Police spied on Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis

Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis, 1978

The Undercover Policing Inquiry into the unethical and illegal practices of spycops is ongoing. It’s well worth keeping an eye on and has revelaed huge amounts of information about police infiltration of radical campaigning groups and political organisations. This can all be harrowing and difficult to keep track of. The fact that the investigation is happening at all – and is being conducted so comprehensively – is a testament to the tenacity and resilience of the victims of spycops.

Inevitably the Inquiry has shed light on police monitoring of and covert involvement in radical movements in Hackney. Previous coverage here is now handily collected together under the spycops tag. The large volume of written and audio testimony means that I can only really skim the surface, but a couple of recent hearings caught my attention.

On 23rd of April the Inquriy heard about the police spying on children. A previous post on this site looked at the inspiring and joyous Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis – children opposing the National Front in the 1970s.

As you can see from the clip below featuring Barrister Kirsten Heaven, it has now emerged that the police spied on these children:

The hearing includes a showing of the Hackney School Kids Against The Nazis newsclip from this website (after some technical difficulties). I was delighted to play a small part in helping the campaign in this way:

This site’s first appearance in court!

(Screenshot from Opening Statement for Tranche One Phase Two on behalf of the co-operating group of non-police non-state core participants.)

That police would routinely spy on children in a democratic society is chilling. But it is even more disturbing that children campaigning against a violently racist and neo-Nazi organisation were treated in this way. The Inquiry has found that about 1000 left wing political organisaitons were spied on, but there is scant information about any far right organisations getting the same treatment from the Special Demonstration Squad. (With the notable exception of one policeman who infiltrated a left wing organisation, which then tasked him with infiltrating a fascist group!)

Even on its own terms, the actual reporting is creepy as fuck in many instances:

One of the features of this phase is the number of reports on school children.142 ‘Gray’ reported on more children than any other officer. Recording the minutiae of their lives and sending them on to MI5. Almost all of these reports have photographs of the children attached. He reports on a 15 year old school-girl, 15 and 13 year old schoolgirls and their parents. In two separate reports he describes the photographed school-boys as “effeminate”. In one report he comments on how much time a school-boy spends at his girlfriend’s house.

The closest ‘Gray’ ever comes to reporting on violence is his note that a school-boy had a fight with his brother.

These children were either the children of Socialist Workers Party members or children who were engaged enough with their society to be part of the School Kids Against the Nazis.

And to justify this he reverts to type and suggests that these children were either subversive or violent. On behalf of Lindsey German and John Rees, who were well aware of the actual activities of School Kids Against the Nazis, we dispute that entirely.

Opening Statement in Tranche 1 Phase 2 on behalf of Richard Chessum and ‘Mary’

This statement goes on to note that whilst the police were spying on innocent school kids, fascist organisations were committing and threatening to commit serious crimes:

In the course of ‘Paul Gray’s’ deployment, Column 88 were threatening to burn down the homes of SWP members. The National Front were attacking Bengalis in Brick Lane, smashing up reggae record shops and graffitiing mosques. They were burning down Indian restaurants and murdering young men like Altab Ali and Ishaque Ali in Whitechapel and Hackney. Whilst they were doing that, Gray and his so called “exemplary” SDS colleagues were writing about what they refer to as “jewish” finance of the Anti-Nazi League, a “negress” activist, an activist with a “large jewish nose” and “coloured hooligans”. Language and views that are beneath contempt.

Instead of investigating the racist firebombing that killed 13 young black people in New Cross, the Special Demonstration Squad were reporting on school children and providing MI5 with copies of Socialist Workers Party baby-sitting rotas.

The full statement that the above is taken from can be read here.

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance’s summary of the proceedings of April 23rd can be read here.

The Inquiry, as they say, continues.

Police Spies Out of Lives is the organisation representing Spycops victims.

Tom Fowler’s twitter feed is an excellent source of information, including pithy live tweets from the Inquiry itself (with a legally imposed ten minute delay).

Spycops in Hackney & Stoke Newington: new evidence

Some useful insights into the recent Spycops hearings from Keith Flett.

Kmflett's Blog

Spycops in Hackney. New Evidence

The existence of Spycops- undercover police officers who report on and infiltrate left-wing, radical and anti-racist organisations has been happening since at least the 1970s in north-east London. From time to time the role of particular individuals is exposed.

https://hackneyhistory.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/police-spies-in-hackney/

The latest round of hearings in the long running (& on its current timescales never ending) Spycops Inquiry in London which is covering the period of the 1970s and early 1980s has posted on it’s a website a mass of documentation.

One report relates to a meeting on 24th August 1983 between an unnamed officer and DCI David Short of the SDS (Special Demonstration Squad):

The meeting discussed a replacement for Spycop HCN108 who was to be Spycop HCN88 because of what it describes as ‘continuing problems’ in Hackney and Stoke Newington.

Interest was expressed in 50 Rectory Rd N16 the HQ of…

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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

Police attack Hackney’s striking workers (1990 & 1991)

Police violence against Hackney’s afro-Caribbean community in the 1980s and 1990s is a matter of historical fact, but of course the cops’ racism and criminality didn’t end there…

Background

In 1989 over 4,500 refugees had come to Hackney fleeing the war in Kurdistan. They joined another twenty to thirty thousand Turkish-speaking workers in east London. Almost none of these workers were unionised and no major union had thought to change this. For example, none had ever appointed a Turkish speaking official. But some of these refugees had brought revolutionary traditions from the cities and villages of Turkey and Kurdistan – and they arrived in Hackney at a point where a lot of people were open to political struggle and solidarity.

The 1991 census figures showed that 10,500 people in Hackney worked in manufacturing (as opposed to 12,000 manufacturing jobs solely in the clothing industry in 1981 – and just 3,000 in manufacturing in total in 2019). Many of these jobs were in the textile sweatshops which were dotted around the borough. (See our previous post on working conditions in these for women in the early 1980s)

Call for help leaflet included in Hackney Trade Union News

1989: Protests Against Deportations

On Monday, February 27 1989, the police raided a number of factories in Hackney and arrested 38 Kurdish and Turkish workers. By the next day, seven had been deported and a further fourteen were under threat. This action came in the wake of a wave of raids across North and East London.

The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) clothing branch alongside community and political groups organised immediate protest action: a mass picket of Dalston police station on March 4th. This was followed by a 3,000 strong march the next day and an International Women’s Day march through Hackney under the slogans ‘No Worker is Illegal’, ‘Right to Settle, Right to Work’, ‘No More Deportations’ and ‘No to Police Raids’.

Hackney anti-deporation protest 4th March 1989

Hackney Union News reported at the time:

Factory bosses have used this background [of anti-immigrant sentiment and police harassment] to intensify exploitation. They have been met by increasing struggles over the right to organise in trade unions, and over wages and conditions.

These struggles have led to the formation of the North and East London TGWU textile branch no. 1/1312. The branch will require committed support from the TGWU against the attacks it will face, including trade unionists being shopped to immigration authorities by employers, and in the battles that lie ahead over recognition.

Hackney Union News May/June 1989

1/1312 branch was formed at the initiative of the political organisation, the Union of Turkish Workers, with the assistance of Hackney Trade Union Support Unit and Service Workers Advisory Project (SWAAP). One year later, it had recruited almost 600 workers locally…

Picket at Bacton Fashions

1990: Bacton Fashions strike

Bacton Fashions in Someford Grove, Dalston, was a relatively large clothing sweatshop employing up to 90 workers. It was located in an industrial unit along with other clothing sweatshops. Workers from the different firms used the same entrance to go to work.

Most of Bactons workers were Turkish or Kurdish, had been living in Britain for less than a couple of years and were waiting for a Home Office decision on their rights to remain in the UK. Within the factory there were some members of TGWU’s new 1/1312 textile workers branch.

A series of small-scale strikes had led to a union recognition agreement being signed at Dizzi Limited in nearby Well Street. There were regular leafleting sessions of factories and meetings on workers’ rights at community centres.

The workers at Bacton Fashions had many complaints about low pay, long hours, terrible health and safety conditions, no holiday or sick pay, victimisation, continuous lay-offs without pay and a management prepared to act dictatorially.

When eight workers at Bacton Fashions refused to accept being ‘laid off’ they began picketing. Appeals to other workers to respect their picket line were met sympathetically, but little else. The employer, Mustafa Dill, was sufficiently embarrassed to re-employ the workers and to agree to lay off pay during slack periods. However, he kept breaking his word and there were almost daily walkouts over the next few weeks, as agreements were reached then broken once again.

During a longer strike, it became traditional at the end of the working day for workers from all the firms in the industrial unit to join with the strikers and jeer and handclap the boss and his managerial team as they left work. There was no violence, although tensions were clearly running high and up to 400 people were involved in this daily humiliation of the boss and managers.

The TGWU itself was unhelpful.

On February 26th 1990 the evening picket of about 100 people was attacked by the paramilitary Territorial Support Group of the Metropolitan Police. There was a fierce fight, during which the police were initially chased from the scene, before re-grouping and attacking the pickets and their supporters.

Four pickets (all Kurdish refugees) were arrested and charged with riotous behaviour and actual bodily harm. They faced possible deportation if convicted.

Around 150 people picketed Dalston police station until 5am in the morning.

Only ten people crossed the picket line the next day, forcing Bactons to close.

A campaign to defend “The Bacton 4” was launched at a demo of 400 on April 7th. The campaign helped to secure ‘not guilty’ court verdicts for all four arrestees when their case came to trial in October 1990. It emerged that Special Branch had visited Bactons and showed the security guard photographs of recent demonstrations in London against a visit of Turkish leader General Evren – these photos apparently originated at the Turkish Embassy.

One striker later received a five figure sum in damages for what had happened to him during the police assault.

Bactons was eventually forced to close permanently, only to re-open under a different name and at a different location later. Picketing and a refusal by workers to work there led to its closure again.

As Mark Metcalf of the Colin Roach Centre put it:

While the workers lost their poorly paid jobs they achieved a degree of success showing the employers that they could not do everything they wanted and needed to take the workers needs into account when making decisions. The workers established a pride in fighting back; they closed down the factory and demonstrated they had the power to not only damage the employers’ profits but get rid of it!

An issue of Hackney Trade Union News in Turkish. Photo shows TGWU 1/1312 Textile Branch banner

1991: Solidarity Strike

On January 3rd 1991 over 2,500 London textile workers took solidarity action with their fellow workers on general strike in Turkey on the same day.

As Socialist Organiser reported:

“Factories in Shacklewell Lane, Somerford Grove, Victorian Grove, Tyssen Street, Tudor Grove and Arcola Street were virtually empty as workers refused to cross picket lines.

At 1.15pm, four vans were driven at speeds of over 70mph to the Halkevi community centre on Stoke Newington High St, and officers jumped from the vehicles to race into a crowd of around 120. Five people were grabbed and when friends tried to stop their arrests, around 20 police officers drew their truncheons and batoned people to the ground, arresting them as they fell. One woman meanwhile went to St Barts hospital with a broken leg.

At 2pm a crowd of 150 went to protest outside Stoke Newington police station and when in protest 30 sat down, on the other side of the road to the station, the police paramilitaries of the Bow TSG rushed across the road and violently arrested dozens of people. Others fled, but were pursued by the police in all directions.

Many people were arrested with the police paying special attention to those with cameras, and one young Kurdish man was rugby tackled to the ground, beaten, and his camera taken away.

62 people were arrested with four being taken by the police to Homerton hospital. Access to the casualty department was denied by police at the entrance.

At 6.30pm over 300 people, mainly Turkish and Kurdish, returned to Stoke Newington police station and remained outside singing and dancing until their friends were released. 29 people have been charged with a serious public order offence.

Many were beaten whilst in police custody. The arrestees were helped by Hackney Community Defence Association, which noted several incidents of TSG violence in Hackney the Summer 1991 issue of its newsletter Community Defence. HCDA characterised the January 3rd arrests as revenge for the confrontations at Bactons – and a raid on a gig at Chats Palace as revenge for the Hackney poll tax riot in March 1990:

The facts speak for themselves. TSG officers have an image of themselves as an elite force, and they behave as if answerable to nobody but themselves. There is a certain inevitability that wherever they go, trouble is sure to follow.

Two of the arrestees, Haci Bozkurt and Baki Ates, both 34 and from Stoke Newington, received a great deal of press coverage when their cases eventually came to trial five years later. Both had been granted political asylum after fleeing Turkey to escape police violence and persecution:

“The court was told that in January 1991 the men had been part of a group outside a community centre in Stoke Newington. They had gone to the centre to get news of the general strike then taking place in Turkey. Police were dispersing the crowd when disorder broke out.

Mr Bozkurt asked why a young man was being violently arrested, the court heard. He was then kicked and punched and dragged into a police van. Mr Ates complained about Mr Bozkurt’s treatment and he was grabbed and punched in the eye by PC Michael Fitzpatrick, the jury was told. “It felt like my eye exploded,” he said. He too was put in the van, where he was assaulted again. Both were handcuffed. Mr Bozkurt was also punched by PC Fitzpatrick, tlie court heard, and his nose was fractured. He received multiple injuries, Police said that he had fallen flat on the pavement during the fracas.

Both men were taken to Stoke Newington police station and were eventually seen by doctors. They were sent to hospital, where Mr Ates was found to have suffered a lacerated eyebrow and severe bruising to his eye, which was described by the doctor as a classic boxing injury.

The two men were charged with violent disorder. At Highbury Corner magistrates court in May 1991 no evidence was offered against Mr Bozkurt. Mr Ates was acquitted.”

Guardian Weekly June 23rd 1996

The jury found that the men had suffered false imprisonment, wrongful arrest and assault. Both were awarded £55,000 exemplary damages. Mr Ates received an additional £22,000 compensation and Mr Bozkurt £18,250. A total payout of just over £150,000.

Their counsel, Ben Emmerson, remarked:

“This country should have been a safe haven, but they were arbitrarily arrested, beaten and injured and then prosecuted on trumped-up charges”. Predictably, no disciplinary action has been taken against any of the officers involved and they remain on duty.”

Guardian 14.6.96. Quoted in Statewatch

With thanks to Neil Transpontine and Mark Metcalf.

Sources / Further Reading

Simon Lynn – “Migrant Workers Organise”, Hackney Union News, May 1989

“Textile Workers Strike” Hackney Union News March/April 1990

Hackney Unions News May/June 1989

“Bacton 4 found not guilty” – Hackney Union News, November 1990

“Bacton Fashions” Hackney Trade Union Support Unit: Report 1988-1990

Mark Metcalf – “The Bacton Fashions strike, 1990”

Colin Roach Centre – A Case for Trade Union Rank and File resistance: The Hackney Story (1995)

“Historic Day Ruined by police attacks on striking Turkish and Kurdish Workers” Socialist Organiser #471 (18 January 1991) p7

[Headline missing] Independent Thursday 13 June 1996

Duncan Campbell – “Police pay £150,000 after assault on Kurds” Guardian Weekly 23 June 1996

“Kurds receive £150,000 for police assault” Statewatch bulletin Vol 6 no 3 May-June 1996

The wider pattern of police criminality and corruption at Stoke Newington Police Station in the 1990s – and the campaign against it – is covered in our pages about Hackney Community Defence Association.

Wednesday 11th November – History of Hackney Policing: free event

In the last update I mentioned the excellent work being done by both Hackney Archives and the new youth-led police monitoring group Hackney Account.

So I was quite excited to find that they are working together on an event this week:

Stop & Research: Police and the Community in Hackney

Wed, 11 November 2020 18:00 – 20:00 GMT

Join ACCOUNT and Hackney Archives to explore the past, present and future of policing in Hackney through creative responses, discussion and material from the archives about community campaigns.

Free online event but pre-booking needed.

The event will include a showing of Hackney Accounts first mini-documentary “Community Healing” and the launch of its Youtube channel Account TV.

October 2020 updates

Photo by STN

The controversry about the Museum of the Home’s racist memorial to slave trader Robert Geffrye continued this month. The Hackney Citizen reported that:

Of the 2,187 respondents to the [museum’s] consultation, 71 per cent voted to take the statue down, with 29 per cent saying to leave it up. Four per cent did not respond to the question.

Protests have been taking place regularly outside the still-closed museum and persons unknown have upped the ante with some radical redecoration to the exterior wall as can be seen in the photo above. Police are apparently investigating this as well as the impressive makeover of the statue itself:

Photo by Hackney Citizen

Having steadfastly ignored the wishes of the community, the PR geniuses at the museum raised hackles across the borough with a tweet inviting people to implicate themselves in the ongoing shitstorm:

Their claim about reflecting the communities they serve seems at variance with the position of the Museum’s former Director David Dewing who is said to have stated that he had “no interest in the culture of the labouring classes”.

Out now

In happier news, the The Rio Tape/Slide Archive: Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 80s book has now been published and if you like this blog you should get it. It’s a lavish production with 254 pages filled with amazing photos and some great commentary from participants in the original Rio Tape/Slide project as well as Michael Rosen and Hackney photographer Alan Denney.

My copy arrived a few days ago and the few pages I have managed so far have already piqued my interest for some future entries here.

The book is £26 direct from Isola Press (and I think from the Rio itself and Artsword bookshop on Broadway Market) and is apparently going quick. If you can’t afford that, then check out the related free exhibition at the newly opened Hackney Museum (the museum that knows how to do things properly in Hackney).

The exhibition online launch event is online with some great presentations about Hackney in the 1980s and the background of the production of the book:

Alan Denney is also in conversation with the Hackney Society on 10th December. This free online event will cover his own incredible photos of Hackney in the 1970s and 1980s.

Some great 1980s posters from the Hackney Empire were unearthed this month. The poster on the left was tweeted by Hackney Museum who had this to say:

Opposition to South African Apartheid was widespread in 1980s Hackney In 1985 workers at the British Tyre & Rubber factory (SA) went on strike over rights, pay and conditions. Within 72 hours they were dismissed.This play was put on to raise money for the strikers #bhm2020

The poster on the right was posted by Hackney ranting poet and author Tim Wells on his excellent Stand Up and Spit blog. Tim’s skinhead werewolf pulp horror shocker of a novel Moonstomp was a highlight of last year and was mainly set in late 1970s Hackney. This month he announced his second novel Shine On Me which promises “Skinhead werewolf, mod witches, dead Crass fans!”

Mick Hugo

Veteran radical Hackney historian Ken Worpole wrote a fascinating obituary for his friend Mick Hugo in the Guardian this month, covering his work as a merchant seaman and his time in Hackney the 1970s as a squatter, housing activist and Centerprise volunteer amongst many other things.

Photo by @happymantree on Twitter

Meanwhile in horticultural history, The Happy Man Tree was voted “Tree of the Year”. It’s a 150 year old grade A London Plane street tree near Woodberry Down which is (still?) slated for demolition by Berkeley Homes.

Hackney Archives is sadly still closed but Friends of Hackney Archives are going strong and have unusually published a copy of their newsletter online with an update on the archives and articles including Philip Twells MP (a slave owner who lived on Stoke Newington Church Street), the campaign to restore the Hackney stocks, Hackney in London Parish maps circa 1900 and more.

Hackney Account is an inspiring youth-led police monitoring group launched earlier this year. They just published their report Policing in Hackney: Challenges From Youth In 2020 with some excellent statistics and commentary about stop and search and other recent policing issues in the borough. I was struck by the title and its resonance with the essential book published by Karia Press in 1988 and how some things have improved since then, while some things have stayed the same.

In the September update I mentioned the public vote to choose the name of the new public square by Britannia Leisure Centre. There are four contrasting radical Hackney options to choose from and the deadline is November 11th.

Finally it was lovely to hear some praise for this site during Mayday Rooms’ online session on “Archiving Radical Spaces” at the London Anarchist Bookfair event.

When Hackney (almost) defunded the Police

Alongside the generalised anti-racism of the Black Lives Matter protests, it has been great to see specific demands emerge. Some of these have been very practical, such as the removal of colonial or racist statues or support for campaigns around deaths in custody such as the United Friends and Family Campaign. Others, such as defunding the police, would appear on the surface to be much more idealistic or longterm.

For some people, challenging the role of the police is strictly off-limits. A token reform here and there, alongside a rabid competition to give the cops as much money as possible, is what mainstream political debate looks like in the UK in the 2020s. But a growing number of people are not satisfied by that. Here is a handy four minute introduction:

Defunding the police is not a new demand and perhaps previous campaigns can inform the current debate.

In February 1983, Hackney Council’s Police Committee resolved to withold the Council’s £4 million donaton towards the cost of the Metropolitan Police – “the precept”. This was put to a full meeting of the Council on 23rd of February which adopted the following motion:

That the Council take whatever steps are open to it to withold the payment of the police precept both as an expression of anger at the state of policing in Hackney and with a view to bringing home to the Government the community demands for an independent inquiry into policing in Hackney.

Quoted in Policing in Hackney 1945-1984

Hackney People’s Press (#87 Feb 1983) quoted Councillor Patrick Kodikara:

“30 per cent of the ratepayers of Hackney are black. Why should the Council pay the police to practise repression on us?”

The motion was passed – with all of the Labour and Liberal councillors voting in favour – and all of the Conservative councillors voting against.

A recent image produced by Autonomous Design Group

The next issue of Hackney Peoples Press (#88 March 1983) was a bit more cynical:

“The Council’s statement of intent not to pay the precept of £4 million this year is just a gesture. The law does not allow them to withold the money, and, this year at least, they are not going to break the law. But by making the gesture they are indicating that they are paying up under protest, and are joining other London boroughs who have already reached the same conclusion: they pay over ratepayers money each year to the police yet London is unique in the country in not having an elected police authority”

And sure enough, the Council was told by its legal advisers in March that it could not legally withold the money and the precept was paid – I assume in time for the next financial year in April 1983.

The Policing in Hackney book mentions the Council’s decision generating a great deal of media attention, which I’ve not yet been able to track down, but imagine was suitably unsupportive and outraged.

This was all spun by Hackney Central MP Clinton Davis in Parliament:

“My own local authority may be very frustrated—sometimes with justification—by some of the actions, or the inaction, of the local police. The suggestion of the withdrawal of the police precept is, however, an empty but unacceptable gesture which increases the anxiety of many of my constituents—particularly the elderly—that the police are suddenly to be withdrawn. But of course that will not happen.

When I spoke to Councillor [Brynley] Heaven, the chairman of the police liaison committee, he readily agreed that it would not happen. It is a gesture—a vote of no confidence in the police—but I do not believe that such a gesture is justified by the circumstances. If we are to make constructive criticisms about the police, as sometimes we must and as I do today, it does not add to the authority of those who support such criticism to join in every meaningless gesture and every attack on the police.”

Two years later, Hackney Council would verge closer to breaking the law when it refused to set a “rate” (essentially the equivalent of Council Tax now) in response to the Thatcher government’s efforts to restrict local government spending.

This incident of almost defunding the police did not emerge spontaneously from a “loony left” council with nothing better to do. It was the culmination of years of terrible policing resulting in a number of community campaigns…

Background to the motion to defund the police

(This timeline covers the most significant events. Examples of the much more common day to day police corruption and harassment are covered in Chapter 8 of Policing In Hackney).

December 1978: Black teenager Michael Ferreira is stabbed during a fight with white teenagers in Stoke Newington. His friends take him to the nearby police station, where the cops seem more interested in questioning them than assisting Michael, who dies of his wounds before reaching hospital.

24th April 1979: Hackney resident Blair Peach is killed during a protest against the National Front in Southall. 14 witnesses saw him being hit on the head by a policeman. It was generally understood then, and is widely believed now, that Peach was killed by an officer from the notorious Special Patrol Group. The SPG’s lockers were searched as part of the investigation into the death, uncovering non-police issue truncheons, knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3ft wooden stave and a lead-weighted leather cosh. One officer was found in possession of a collection of Nazi regalia.

The failure of the police to properly investigate the murder of Blair Peach – and their general harassment of youth, led Hackney Teachers’ Association to adopt a policy of non-cooperation with the police. This is documented in the excellent Police Out of School which is available in full on elsewhere on this site.

November 1979: A conference of anti-racist groups in Hackney calls for the repeal of the “sus” laws that allow police to stop and search anyone they are suspicious of. In 1977 60% of “sus” arrests in Hackney were of black people – who made up 11% of the borough.

February 1980: Five units of the Special Patrol Group began to operate in Hackney with no consultation. When the Leader of the Council criticised the police for this, Commander Mitchell responded by saying “I don’t feel obliged to tell anyone about my policing activities”.

July 1981: Riot in Dalston. Searchlight magazine blamed Commander Mitchell’s hardline policies for the incident.

Also in 1981: Lewisham Council threatened not to pay the police precept.

December 1981: Newton Rose falsely convicted for the murder of Anthony Donnelly, a Clapton resident with National Front connections. A successful campaign results in Rose being freed in 1982 becaue of a “grave material irregularity” in the trial.

April 1982: David and Lucille White, an elderly black couple, are awarded £51,000 damages for “a catalogue of violent and inhuman treatment” by Stoke Newington police.

July 1982: First meeting of Hackney Council’s new Police Committee, set up to consider and monitor policing in the borough – and make the police more responsive to local needs. The committee replaced an informal police liaison group which met in private and alternated its chair between the police and the council. The committee’s meetings were public and chaired by its members. A Support Unit was also established which monitored crime and policing and published reports critical of police powers.

Colin Roach

12 January 1983: Death of Colin Roach by gunshot in the lobby of Stoke Newington police station.

Roach’s parents are treated appallingly by the police. Demonstrations organised by the Roach Family Support Commttee (RSFC) outside the police station result in numerous protestors, including Colin’s father, being arrested.

Ernie Roberts, Hackney MP, made a statement on the public’s concern about the breakdown of community/police relations as well as his support for a public inquiry into the death of Colin Roach. The Greater London Council funded the Roach campaign to the tune of £1,500 shortly afterwards. There was outrage in the press at this use of public money to fund what they saw as “cash to fight the police” and “fostering discontent among black people”.

February 18 1983: Colin Roach’s funeral.

RFSC instigates its “break links campaign” and writes to all Hackney Councillors asking them to:

  • vote to withold the police precept
  • hold a vote of no confidence in Stoke Newington police
  • agree to break all links with the police unless and until an independent public inquiry into the death of Colin Roach was held.

Hackney social services workers put pressure on thier union – Hackney NALGO, which passes resolution calling on members to “break links” with the police.

Meanwhile, slightly east of Hackney:

“Tower Hamlets Council is to be asked on Tuesday to follow the Hackney Council example and consider witholding the Metropolitan Police rate precept. The Newham Monitoring Project is to call upon the local council to do the same unless an independent inquiry into Forest Gate police station in Newham is set up.

Mr Unmesh Desair, the project’s full time worker, yesterday described the station as a “torture chamber”.

The Times, February 24, 1983

Afer the fuss about non-payment of the precept had died down, other aspects of the campaign were still live issues.

In May 1983 Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Ronald Brown, bemoaned the continuation of the “break links” campaign in Parliament, singling out Hackney Council for Racial Equality:

Since 10 January, the new police commander has tried desperately to establish contact between the police and that organisation. Recognising the complaints about the police in London, particularly in Hackney, as well as the difficulties in Hackney as a result of the tragedy that occurred, he has endeavoured to re-establish a relationship with the community. He has approached every group in an attempt to get a dialogue going.

What kind of response did he get from the Council for Racial Equality? In a letter of 21 February it said: I am writing on behalf of Hackney Council for Racial Equality Executive”— not the council, but the executive— who have asked that you give instructions that the local home beat officers covering the HCRE Mare Street office, the HCRE Family Centre, Rectory Road, no longer call”— that phase is underlined— at either of these offices unless HCRE gives a specific call to the police. I trust this will be acted on with dispatch. That was signed by the community relations officer. That destroyed the relationship between the beat policemen and the community in the two areas. By common consent, that relationship had proved valuable. That one letter wiped out that relationship.”

The publication of Police out of School in 1985 generated a further furore and also a PR campaign from the police. The campaign and police response are covered in this great news report from the time:

Conclusion

Calls to defund the police in the 1980s need to be seen as the tip of the iceberg of wider community resistance. This made it much harder to dismiss the idea of defunding as “gesture politics”.

In Hackney, the antagonism between the police and community only intensified after this, with corruption at Stoke Newington police station expanding to include further deaths in custody and police officers getting involved with drug dealing, amongst other crimes. In the 1990s this would be met head on by Hackney Community Defence Association.

I am shit at reading budgets, so please laugh at me, but it looks to me like:

Total council tax donations to Greater London Authority for the year 2020/2021:
£1,010,907,032.68

Amount of this which goes to Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime:
£767,054,360.26

So that’s about 75% of the total.

Hackney’s donation to the GLA would seem to be £24,701,359.02

75% of that is roughly £18 million.

(A purely inflationary rise from the £4m in 1983 to now would be £11.59m, but you would also need to factor in the expanding population of Hackney in that time – according to Wikipedia it was 179,536 in 1981 and 280,900 in 2020 which is an increase of 56%.)

A question worth asking is: would spending this £18 million of our money on other things be better at reducing crime and harm?

Sources and Further Reading

Hackney Peoples Press (various issues)

Police Out of School (Hackney Teachers Associaton, 1985)

Policing In Hackney 1945-1984: A Report Commissioned by the Roach Family Support Committe (Karia Press & RFSC 1989)

Policing London #2 September 1982 (GLC in the Police Committee Support Unit)

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

Paul Harrison – Inside The Inner City (Penguin , 1983)

Michael Keith – Race, Riots and Policing: Love and Disorder in a Multi-racist Society (UCL Press, 1993).

“Who Killed Colin Roach?” a film by Isaac Julien

Colin Roach was a 21 year old black man who was killed by a gunshot in the lobby of Stoke Newington Police Station on the evening of January 12th, 1983.

Amazingly nobody in the station seems to have witnessed the incident. The coroner declared it death by suicide, despite the police surgeon putting forward a number of serious anomalies that contradicted this view.

The Roach Family Support Committee organised its own enquiry, the outcomes of which were published as a book in 1988. They also organised a number of protests outside Stoke Newington Police station. The police response was typical of the times – Colin’s own father was arrested at one of the protests as were a number of other participants.

Isaac Julien is probably best known for directing the superb “Young Soul Rebels” (1991) a film about London youth culture in 1977. It includes a pirate radio station in Dalston (as well as a bunch of footage from Hackney if I remember correctly). The film is also notable for tackling the issue of homosexuality in the black community. It’s great, check it out.

Julien’s first film was “Who Killed Colin Roach?” (1983). It was made while he was still a student at Saint Martin’s School of Art:

“I stumbled into the story of ‘Who Killed Colin Roach?’: I was coming out of an East End jumble sale one Saturday when a march passed by protesting a death in police custody. It turned out that Colin Roach, the young black man in question, had lived quite near my home. Which meant, of course, that Mrs. Roach could have been my mother, that his family could easily have been my own.

This took me back to the radical workshops of my teens and the whole idea of the camera as a street weapon. So I wanted to make work that would embody dual perspectives. One of these would be inside the black families’ reactions to this death. The other would show responses to black community organizers. I insisted that my camera be engaged in the politics, so it was positioned very deliberately opposite traditional media.

This was at a time when video was still finding its language, when video art was still somewhat undefined. Yet I was determined to appropriate those early video-art techniques to make my campaign tape. I wanted to utilize this camera taken out of an art school context and repurpose its technology for the street.

I wanted to redirect the gaze of the ruling media. My real aim was to turn that gaze on the police, because in Colin Roach, they are the people rioting. That piece, in one way, was very much a local response, but it was also meant to contest some things I was being taught. Specifically, it was in reply to a tutor who had told me, ‘Isaac, no-working-class person will understand these films.’ Of course my works back then were just experimental films, scratches on film, really – and they were indeed quite arty. So part of me had been forced to think, Well…maybe she is right.

Colin Roach, however, was my demonstration against her view. It was made to say, ‘I can do the same work as you and I can tell a tale. But I can also make quite experimental things.’”

(Isaac Julien, Riot, MOMA, 2013, pp27-29)

The London Community Video Archive has published a fascinating interview with Julien where he talks about the film as well as his East End childhood (including problems with the National Front in Hoxton – and meeting members of the libertarian socialist group Big Flame):

Further reading:

Do you remember Hackney spycop Tim Spence?

The Undercover Policing Inquiry is continuing to issue cover names of police spies who were engaged in surveillance and infiltration of protest groups.

A further five names were released this week, including HN 88 “Tim Spence”:

Cover name released: “Timothy Spence”. Groups: Stoke Newington and Hackney Defence Campaign, Hackney Campaign Against the Police Bill; 1983 – 1987.

There are several courses of action that will hopefully arise from this, which readers of this blog may be able to help with.

Firstly, if you knew “Tim Spence” or were active in either of the groups mentioned above, please get in touch with the Undercover Research Group. The UCG is run by activists and is completely independent of the Inquiry. Their aim is to create profiles of spycops to enhance activist investigations into this area. They are good people.

Secondly if you have memories, publications or insights into the groups named and the campaigning they did, please get in touch with me and I will add them to this site.

Here’s what we know so far:

Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 21.22.43

Hackney Campaign Against the Police Bill

The Police Bill was a typically draconian bit of Tory legislation giving the cops more powers so they could better attack people who were the victims of the government’s own policies. Its proposals included:

  • hold people for 96 hours without charge
  • set up random road blocks around an area
  • conduct forcible intimate body searches of detainees
  • use force in taking fingerprints (even of minors)
  • seize confidential information held by doctors, lawyers, journalists

It became the Police Act in 1985, but there was a great deal of resistance to it from 1983 onwards.

The national campaign against the Police Bill was based at 50 Rectory Road, Stoke Newington N16.

Interestingly, the campaign seems to have received funding from Ken Livingstone’s GLC to the tune of £38,000 which lead to questions being asked in parliament.

Some of this money presumably was spent on admin and printing leaflets (some of which can be downloaded as pdfs here).

There was also a conference at Hackney Town Hall in May 1983:

Kill the Police Bill. 1983

Much of the above is based on this blog post by Hackney comrade John Eden, who also mentions the campaign’s own reggae single by Ranking Ann:

Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 21.45.03

Stoke Newington and Hackney Defence Campaign

Some of the comments of the release of the cover name have confused this campaign group with the Hackney Community Defence Association, which was not formed until July 1988, one year after “Tim Spence” stopped being deployed.

However this leaflet and the commentary makes it clear that the Stoke Newington and Hackney Defence Campaign was involved with defending people who had been arrested during protests about the death of Colin Roach by a gunshot in Stoke Newington Police Station in 1983.

Why this is important

These were legitimate protest groups that campaigned to assist victims of police brutality and also against the potential for police powers to be extended via a change in the law.

That the police would insert a spy into these groups is perhaps not surprising given what we now know. But it is (to put it politely) not a great sign for a supposedly healthy democracy.

Anti-fascist Hackney: The 43 Group – in their own words

As I said in the recent post about the Jewish Workers’ Circle, pretty much everything you need to know about The 43 Group is covered in Morris Beckman’s superb book.

If you haven’t got a copy yet, the 43 Group was set up in 1946 by Jewish ex-servicemen and women who had returned to the UK after the war and been sickened to see fascist groups organising again on the streets of London. Ridley Road in Dalston was a favourite venue for open air fascist meetings.

The 43 Group mounted a courageous and robust physical response to the fascists (and also did intelligence work, publishing, lobbying etc.) and claimed many victories in the process.

Below is a collection of audio and video documentaries in which former members of the group tell their story far better than I would be able to.

A Rage In Dalston – a BBC Radio 4 documentary from 2008 that I just uploaded to the underused Radical History of Hackney Youtube channel. Alan Dein met ex-43’ers when he worked at the Jewish Museum London and compiled this compelling hour of interviews, commentary and a bit of dramatisation.

The programme features a stellar cast of former 43 Group members, including: Morris Beckman, Martin Bloch, Stanley Marks, Alec Carson, Vidal Sassoon (yes that one), Mildred Garland, Joe Endom. Phil Goldberg, Len Sherman and Harry Kaufman. Also former Dalston policeman Charles Hasler, Trevor Grundy (author of “Memoir of a Fascist Childhood”) and Professor Colin Holmes. Inspiring stuff:

The Unfinished War – a short (20 mins) black and white film from 2000 (Available in better quality on Vimeo ):

Jewish Ex-servicemen of Group 43 – 5 minute interview by the Guardian with former 43-ers Jules Konopinski and Harry Kaufman:

Battling British Fascists – an 18 minute soundclip of BBC World Service History Hour from 2017. Featuring Jules Konopinksy and Professor Nigel Copsey:

Whilst we’re on Youtube, let’s round things off with some banging acid techno from 1993 by Brandon Spivey and Richie Anderson: