The Provisional IRA in Stoke Newington

The Angry Brigade are not the only bombers to have lived in N16…

balcombe-st-siege-10th-december-19751

1970s: Balcombe Street siege

An Active Service Unit of the IRA wreaked havoc during a 14 month campaign in London in 1974-1975. Hugh Doherty, Martin O’Connell, Eddie Butler, Brendan Dowd, Henry Duggan and Liam Quinn were responsible for 40 explosions and 35 deaths.

Their targets included pubs frequented by the armed forces, military barracks, Harrow school (no injuries), expensive restaurants in the West End and the house of Prime Minister Edward Heath.

The group also killed “Record Breakers” star and right wing political activist Ross McWhirter, who had offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to convictions for the bombings (as well as campaigning to make it mandatory for all Irish people in Britain to have to register with their local police station).

After the Metropolitan Police’s Commissioner Robert Mark made an appeal for help, a member of the public tipped off the cops about some suspicious people in a flat in Stoke Newington…

On 6th of December O’Connell, Butler, Duggan and Docherty stole a Ford Cortina and drove past Scott’s Restaurant in Mayfair, firing shots through the window. They were pursued by the police, eventually going to ground in a council flat in Balcombe Street, Marylebone, taking its two residents hostage and demanding safe passage to Ireland. The Balcombe Street Siege would last for six days before the hostages were freed and the four IRA men surrendered.

O’Connell and Duggan lived in a flat at 99 Milton Grove, Stoke Newington, which was raided by the police on 17th December 1975.

Here is a photo of the bath in the Milton Grove flat – explosives and bomb making equipment were stored underneath it:

bath

(NB: I couldn’t get the Getty Images “embed” function to work, so grudging apologies to them).

Notes suggesting a wide array of possible future targets were also discovered at the flat.

During the trial at the Old Bailey, Martin O’Connell made a speech from the dock to explain the actions of the group – and also to state that the recently imprisoned Guildford Four were innocent and had been falsely convicted for bombings that he and others had committed. The Guildford Four remained in jail despite this, eventually having their convictions overturned in 1989 after fourteen years of campaigning.

The “Balcombe Street Gang” received sentences of at least 30 years each, but were released from prison in April 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

1990s: Bombing of Harrods

harrods

harrods2

14th November 1992 – A large blue lorry was stopped on Stoke Newington Road by two police officers. The lorry contained 3.2 tonnes of explosive – the largest IRA bomb at that time. After some confusion and a chase in which one of the police officers was shot, an Irishman named Patrick Kelly was arrested. He pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder of a police officer and conspiracy to cause explosions. He was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years.

January 28th 1993 – An IRA bomb was detonated in a rubbish bin outside Harrods causing extensive damage to the building and injuries to four people – it was shortly before opening time. (NB: The IRA had bombed the shop 10 years previously with more devastating results).

2nd March 1993 – Following the release of CCTV images from outside Harrods, police raided the basement flat of Patrick Hayes in Walford Road, Stoke Newington. They found 22lb of Semtex, hand-guns, a sock full of bullets, several electronic detonators and timing devices, and keys to a lock-up garage in Muswell Hill from which home-made explosive were later recovered. Hayes and Jan Taylor were arrested in the flat – Taylor fired three shots at the policemen, but missed.

This (silent) news clip has footage of the exterior and interior of the flat from 1:19 onwards:

And this one includes an eyewitness account of the raid by a passerby:

May 1994 – Hayes and Taylor were both sentenced to 30 years for the Harrods bombing (and of a Victoria to Ramsgate train). Hayes was also linked forensically to other bombings using lorries, such as the one causing £350 million damage to the Baltic Exchange. Hayes announced in the courtroom that it was he that had been driving the lorry which was stopped by the police in Stoke Newington in November 1992 and that Patrick Kelly had been falsely imprisoned “on the basis of his nationality”.

Coverage of the trial focused on Hayes’ nationality instead – he was English, an usual background for an IRA bomber. He was also a member of Red Action:

In Hayes’s flat, police found literature associated with Red Action – a splinter of the Socialist Workers’ Party, founded in 1981 – and a copy of the Irish Republican News, as well as anti-fascist material.

The Independent

More precisely, Red Action was formed by militant working class anti-fascists who had been expelled by the SWP for “Squaddism” (i.e. physically confronting fascists) in the early eighties.

A further article in The Independent from a few years later covers the group’s forthright support for anti-fascism, Irish Republicanism and pro-working class politics – as well as Hayes’ membership.

Indeed, Red Action included a transcript of Hayes’ speech from the dock on the cover of the next issue of their paper, alongside a photograph of him kicking a fascist in the 1980s:

ra1001cover

(All issues of the Red Action paper are available as PDFs at the Red Action archive along with other material. The short autobiography of the group might be the best place to start.)

Whereas Martin O’Connell’s testimony about the innocence of the Guildford Four is now widely accepted, Hayes’ revelations about Patrick Kelly seem less definitive.

All I have been able to discover is that Jeremy Corbyn MP (whatever happened to him?) would successfully campaign in 1996 to get medical treatment for Kelly’s skin cancer which had been neglected by the prison authorities. Despite this intervention, Kelly seems to have died a year later – and was celebrated as an IRA Volunteer in 1998.

Like O’Connell and the Balcombe Street Gang, Hayes and Taylor were also released from prison in 1999 under the Good Friday Agreement.

Shots fired at Hackney Council meeting, 1986

Glasgow Herald, October 23rd 1986

Glasgow Herald, October 23rd 1986

There is a news report about the incident here, which includes a recording of the ruckus:

The reporter expresses his surprise at the calm response of the Sinn Féin delegates. I think some context would probably explain that:

The speaker, Alex Maskey, joined the Provisional IRA at the outbreak of The Troubles in 1969. He was a barman and amateur boxer (losing only four times in 75 fights).

Maskey was interned twice in the 1970s and went on in 1983 to become the first Sinn Féin member to sit on Belfast City Council during the troubles. Whatever you think of his politics, being a lone voice on the council and a very public member of Sinn Féin at that time must have taken some balls. Indeed Alex Maskey survived nine genuine assassination attempts, which puts Pierre Royan’s starter pistol into perspective.

Cllr Maskey became Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2002 and was involved with brokering the ETA ceasefire in the Basque region in 2006. He remains active in politics, having recently commented on austerity and the rise of food banks.

Alex Maskey – Wikipedia page

Alex Maskey – The Making of a Mayor

Pierre Royan’s political career looks rather more subdued in comparison. He was elected as a Liberal councillor in Hackney’s Moorfields ward in May 1986, followed by the incident with the starting pistol in October of that year.

According to Wikipedia a by-election was held in March 1987 in Moorfields ward because of Royan’s disqualification as a councillor. I’m not sure if discharging a weapon in the council chamber was the cause of this disqualification, but it doesn’t seem unfair to speculate that it might have been…

Centerprise, An Phoblacht – and a suspect package

Former Centerprise worker Maggie Hewitt writes about our Centerprise mailboxes entry:

I would like to add that Box 13 was for An Phoblacht, the newspaper for [Sinn Féin -ed] the political wing of the IRA.

archives-650

In December 1980 or 81, a time when there were quite few IRA bomb scares, there was an incident when just before Xmas we received a package that was clearly not newspapers but  much heavier and box like.

We carried it out of the building and put in in the outhouse at the back of the courtyard outside our building.

The next morning was the Saturday before Xmas, our busiest day for the bookshop, so before opening we contacted the police who arrived within minutes who then contacted the bomb squad who then evacuated the building so we were standing outside the Rio  while they cordoned off the street.

It turned out the possible bomb was a box of  tapes by Christy Moore,  a very political Irish singer who often performed at the Hackney Empire. I think he would have appreciated the story.

Maggie has also contributed some recollections to the excellent A Hackney Autobiography project which is documenting Centerprise.

There’s a lot more to be said about the radical history of the Irish in Hackney. More posts on that eventually I hope – any pointers welcome.

Hackney Gutter Press issue 3, June 1972

3cov

Issue 3 included a cover story about some Irish republicans being arrested in Hackney, extradited to Belfast for interrogation and then returned to London where they were charged with possession of arms and ammunition. After the four had been in prison on remand for eight months, the charges were dropped as it turned out they had been fitted up by a special branch spy cop.

Also:

A one page article on the the beginning of the trial of the Stoke Newington 8. Apparently there were 137 other “Angry Brigade” suspects.

A report back from a meeting of “between two and three hundred women… at the London College of Furniture in Commercial Street in Stepney”. Topics included wages for housework, campaigns to get better wages for cleaners, abortion, contraception, housing struggles.

3claimants

“If he dies it will save us the expense” – apparently the words used by social security staff in response to a campaign to get a 74 year old man some essentials like a dressing gown in readiness for a hospital visit. You can read the full text of the article above.

Kick The Bastards Out – on dole snoopers.

Black Tenants Fight Back – on racist attacks against black families on Haggerston Estate, and a call for white tenants to show solidarity.

Squatting:

3squat

The Story of One Man’s House“Hackney, it seems, has become the centre of interest for the mobile middle class. As everyone who has walked along the streets of the area in the last few months is aware, houses in Hackney have become the latest in fashion. The news has even got as far as the pages of the ‘Sunday Times’ who ran a story in the Magazine several weeks ago in which Stoke Newington, Hackney and Dalston were named as areas that are likely to become fashionable in the next few years. This is even more amazing in that the area has not got a single tube line going through the area, and if the GLC and British Rail have their way there will be one more motorway and one less rail line. The area is however beside the fashionable Islington and it is in direct line between the West End and the proposed new airport.”

The article goes to relate the story of someone trying to purchase a house on their road for £3,400 but getting gazumped by a developer who gives it a lick of paint and puts it back on the market for £13,000. Google says the same house is currently valued at £600,000…

Dockers and Containers – on the dockers’ strike and continuing picket of the Midland Cold Storage co, Waterden Lane (Hackney Wick, now slap bang in the Olympic Park).

Also poems, details of folk clubs, letters (including one of the Grosvenor Avenue arrestees referred to in the previous issue, who got a one year suspended sentence), small ads, an appeal for more people to get involved with laying out and distributing the paper.

Breaking Ground: The Story of the London Irish Women’s Centre

9462417345_eae41b78eb_b

Photo by Alan Denney from his highly recommended Flickr site.

London Irish Women’s Centre was at 59 Stoke Newington Church St from the early eighties until 2012.

“Breaking Ground” is a film about the history of the centre, which is being shown on 24th of November as part of the Irish Film Festival London. The bad news is that it’s happening on the other side of town, at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith! More info and ticket details here.

Trailer and blurb:

This unique documentary presents a new chapter in the history of Diasporas in the UK. Made by an all women crew it tells the fascinating story about the rise and fall of the London Irish Women’s Centre, a radical organisation based in North London from 1983 – 2012. Featuring unique archive material, the documentary intercuts eighteen different interviews with women involved in the organisation over its rich twenty-nine year history. The London Irish Women’s Centre was founded to provide an alternative cultural and political space for women to be Irish, supporting and representing all women in London who identified themselves as Irish, regardless of politics, religion, colour or class.

The film charts the centre’s activities, from its political and social campaigning to its provision of desperately needed services for Irish women in London. Throughout the 80s Irish women arrived in their droves and towards the end of the decade they made up 10% of the capital’s female population. Many of these women were not simply economic migrants but women in search of an alternative life, away from the repressive predominately Catholic culture of Ireland. Their optimism for a new life was tempered by the reality of life in London. Irish women were among the most disadvantaged ethnic and gender groups in terms of housing and employment. From the organisation of the first Irish Women’s conferences in the UK, to the support of research on Irish women and housing and employment, the London Irish Women’s Centre’s work impacted on the culture and politics of London. The organisation openly discussed and made public, issues pertinent to both women in Ireland and Irish women in London against a backdrop of anti-Irish racism from within the UK and at best indifference from the mainstream Irish community in London.

FILM: The Strange Death of Harry Stanley

Harry Stanley 1953-1999

Harry Stanley 1953-1999

On 22nd September 1999, Harry Stanley was fatally shot by police in South Hackney. A short film about his death has just been made available on Youtube:

Facebook page for the film

Coverage of the film in the Hackney Gazette

INQUEST’s briefing on the death of Harry Stanley [pdf]

Harry Stanley Wikipedia page

harry_stanleys_killers_walk_free_medium

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.

Stanley-Campaign-Statement-9th-February-2006 [pdf]

chimage.php

Interview from Class War issue 81, Summer 2001:

JUSTICE FOR HARRY STANLEY

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:

  1. A fully independent public enquiry
  2. The police officers responsible sacked and charged with murder
  3. 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 support have you had from the families of other people killed or framed by the police?
Loads! I can list the names Paddy Hill, Delroy Lindo, the [Roger] Sylvester family, Christopher Alder. The list could go on and on.

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!

3228115521_54f3d0b76a