“Daughters of Amazon” attack Hackney porn shop (1983):
Anti-Apartheid activists attack Barclays Bank on Green Lanes (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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Hackneypreviously.
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.
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:
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.
Tony Gibson was a registered conscientious objector during World War two. He worked initially at an ambulance station in London before heading off for agricultural work in South Wales. Tony made his way back to London in March 1945 (about six months before the end of the war):
“Then I got my cards from South Wales and obtained employment as a carpenter in a firm repairing the bomb-blasted houses in Hackney, East London.
Here again pacifist and anarchist contacts stood me in good stead, for the building firm belonged to pacifists, and most of its workers were Conscientious Objectors of one kind or another – Christian pacifists, members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, anarchists, fringe Trotskyists, and a few deserters from the forces who lived precarious lives without proper identity documents. When inspectors came round, the foreman told these latter characters to make themselves scarce for a while, since they didn’t appear on the firm’s books.
We even had one genuine Fascist, a mild little man who admired Mussolini (who had recently been killed). This fellow had a bad time in arguments with his work-mates, and was threatened with violence to drive him off the job, until a brawny young socialist declared that he would be his protector: ‘A man is entitled to his opinions, however daft'”
Tony Gibson – Burgess Hill School: A Personal Account
I thought this was a really interesting insight into the various strands of radical thought that were floating around in Hackney during the war. Anarchists are often seen as a chaotic destructive force, but this is a good example of one rebuilding people’s homes after they’d been destroyed by the Luftwaffe. This ties in with the hundreds of anarchist squatters in Hackney who would repair and redecorate derelict houses after the war right up to the 1990s.
Tony’s account above is the preamble to a longer piece about his work as a handyman at Burgess Hill Free School in Hampstead which was set up on anarchist-ish principles. This was published in the anarchist journal The Raven in 1987 and can be read on Libcom.
Whilst working as a labourer in Hackney, Gibson was also one of the temporary editorial team of the anarchist newspaper War Commentary, when most of the regular staff were imprisoned in 1945. He went on to some prominence in the field of psychology and remained an anarchist until his death in 2001. Libcom has also republished a Guardian obituary for him with more details of his life.
On 20th July 1994 a lobby of Hackney Council, held by trades union and community groups to protest at the Criminal Justice Bill and the Council’s plan to use the new powers to evict tenants and squatters, was attacked by riot police of the Territorial Support Group. Officers were seen head-butting, punching and kicking protesters, before arresting seven people, some of whom they injured badly.
“Criminal Injustice In Hackney” – Public Service Worker’s Network
What was the Criminal Justice Act?
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was incredibly wide-ranging and repressive (although it did also include lowering the age of consent for “homosexual acts” to 18). The legislation curtailed arrestees’ right to silence, increased police stop and search powers and infamously clamped down on the ability of squatters, hunt saboteurs and ravers to organise.
In May 1994, Hackney Homeless Festival in Clissold Park had concluded peacefully, but revellers were attacked by the TSG afterwards outside the nearby Robinson Crusoe pub (now the Clissold Tavern). Alongside this, there was the day to day harassment of residents by the notoriously bent Stoke Newington police – and a general climate of cracking down on squatting.
All this meant that the demo was pretty lively:
A large demonstration outside Hackney Town Hall on July 20th ended up as a brief occupation inside. Over 250 squatters and supporters gathered to protest against the council’s ‘para-municipal’ eviction squad, the Tenancy Audit Team, and the worryingly right-wing (Labour) Chair of Housing, Simon Matthews. The occupation and disruption of the first full council meeting since the local elections, was broken up by the police, who violently intervened to eject the occupiers.
Hackneyed Hypocrisy – Squall magazine
DefendThe Hackney 7
Those arrested now face serious charges, which could involve heavy fines or imprisonment. Those with the worst injuries have been charged with assaulting the police. All are denying the charges against them.
“Criminal Injustice In Hackney” – Public Service Worker’s Network
The contact address for the Hackney 7 Defence Campaign was the Colin Roach Centre. The charges included criminal damage (to the town hall doors) and obstruction. The Council wouldn’t leave it there though:
The response of Hackney Council to this attack has been to support the police. In an unprecedented move the Council took out injunctions against those arrested which banned them from council property and a named squat in the borough. This blanket ban would prevent the defendants from using public toilets or housing benefit offices, without written permission.
Likewise, those who work in Hackney would be unable to go to offices of their unions without written permission, or they too would be risking arrest.
“Criminal Injustice In Hackney” – Public Service Worker’s Network
The defendants successfully challenged the Council’s injunctions in court and that part of the case collapsed.
Two of those arrested worked for the Council – one was a teacher and the other worked for Hackney Independent Living Team (HILT) – and was also an active trade unionist. The Council applied political pressure to get these workers sacked before the charges got to court. The police also gave out information to HILT and the media about the arrests, breaching confidentiality.
It appears that John McArthur, the HILT worker, was sacked and I can’t find anything to suggest he was reinstated. It looks like he continued to play an active role in trade union matters in North London, later writing about his experiences with striking JJ Fast Foods workers in Tottenham.
The seriousness of the charges and Council’s victimisation was slightly lightened by the tragic/comic events of another protest later in the year:
Hackney 7 Trial
The trials of the seven people nicked on the Hackney Town Hall demo are now complete. They were arrested during the picket against attacks on squatters and tenants in the borough, and against the then impending Crimjustbill.
The bad news is one bind-over, one conditional discharge and one pleading guilty. The other four got off in exciting courtroom dramas. The cases against Ronnie and Mervyn ended, after a long and fairly positive week of disproving the cops’ stories, when one of our barristers collapsed, and the prosecution decided they couldn’t handle a retrial.
In the other case Simon got off when the magistrate disagreed that the four punches shown on video were ‘reasonable’ restraint as PC Moore claimed, and the prosecution gave up over Jake after the other police witness couldn’t explain his complete invisibility. Countercharges for assault, perjury and conspiracy are planned.
“Hackney Seven Results” – ContraFlow
Simon had been charged with assaulting a police officer, but video footage taken by activists at the protest showed that the reverse was true:
In two cases the judge recommended that video evidence of assaults by members of the Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group (riot squad) be passed on to the Director of Public Prosecutions. We are not holding our breath.
“Council Conspires With Police To Sack Union Activist” – Public Services Workers’ Network
According to the Anarchist Communist Federation, some of the defendants were issued with fines of “up to £3,300”.
The Criminal Justice Act became law on 3rd November 1994. The Labour Party abstained.
A short clip of interviews with HSG activists Norman and Justin about opposition to the Poll Tax and the increased class struggle dimension in the anarchist movement after the miners’ strike.
Hackney Solidarity Group was launched in 1989 and existed until at least 1993. Its main activity was opposition to the poll tax, but it was involved in a number of other local working class campaigns too and had a fine line in exposing council corruption.
The footage above is taken from the film “Dare to Dream: Anarchism in England in History and in Action” directed by Goldsmiths student Marianne Jenkins in 1990. It’s is an interesting overview of veterans like Albert Meltzer, Nicolas Walter and Philip Sansom (all of whom have since died) alongside a new generation of activists from London Greenpeace, the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement and HSG. It even features what looks like a young Roger Hallam of Extinction Rebellion at the 24 minutes mark.
Many issues of Hackney Solidarity Group’s Hackney Heckler newsletter can be now be viewed as PDFs on archive.org. This site includes an introduction to the group as well as scanned versions of the Heckler. (Irritatingly I’ve not got a copy of the issue Justin is holding up in the clip above though…)
The building in question was 27 Stamford Hill, which is now a posh nursery. It caught fire in the early hours of Wednesday 3rd June 1987, eight days before the general election.
The blaze severely damaged the three storey building used by Hackney North and Stoke Newington Conservative Association.
The fire started at at about 3 o’clock this morning and completely wrecked the second floor and the roof. Scotland Yard say traces of petrol were found on an internal staircase leading to the basement. Fire investigation officers are now sifting through the debris for more clues.
The Conservatives say valuable computer equipment was lost as well as 45,000 letters containing election literature that was being sent out to voters. They say they have received threats before.
Thames News – transcript of clip above. Reporter Christopher Rainbow
Chairman of the Conservative Party, Norman Tebbit arrived later that day for a press conference outside the building. He remarked on the wider context of anti-Tory violence during the campaign:
Not far from the gutted building in Stoke Newington is a billboard poster which someone has tried to burn down – and four vans displaying Tory posters were set alight near Vauxhall bridge four days ago.
Inspector Peter Turner went on:
A mob of youths damaged cars bearing Conservative stickers outside Stoke Newington Assembly Hall in nearby Church Street earlier in the evening. But we are not linking the two attacks at the moment.
The Gazette also noted that the Fire Brigade had evacuated women and children from the council-run hostel for single mothers next door.
2. Who was Oliver Letwin and how did he end up in Hackney?
Letwin was born in London in 1956. His parents were conservative academics. He went to Eton and then Cambridge University. After a few years of academia, he joined Margaret Thatcher’s Policy Unit in 1983.
It was Letwin who recommended that the hated Poll Tax be road-tested on Scotland before being inflicted on the rest of the population. (Hackney had its own Poll Tax Riot in 1990 and was number one for non-payment at one point.)
In 1985 he stated (in private correspondence only recently released under the 30 year rule) that the Broadwater Farm riot happened, not because of endemic police racism and poverty, but because of “individual… bad moral attitudes” – and that this was the reason black people were apparently more likely to riot than white people. Therefore these areas should not be invested in as this would “subsidise Rastafarian arts and crafts workshops” and black “entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade.”. He has since apologised for this.
I’ve not been able to find out how Oliver Letwin came to be selected as a Conservative Party candidate in 1987. He mentions in his autobiography that he left Downing Street the day he was selected, but he doesn’t say how that happened. What had Letwin done to piss people off so much that he was given one of the unsafest constituencies in England? Journalist Terry Coleman followed him around on the campaign trail: “In the streets a few people yelled at Mr Letwin to fuck off”. The Independent mentions that “he was chased down the street by a knifeman“.
3. What about the election?
Terry Coleman’s book Thatchers Britain is a travelogue covering the 1987 election. The chapter on Hackney is interesting for a number of reasons, but one of them is that Letwin’s voting base featured two distinct demographics. The first were orthodox Jews in Stamford Hill (where Hackney’s sole Conservative councillors are today). The second were people who would usually vote Labour but weren’t going to this time because of the party’s new candidate – Diane Abbott: “‘You see the colour of my face?’, said one elderly white man. ‘That’s where I’ll be voting'”.
Abbott and the SDP-Liberal Alliance candidate both condemned the arson attack in the HackneyGazette. These two clips show that a few days after the fire there was also vandalism against the Labour Party HQ and that of… Red Front.
The upper clip includes a classic Letwin gaffe: “I’m afraid it’s a very unpleasant place” [awkward pause] “to be campaigning”.
(Lefty trainspotter aside – Red Front was a brief electoral alliance between the middle class academics of the Revolutionary Communist Party and ultra-workerist anti-fascists Red Action. There is an excellent piece about Red Front at New Historical Express. Red Action have cropped up here previously because one of their members who lived in Stoke Newington was convicted for the 1993 IRA bomb attack on Harrods.)
The outcome of the 1987 election in Hackney North and Stoke Newington was definitive. Diane Abbott won with a 7,678 majority. She therefore became the first black woman to be elected to House of Commons and has remained in post ever since. Red Front got 228 votes.
4. So Whodunnit? (aka Wild Speculation)
As far as I’m aware nobody was ever charged with setting the fire, which has lead to some imaginative theories about the identity and motivation of the culprit.
Norman Tebbit was first out of the starting blocks at the press conference in front of the smouldering ruins:
One can only assume if it is arson it was an outrage perpetrated by the extreme Left. I don’t know whether by members of theLabour Party, or the SWP (Socialist Workers Party), or anything else. But what I do know is that all of us in democratic parties would deplore this sort of thing. I’m sure Mr Kinnock would deplore this extremely vigorously. I recollect his vigorous denunciation of violence during the coal strike.
Terry Coleman – Thatcher’s Britain: a journey through the promised lands (Bantam, 1987)
But there were much more dramatic suspects to point the finger at:
There was no real evidence of who did it. But just down the road, Anarchist posters were pasted on the walls. One said “Never Trust A Politician. They Always Lie”. Another, which showed a Rolls Royce being bashed in, said “Let’s Kick Out The Tories? Let’s Kick Them In”.
Terry Coleman – Thatcher’s Britain: A Journey through the Promised Lands (Bantam, 1987)
It’s undeniable that there was a huge counterculture of squatting and anarchist and animal liberation activism in Hackney throughout the 1980s. The account of the fly-posters seems real and people I have met reminisce fondly of consistent low level acts of violent subversion against Barclays Bank (hated for its investment in Apartheid South Africa), butchers’ shops etc. But glueing locks and a bit of fly-posting is several notches down from an arson attack on a major political party during an election, you’d think?
Letwin himself doesn’t hold back from speculating about the culprits in his autobiography:
As I came the next morning to the point on the road outside the headquarters, I could see that there was something wrong. Gradually, I focused on the fact that what was wrong was the headquarters building itself. Not to put too fine a point on it, the building wasn’t there any more. It- and all the hand-addressed election manifestoes within – had been burned to the ground.
It was considered to be a case of arson, and it seemed at least possible that whoever had done it might have been associated with, or perhaps inspired by, a now defunct organisation known as Class War. Class War (though not directly participating in the election on the grounds that elections were bourgeois conspiracies) had been campaigning actively under the perspicuous slogan “We will bomb, blast and burn every bourgeois out of Hackney”.
Oliver Letwin – Hearts and Minds: The Battle for the Conservative Party from Thatcher to the Present (Biteback Publishing, 2017)
It’s also undeniable that Class War were all over Hackney in 1987. Indeed, the edition of the Hackney Gazette which has the fire as its cover story also features, coincidentally, a full page article on Class War and its anti-yuppie campaign. Which itself raises an interesting issue with Letwin’s accusations above.
The language in Letwin’s quoted Class War slogan is a bit off – and I have not been able to find a source for it other than his book. Class War was infamous for its “tabloid” approach to propaganda and its unlikely that they would have used the word “bourgeois” – directing their bile instead at yuppies, cops and the rich. Similarly “bomb, blast and burn” seems like an incitement to individual terror that was out of step with the organisation’s fetishism for collective working class violence (like rioting) – and their understandable desire not to get nicked for incitement.
Also, oddly for anarchists, Class War did actually stand a candidate in the 1988 Kensington by-election – and more recently put up seven candidates in the 2015 general election.
I remain unconvinced that “people associated with” Class War in particular, or non-specific anarchists in general, burned down the Hackney Tory HQ in 1987. I think that’s a bit of neat scapegoating and misjudges the often wide gap between insurrectionary propaganda and actual anarchist deeds. Mind you, I doubt there were many anarchists who were upset by it at the time.
Just as plausible non-anarchist options:
Far right? Letwin is Jewish and as we have seen, ten years earlier fascists were trying to burn down Centerprise.
Disgruntled party activist? Being a Hackney Tory must bring its own tensions and internal disputes and who I am to discount an “inside job”?
Criminal/insurance? The front cover headline of the Hackney Gazette the week after was “Man Dies In Shop Blaze” which the paper feels could have been part of “a string of arson attacks” on empty shop properties in Dalston.
One of the countless victims of eight years of Thatcherism? The circle of suspicion would be quite wide in an increasingly impoverished borough, where Tories are told to fuck off in street or chased by knife-wielding assailants.
Walter Southgate was a member of Hackney Trades Council and the Social Democratic Federation at the turn of the Century. He remembers:
“We wanted to stir up the middle classes. So we organised a corps of men; we all put on masks and with George Oram, who was a very tall painter, leading us with a red flag on a long pole, we walked all around the toffee-nosed areas of Hackney”. Many carried placards with various slogans on while “one bloke had a kettle drum and another had a bugle.”
(From Rebels With a Cause: The History of Hackney Trades Council 1900-1975 by Barry Burke)
Walter expands on this in his excellent autobiography “That’s The Way It Was” (New Clarion Press, 1982):
In a local effort at Hackney during this pre-war period, I remember the local socialists decided that only shock tactics would frighten the smug middle class voters out of their skins. It was an easy salve to their consciences by constantly saying that the unemployed were work shy; therefore, shocks would get some at least to appreciate the dangers and explosive nature of social discontent.
George Oram, a veteran of the Boer War, was to lead a poster parade through the wealthier parts of Hackney and I was deputed to prepare the posters, the markings on which would be skull and cross bones, skeletons, starving children and other macabre stuff.
There were 12 of us, with George at the head wearing his medals and carrying a large red flag, the latter calculated to send shivers down the spines of comfortable drawing room viewers. Each sandwichman carried a poster fore and aft and wore a mask for fear of victimisation. At the rear of the procession a comrade blew a blast on his bugle at intervals.
In the meanwhile any unemployed fellows were ostentatiously busy ringing at door bells and pushing handbills into letterboxes explaining that unemployment was a social responsibility and could not be salved or solved by charity and soup kitchens but by government action. We carried no collection boxes as a sign of our sincerity.
As a publicity stunt, with a moral and educational purpose, this was something new and it brought us many recruits from this quarter of the borough.
There is a brief and very interesting biography of Walter Southgate by our comrades at Hayes Peoples History here.
I’ve not been able to find out more about George Oram or the slogans, yet…
(The UK anarchist group Class War organised “Bash The Rich” marches in the eighties, commencing with one on Kensington on May 11th 1985 – and the revived the tactic in 2007 with a march through Notting Hill. Class War’s inspiration was from the American anarchist Lucy Parsons though.)
It was squatted in 1988 and used as a social centre. A previous entry on this blog covered the famous skateboard ramps there – a good example of squatters meeting a social need for local kids.
The bookshop at Lee House was also the origin of Active Distribution – veteran Hackney based distributors of anarchist and punk material, who are still going strong 28 years later. (although they are having some problems with their website today – oops!). Strike magazine has done a good interview with Jon Active about the distro’s history and philosophy.
Leeds-based anarchopunk fanzine Raising Hell covered the eviction of Lee House in its 21st issue, which seems to have been published in 1990:
“Many of you will have heard of “LEE HOUSE”, a squatted community centre in Stoke Newington, London, which for nearly a year provided services such as a cheap veggy cafe, book/record shop, community printing, video shows, health care course, exhibitions, skateboard ramp etc.
Well Hackney Council decided to evict it at the end of last August, though recognising it did provide services to the local community, claimed they (social services), had no other empty buildings in the area (bullshit). The place was going to be turned into a day centre for disabled people meant that it was decided to not resist eviction permanently, but to show token resistance as protest against the council’s policy of cutting services.
There was a lot of leaflets distributed around London & the rest of the country asking for help, though by the night before the amount turned up was depressingly small. The building was barricaded, and things prepared to chuck at bailiffs etc. Not quite sure what (if anything?) was decided at the meeting. Next morning only one (top) bailiff turned up, with someone from the council, got a bucket of nasty things emptied over his head, banners went out, leaflets explaining situation given out to passers by & the media contacted. Bailiff went off to clean up after threatening to come back later with lots more.
The councillor hung around looking pissed off & even more pissed off when she got paint chucked at her. Rest of the morning was fairly uneventful. At about 1 o’clock there was no sign of reinforcements so it was decided to go down to Hackney town hall & occupy it. The decorators in the hall next to the balcony were given the afternoon off and the doors blocked up. Banners put out and lots of noise made, it got reports on south east TV and some local newspapers and the pigs got everyone after a couple of hours with no arrests.”
Occupation of Town Hall to protest against the eviction – taken from Hackney Anarchy Week programme
Any more memories, photographs, etc of Lee House’s glorious occupation in the late eighties would be very welcome – leave a comment below or get in touch.
Spycop John Dines aka ‘John Barker’ is rumoured to have been involved with Lee House – the Undercover Research Group is trying to build profiles of spycops, so get in contact with them if you came across him.
edit Jan 2015: This is now available in better resolution:
Or worser resolution as orginally posted here:
Some kind soul has uploaded the Hackney Anarchy Week film to Youtube. You might want to view it as “full screen” though, as it’s slightly low resolution.
The film includes:
Mr Social Control
Small Press Book Fair
Reclaim the Streets & Critical Mass
McDonalds Picket in support of the McLibel Campaign
The Association of Autonomous Astronauts
Ken Loach at the Rio – Interview
and a host of others. The film necessarily focuses on the more visual and social aspects of the festival (demos, gigs, performances etc) rather than the meetings and discussions.
It was shot throughout the festival and then shown as a rough cut on the last night in the small theatre above the Samuel Pepys pub (next door to the Hackney Empire). A VHS video was available for sale shortly after the festival had finished.
It’s good to see a number of familiar faces appear, many of whom are still active in 2013 and a couple of whom have sadly passed away over the last 17 years.
Harry Stanley’s widow Irene and other friends and family organised as the Justice for Harry Stanley campaign.
The campaign succeeded in getting the initial inquest’s “open verdict” overturned. In November 2004 a new jury returned a verdict of “unlawful killing”.
The two officers who shot Harry Stanley were then suspended from duty. This resulted in a protest from fellow armed Metropolitan Police officers, 120 of whom handed in their gun permits. This lead to a “a review of procedures for suspending officers” concluding that the two officers could return to work, although on for “non-operational duties”.
In May 2005 the verdict of “unlawful killing” was itself overturned in the High Court, reinstating the original “open verdict”.
The two officers were arrested and interviewed, but in October 2005 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press charges because there was insufficient evidence to contradict the officers’ claims that they were acting in self-defence.
The investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission also recommended that no further disciplinary action be taken against the two officers, but was critical of the way that they had conferred in the process of making their notes about the shooting. Indeed the IPCC recommended that police officers should give video recorded statements immediately after events rather than making their own notes in collaboration with others.
On 22 September 1999 a middle-aged Scottish man, Harry Stanley, was shot dead by the police in east London, a short distance from his home. He was unarmed, and his shooting caused considerable anger locally. Class War spoke to a friend of Harry’s who has been involved in the campaign to obtain justice for both Harry and the Stanley family.
Can you tell us the circumstances of how Harry Stanley died? Harry, not long out of hospital after having a tumour removed was returning from his brother’s house with the now famous table leg. He stopped for a drink in the Alexandra pub. When he left somebody phoned the police to say an Irish man had left the pub with a sawn off shot gun. Harry is then challenged by the cops and shot once in the hand and once in the head.
Although this took place less than 100 yards from his home it took 18 hours for the police to inform his family, even though he had clear identification on him. A postmortem was carried out without the consent of the family, which is illegal.
What have your relations been like with the Metropolitan Police since the shooting? Have they offered an apology and compensation? Our relations have been hostile. No apology or compensation has been offered, whilst the officers concerned remain unnamed and on the beat.
At one stage letters strongly criticising the campaign started appearing in the local media. What was all that about? A bloke called Yasmin Fyas had been slagging off the campaign in the Hackney Gazette letters page. No one called Yasmin Fyas lives at the address given – the campaign believes the police were using this as an alias to slag us off.
Has there been a lot of support from local people? Yes all the demonstrations we have organised have been well attended and with ‘real people’ from Hackney, not just the usual leftie types.
What are your objectives? What can be achieved in that for any conviction to occur the police will not only have to investigate but charge and then get a conviction of fellow officers? We have three main demands:
A fully independent public enquiry
The police officers responsible sacked and charged with murder
Armed Response Units taken off the streets of Britain
If the campaign is strong enough it is possible to get charges laid – other campaigns like the Jim Ashley campaign show this.
Twenty years ago if something like this had happened there would have been a riot. Do you think the working class has now accepted police violence to a certain extent? The police had phoned Diane Abbot MP before they even told the family. That shows they were scared of the community response. People think everybody kicked off all the time in the 1980s but that was not always the case.
Given that this is one case amongst many historically – is it worth putting pressure on people with power because they have never shown any indication of changing for the better? Don’t you think an eye for an eye is a principle response? We need to fight for justice and to expose the system like the Stephen Lawrence case did. Revenge would not work – if they lose one cop they just replace them with another.
Are there any similarities between the police’s role in say industrial disputes and their wider role in working class areas of the big cities? Yes there is. If you look at the way drugs raids are used to put on a show of the police’s force in working class areas. They could easily go off to rich areas and arrest people with cocaine, instead of teenagers with a bit of dope.
If what the police are about is discipline and oppression, surely we should be opposing their very existence? Yeah, but not everybody in the campaign would agree – especially the Vicar from Bethnal Green!
What advice would you give to other families who go through this type of terrible trauma? The best way to get over it is to fight and organise. Link with other campaigns but make sure you involve the unions to get money!
Nearly two years down the line – where does the campaign go next? Legally a Judicial Review of the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to prosecute the officers concerned. Harry’s family are going on a national speaking tour with with other families campaigning for justice. This will lead up to a huge demonstration in October/November time. We don’t want to give too many details away right now but it will be lively!