning. The year would end with a bang…

Hackney wide-boy Wayne Anthony had taken Ecstasy while on holiday in Ibiza in 1987. He and his mates had then got the Acid House bug during a night at central London’s Heaven nightclub and set about organising their own parties in underused warehouses under the “Genesis” banner. These would be audacious occasions – some of the first large scale Acid House events. Their key dates were held in Hackney towards the end of 1988.

Wayne Anthony decorating a warehouse in Leaside Road E5

Anthony’s autobiography Class of 88: The True Acid House Experience is a wild ride that juxtaposes loved up ravers with a terrifying array of gangsters and ex-military security firms trying to muscle in on the action.

Location of the Leaside Road warehouse from the back of a flyer

Discovering an empty warehouse with a capacity of 5,000 by the canal on Leaside Road E5, the crew set about preparing for a series of festive events. But things did not go smoothly:

The printer did us 500 flyers and we spent the whole weekend promoting the Christmas Eve gig. Then one morning, just as we were back in the warehouse slogging our guts out to get it finished in time, we were having a spliff break when the entrance door was booted in. It was the big skinhead bloke we’d met on our first visit there.

He had a sawn-off shotgun in his hand and was going berserk. ‘You nicked my venue, you cunts,’ he said. ‘Hold on a minute, mate. You either use that shooter or listen to what we have to say,’ I answered. ‘No, you fucking listen: this place is mine, do you understand?’ He walked up to me, pointing the gun at my head. ‘Look, calm down. You were meant to pay the deposit last week but never showed. What did you expect us to do?’ asked ANDY. ‘Where’s the owner?’ the skinhead said, lowering the gun. NUTT! I head-butted him square on the nose and grabbed the arm which held the shooter. Andy took a run and whacked him over the head with a lump of wood. He fell to the floor, dropping the shooter in the process.

Andy quickly picked it up and shoved it in his face. ‘Now you listen and you listen good. We don’t want any trouble. It’s your own fuckin’ fault you lost the gaff, not ours. If you want to see anyone about it see the guvnor.’ He nodded, and we slowly let him up. ‘You’re right, I’m sorry, mate. It’s just when I heard you were in here I thought you were taking the piss’ he said. ‘OK,’ I answered. ‘Look, you better go and not come back unless you want to start a war.’

Wayne anthony – class of 88
Entrance to Leaside Road Warehouse
Interior of Leaside Road warehouse with Genesis banner
Interior of Leaside Road warehouse

The parties were by all accounts an amazing experience for clubbers. Genesis used thousands of old car tyres that littered the building to build a UV lit entrance tunnel and bar area. Other decor included a huge Christmas tree, parachutes, netting, inflatables & some new white canopies stolen from a nearby building site. Wayne Anthony admits in his book to playing fast and loose with fire regulations and some physical confrontations with local gangsters though.

You can’t stop the music: 1989 onwards

Above: Genesis flyers – NYE 1988, 7th Jan 1989 (both Leaside Road) and 14th Jan 1989 (Waterden Road, Hackney Wick).

Genesis continued to organise raves throughout 1989 and 1990, many of them in Hackney. Wayne’s book explains the increased hassle that the crew faced as they became more successful and well-known.

Other promoters also came to the fore, so here is a random selection of their flyers too:

And the cops continued to play their part in the unfolding drama…

Hackney Gazette 3rd November 1989
Hackney Gazette 11th May 1990

Hackney played its part in the subsequent evolutions of Acid House music too.

Hackney’s reggae soudsystem artists combined with the rave and hip hop scenes through producers like Shut Up and Dance to form the new genre ‘Ardkore, which then mutated into Jungle. Dalston’s legendary reggae nightclub the Four Aces transformed into Labyrynth in 1990 – one of the most legendary rave venues.

Anarchist squat punks took an interest in the new electronic sounds and got on board with acid techno and the free party scene:

But these other stories need to be told at greater length at some other time. It all started in 1988…

All Hackney ravers are welcome to leave comments below if they have memories of those times.

Sources and further reading

Thanks to Mark Metcalf for the scans.

Wayne Anthony – Class of 88:The True Acid House Experience – read online

Wayne Anthony – classof88.co.uk – website with flyers, blog, merch etc.

This vidcast is an excellent and very detailed oral history of the Leaside Road raves:

This connection between anarcho-punk and techno is explained comprehensively in the expansive Crass Go Disco by Expletive Undeleted.

I’d also recommend Datacide magazine generally, for reading around the politics of dance music. Some good places to start would be:

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

Wolcott – Hackney’s Black TV Cop Series (1981)

Wolcott was a four-part TV drama produced by Black Lion Films. 13 million people watched when it was broadcast – on ITV, 13th-15th of January 1981. There were no repeats.

The show was shot in and around Hackney. Its locations and cast of up and coming Brit actors give it a certain cachet for middle aged nostalgics like myself. (Black Lion Films also produced the better known Bob Hoskins gentification-of-old-London feature film The Long Good Friday, released in the same year.)

Detective Constable Winston Churchill Wolcott is a recently decorated plain clothes copper who has been reassigned to a troubled, but unnamed, London borough. He’s played by George William Harris (now best known for his role as Kingsley Shacklebolt in the Harry Potter franchise). The police station is “played” by, er, Hackney Town Hall, disorientatingly:

The series was directed by Colin Bucksey (later to direct some episodes of Breaking Bad) and written by Patrick Carroll and Barry Wasserman (who would later be a huge figure in music videos – see the link for a 2014 obituary). All three were white, and both writers were American, which raised some eyebrows – but more of that later.

Plot & Locations

Wolcott is promoted to Detective Constable after single-handedly foiling an armed robbery. His reward is also to be transferred to an all-white police station in inner London. On the way to the station, he walks past Caribbean House and is admired by some young women:

Wolcott’s reception by his new colleagues varies from cold, to out and out hostility. He finds a toy monkey bearing a racist slogan in his locker. Christopher Ellison (later The Bill’s DI Burnside) plays a sneaky bent cop. Rik Mayall plays a thick racist cop. In an early scene, an Asian man at the is interrogated by the station’s reception desk officers whilst bearing a head injury – in a chilling echo of the death of Michael Ferreira in 1978.

There is a brittle relationship in the district between established white gangsters and newer black criminals – who in turn have a complicated relationship with the local black community: “I don’t know if you want to be Malcolm X – or Fagin!”

The main Black baddie Reuben Warre is played expertly by Raul Newney, assisted by a flamboyant rollerskating character named “Headphones” played by Archie Pool, who was a fixture of classic Black British films like Pressure and Babylon.

There are also some not-so-great portrayals of Jewish nightclub owners and betting office managers. In Wolcott, young women are mainly decorative and old women mainly victims of violence, as was fairly typical of TV of the era. The female lead is a sassy American liberal journalist played by Christine Lahti, who operates as Wolcott’s fractious sidekick and local guide.

Episode one features some local street politics:

Alexei Sayle did a wonderful turn as a Socialist Worker-type street orator being heckled by Keith Allen’s Hackney NF yob.  This sequence was filmed on location in Dalston’s Ridley Road Market: a site we thought apposite, as it had been the scene of anti-fascist/Mosley-ite clashes in the 1930s.  

Patrick carroll

(As far as I know, the NF never dared sell papers in Ridley Road in the 1980s, favouring Brick Lane and Islington’s Chapel Market instead).

Episode two includes cricket action on Hackney Marshes and crown green bowling action which might be in Clissold Park or Springfield Park? The Shiloh Pentecostal Church on Ashwin Street, Dalston also features with its distinctive red exterior.

A blues party on “Albion Road” is raided by the cops whilst Mikey Dread’s classic “Break Down The Walls” is playing on the soundsystem. Brit reggae legends Aswad play a live set in a Dalston Junction nightclub.

Episode three has a scene at a posh garden party in Hampstead with some conspicuous anarchist squatter punks:

There’s also a large carnival procession which I assume was a real event that the TV crew tail-ended? You also get a scene in F Cooke Eels of Hoxton Street.

Episode four is set mainly at night, which make it quite difficult to discern the locations. There is some action by the canal though.

Throughout the series there are various estates (Haggerston West?), pubs, streets and lock ups that I’ve not been able to identify – if you can: please leave a comment below!

Wolcott: The Verdict

Producing groundbreaking TV in the midst of a culture war will win you few friends.

The critical reaction to Wolcott was, to put it mildly, mixed.  Opinions ranged from that of a Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan police who had been asked to vet the scripts and who told us sourly that the entire enterprise was a straight forward party political broadcast for the Left, to the opinion expressed by the then television critic of the Observer that the production looked like it had been financed by the National Front. 

patrick carroll
TV Times

Listings magazine the TV Times was characteristically uncritical and gushing:

“He’s big, he’s black. In his own unequivocal terms he’s a ‘classy dude’. The name is Winston Churchill Wolcott and he is Britain’s first black television detective to get a show of his own.”

Brenda Polan in The Guardian noted that “The storyline… is slightly slowed by the necessity to fill in the sociological details for a television audience mostly used to seeing black actors as shallow stereotypes.”

Hackney Peoples Press didn’t really agree, pointing out that in the show “the black population of Hackney was seen to be almost entirely composed of drug-dealers, muggers and criminals – and other racist stereotypes”. The same article reported that Hackney Council for Racial Equality would be taking the matter up with the production company, ATV.

A more in depth critique came from four black film makers – Imruh Caeser, Henry Martin, Colin Prescoed and Menelik Shabazz. Their initiial thoughts appeared in this review:

Free Press #6 March 1981

A longer piece by the four appeared in Grass Roots: Black Community News – this was then reprinted in two books dealing with black representation and racism in the British media:

“For years we’ve complained that we are grossly under-represented in TV drama, documentary and popular entertainment. And for years our actors have complained that they should be offered full character parts, rather than female servants, studs, and crowd fillers. But if Wolcott is a sign of the band-wagons being offered for exposure and stardom – we must refuse and so must our actors.

Wolcott was written and produced to a formula, and although it looked as though it was shot on location in London’s black community, it was really not about nor in the interests of any part of the black communities in Britain. Black viewers will have recognised the faces, but not the lines – black youth don’t sit in parks chanting ‘pig, pig, pig, pig…’ when police, black or white, walk past.”

Patrick Carroll’s addresses some of these concerns in his essay:

“The idea of presenting genuine (as opposed to cardboard cut-out) black villains and disaffected African-Caribbean youths was seen as provocative and, paradoxically, by some as a betrayal of the cause of racial equality.  There were, of course, a few vociferous sections of the black community holding that we, as white writers – and Yanks to boot – had no right to even approach the subject and its characters.  We thought at the time ‘the hell with that!’ and I still do.”

Carroll goes on to suggest that the black actors on the show had more agency than its critics might have believed:

“Perhaps the most inane comment on the show came from Trevor Phillips when he complained that some of the black actors’ accents were inconsistent.  It didn’t seem to have occurred to Phillips that this was intentional, the writers and actors being aware – as any reasonably wide-awake school teacher could have told him – that the intonations used by an African-Caribbean adolescent when speaking to his parents, peers, pastors, police, teachers or any other authority figures were so different as to constitute separate languages.  What several of the black actors who had incorporated this knowledge into their portrayals had to say about Phillips after hearing his remarks is even now unprintable.” 

Aftermath

The original plan for a 13 part series never came to fruition. Carroll suggests, plausiblly, that this was partly because of the wide-ranging negative responses to the pilot, with some secondary issues around the restructuring of ATV’s franchise.

Wolcott, since its first and only network broadcast, became a skeleton pushed into the furthest recesses of the British television closet.  Halliwell’s Television Companion contains no entry for Wolcott while erroneously naming the BBC series The Chinese Detective as the first police drama to feature an ethnic minority hero.

patrick carroll

A no-frills Wolcott DVD and Blu-Ray was released in 2015, with the publicity majoring on Rik Mayall’s involvement. Mayall had died the year before, but only had a minor role in the series. A Sight and Sound review by Robert Hanks noted:

“The American writers… bring an awareness of the interaction of policing and politics rarely found in British cop dramas, even if the detail is not always convincing. The sexual politics have dated worse than the racial; towards the end the plot feels rushed and illogical. But it is still a very welcome rediscovery.”

My own view is that Wolcott is an incredible curiousity. It has merit simply on the basis of being a visual document of Hackney in the early 1980s. Its problems – and there are many of them – are partly balanced out by the discussions it provoked. The criticisms of well-meaning white liberals by black radicals are essential reading and an indication of a generation finding its own voice and not taking any shit. I don’t wholeheartedly agree with all of Patrick Carroll’s reflections, but his sincerity and affection for a bold project he was involved with 40 years ago is compelling.

But you can make up your own mind, dear reader. At the time of writing all four episodes of Wolcott are available to watch for free on Youtube, or very cheap on the British Film Institute site.

Sources and further reading

Patrick Carroll – Wolcott Revisited: Rattling a Skeleton in the British Television Closet (2011) – One of Wolcott’s writers reflects on the show following its release on DVD and Blu-Ray.

“Wolcott Offends” – Hackney Peoples Press #65 February 1981 p7. (Here).

Phil Cohen & Carl Gardner (eds) It Ain’t Half Racist Mum: Fighting racism in the media (Comedia/CARM 1982) p34-41

Therese Daniels & Jane Gerson (eds) The Colour Black: Black Images In British Television (British Film Institute, 1989) p76-84

Imruh Caesar, Henry Martin, Colin Prescod, Melenik Shabaz – “Wolcott: Meet The First Black Prince of the Police” (reprinted in the two books above along with a Guardian piece on the show)

Free Press: Bulletin of the Campaign for Press Freedom #6 March 1981 [PDF Here]

Sergio Angelini – Wolcott (1981) BFI Screenonline

Robert Hanks – Wolcott DVD review (Sight & Sound, October 2015, p108)

Hackney’s top cops – in their own words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernard Taffs

Chief Superintendent

Hackney & City Road

police stations, London E5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commander David Mitchell, the NF and Tariq Ali

Commander David Mitchell with some atypically positive press coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hackney Peoples Press #58 July 1980

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

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

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

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

Commander Bill Taylor and the death of Colin Roach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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