Police attack Hackney protest against repressive legislation (1994)

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
Arrests outside the town hall – photo by Nick Cobbing for Squall magazine

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.

There were several large “Kill The Bill” demonstrations in central London throughout 1994, culminating in a riot at Hyde Park in October. For more information on this and wider resistance to the CJA, I recommend Neil Transpontine’s Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95 in Datacide magazine issue 13.

Summer 1994 in Hackney

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

Defend The 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 “named squat” was Park Crescent – on the south side of Clissold Park and featured in a Spin magazine article about squatting and Hackney Homeless Festival. The squat was evicted in August 1994.

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.

Protest for reinstatement of Hackney worker – photo from Public Service Workers’ Network

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:

“Week of Action” ContraFlow Nov/Dec 1994

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.

Events last week in Bristol remind us that there is a fine tradition in this country of opposing the introduction of repressive legislation – and making it unenforceable if necessary when it is passed.

Thanks to Sparrows Nest Archive and to Steph.

Sources / Further Reading

Criminal Injustice In Hackney – Public Service Workers’ Network #5 October/November 1994 (PDF)

Hackneyed Hypocrisy – The Saga Continues in Squall magazine #8 1994 (PDF)

News From Occupied Hackney – ContraFlow September 1994 (PDF)

Fight The Criminal Justice BillAlien Underground #0 1994

Alternative Media Reveals The Truth And Saves Protesters in Squall magazine #9, Jan/Feb 1995

Fight The Criminal Justice Act – Organise #38 April-June 1995 (magazine of the Anarchist Communist Federation) (PDF)

Council Conspires With Police To Sack Union Activist – Public Service Workers’ Network #6 Spring 1995 (PDF)

Neil Transpontine – Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95 in Datacide magazine #13 2013

Neil Transpontine – These Laws: Up Yours! – Documents Relating to “Revolt of the Ravers”

Past Tense – A Short History of UK Public Order Acts

July 2020 updates

The usual update of recent radical Hackney films, books, campaigns and other things that have caught my eye over the last month…

Above is a lovely life-affirming film of John Rogers‘ walk from Hackney marshes to Stoke Newington earlier this year. John is the author of The Other London: Adventures in the Overlooked City and worked with Iain Sinclair on his London Overground film. The walk includes his compelling commentary about the areas he is navigating and his Youtube channel has a bunch of great films to check out.

This month I have also been enjoying two beautifully produced publications from Rendezvous Projects:

Lightboxes and Lettering: Printing Industry Heritage in East London looks at the premises, processes and people who printed all sorts of things in Hackney, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets and Clerkenwell. There are excellent chapters on radical and community presses (inlcuding Hackney’s Lenthal Road and Calverts) as well as a look at the changing gender roles in the industry. More generally the book is an intriguing overview of the changing face of work in East London.

Sweet Harmony: Mapping Waltham Forest’s dance radio stations, record shops & venues, 1989-1994 is obviousy less focussed on Hackney, but should be of interest to ravers old and new. Many of the pirate stations covered will have had listeners in Hackney and the Dungeons venue on Lea Bridge Road was the site of many a messy night for Hackneyites.

Both publications include a tonne of quotes from people and are lavishly illustrated wth maps, photos, graphics etc. You can order them here.

soon to be removed statue of slave trader John Cass on Jewry Street

Earlier this week Hackney Council announced that the park Cassland Road Gardens would be renamed by local residents. As I’ve pointed out previously, Cassland Road (the site of the gardens) is named after slavetrader John Cass. The renaming of the roads around the park is a longer term project and residents are being invited to put forward their thoughts as part of the council’s wider review.

There is less good news from our neighbours in the generally less progressive City of London. Our comrades at Reclaim EC1 have uncovered a wealth of information about City dignitaries including Lord Mayor of London William Russell recently paying homage to John Cass – and subsequently trying to cover their tracks.

The Happy Man Tree, July 2020.

The Happy Man Tree on Lordship Road is under threat of destruction by property developer Berkeley Homes. The tree appears on the Ordinance Survey map of the area from 1870 and so is at least 150 years old.

As the community campaign to save it points out:

This beautiful London plane tree grows on the public pavement on the North End of Lordship Road on Woodberry grove London N4.

It has survived a century and a half of building development, two world wars, road widening schemes with the arrival of the motor car and, so far, Berkeley Homes. But now, in this latest intervention, this majestic and much – loved tree has been condemned to be cut down by Berkeley homes & Hackney Council.

There is an alternative plan.

Viable alternative plans developed with local people would have allowed the development to go ahead whilst keeping the tree. These were rejected by Berkeley Homes as either too expensive or too complicated.

I’d certainly recommend a visit to the tree and a conversation with the campaigners – or a visit to https://www.thehappymantree.org/ where you can add your name to the petition and find out other ways give your support.

There is currently a petition, a legal challenge and perhaps the prosect of more direct action orientated protest, judging by the nice tree house.

Rush FM raided, 1993

A previous post looks at pirate radio in 1990s Hackney and specifically Rush FM, a station based on the Nightingale Estate in Clapton.

In the summer of 1993, Rush was busted in a high profile raid:

pirateES

Thanks to Steph for sending the scan of this story from the Evening Standard. (Click to enlarge).

I think the many of the claims made in the video and press coverage can be taken with a pinch of salt. People running pirate radio are no angels, but they’re not stupid – so broadcasting on airline or emergency frequencies is a no-no. I think the drugs connection is exaggerated, as is the claim that Rush was so well fortified that the army would have to be called in!

Steph has also uploaded a recording of a Kool FM show recorded the weekend after the raid on Rush. The MCs are in fine form reacting strongly against the media coverage of pirates and denying the drugs connection. See especially around the 23/24 minutes mark for mention of the Evening Standard.

More information on the show, including a tracklist over at Soundcloud.

Kool FM was also originally based around Hackney and Tower Hamlets and is one of the longest running pirates in the world, having broadcast pretty much continuously since 1991 (though I think they moved to internet radio recently). Here is a documentary on Kool and other pirates from 1996 (it includes a police officer from Stoke Newington station on a Station FM phone in!)

Perhaps the last word should go to Dica & Ben Intellect, whose “Can’t Stop The Pirates” samples extensively from the TV news report above:

Pirate Radio in Hackney, early 1990s

Pirate Radio – authentic expression of working class youth culture, but also a right pain in the arse if you happen to live in the same block…

That aside, this is a nice documentary about Rush FM (in what appears to be an abandoned block anyway) with ‘ardkore aplenty. Rush was based on the Nightingale Estate in Clapton.

Amazing that Stoke Newington Police can be talk with a straight face in the film about being “vigorous about the misuse of drugs” when they’d recently been exposed for planting them on people and dealing out of the police station.

More info on Rush FM:

DTI investigators faced one of their toughest jobs yet when they found the pirate station they were attempting to raid barracaded behind a wall of concrete. Rush FM had installed its transmission equipment in a disused flat on the 21st floor of a council tower block in Hackney, East London.

To prevent access, the entrance to the flat had been sealed up with three tons of concrete. Programmes came from a studio some distance away, connected over a radio link.

Contractors called in by the council to enable them to gain access to the flat hit a scaffolding pole wired up to the mains while attempting to drill through the concrete, causing a small explosion. Phials of ammonia and CS gas were also reported to have been found embedded in the concrete. A Police guard was needed to prevent the contractors being attacked while the flat was secured. Hackney Council are currently carrying out work to secure their tower blocks from use by unlicensed stations.

Police have suggested that for the station to go to such lengths to protect itself there must be a drugs link. They say they believe a number of unlicenced stations are part of a network of pay party operators and drug dealers. This has been denied by deejays at Rush FM who say they aren’t making any money out of the hardcore techno station. They also denied that they had installed booby-traps, saying they were simply trying to protect their equipment after facing 10 raids already this year.

Showitzer has an amazing photo of the Nightingale towerblocks here, as well as some gruesome Rush FM recollections.

Hackney Council has some film of a couple of the blocks being blown up in 1998 and 2003.

There’s a slightly weird site about the estate being regenerated here.

See also: Alexis Wolton’s “Tortugan tower blocks? Pirate signals from the margins” from Datacide Magazine.