The Undercover Policing Inquiry continues provide useful insights into the culture of policing of 20th century radical movements. The inquiry’s website includes a bunch of previously confidential documents of varying degrees of usefulness.
Paul Gilroy (author of a number of essential books including the undisputed classic There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation) recently posted a link to this ominously titled report:
Unsurprisingly, there is a section on Hackney:
As Prof Gilroy says, the overall tone of the document is extremely paranoid about scrutiny of the police by ordinary people.
In the passage above, three members of the counci’s Police Committee are singled out:
[Redacted] is mentioned because of their past political affiliations and the fact that they happen to live with two political activists. (Presumably they are redacted because they’re still alive?)
Maureen Colquhon is flagged for being a member of the dull as dishwater Tribune group and being a “self-confessed lesbian”. Prior to coming out, Colquhon had been the MP for Northampton North – she was the first openly gay MP. There is an interesting obituary here.
Patrick Kodikara is mentioned for being a Trotskyist and anti-racist. I’ve not found any evidence of him being a Trotsksyist but it is reasonable to suggest he was on the socialist side of the Labour Party. There is an interesting obituary here.
What’s not mentioned in this section of the report – but is buried in an appendix – is that these three people would have been in a minority on the Police Committee, which seems to have had 16 members. And furthermore, all of the members of the committee were elected councillors:
Given the general climate of police violence, racism and corruption in London in the early 1980s and in Hackney especially, it’s understandable that the community would elect councillors that were prepared to tackle the issue. Scrutiny by councillors was especially important as the media of the time consistently took the side of the police.
Then as now, the police do not like to be held accountable by the community they supposedly “serve and protect”…
The Radical History of Hackney site sprung out of some conversations with some younger friends of mine. I was trying to explain some of the events of the 1970s and 1980s I’d heard about. They looked at me a bit sceptically, so I promised I’d send them some links. But there were no links to be had. Just my fading memories.
With the help of the comrades at 56A Infoshop I scanned in some old newsletters. But that didn’t really do it all justice. So I started writing and researching and following up links and one thing led to another.
And now there are links about a multitude of struggles, strugglers, victories, defeats and inspiring events on this site. And it’s been gratifying to see people engaging with the various stories here and linking to them or citing them in their own writing. Perhaps one thing that’s missing is telling these stories in a cohesive and non-nerdy manner. Bringing it all together in one entertaining package that is easily digestable. Like a novel maybe.
White Riot is a crime novel set in Hackney from 1978-1983. The crime is primarily committed by the police.
The book draws extensively on material from this site AND is a gripping read. The author does an incredible job of bringing the various strands and events to life – The Rock Against Racism carnival in Victoria Park, the National Front HQ in Hoxton, the death of Colin Roach, the drugs trade and cops, old pubs of Hackney, music, it’s all kicking off here.
I especially liked the way that the same events were looked at by different characters – a downtrodden Hackney Council bureaucrat (who may be based on the author’s Father), a radical female photographer who lives in squats, an anti-racist cop, a Turkish teenager and a Spycop.
About a third into the book my trainspotter tendencies were defeated. I stopped trying to figure out which documents things were from and just enjoyed the unfolding plotline.
I have no doubt that people who were around in the timeframe will have some criticisms of the way that things are described, as do I. For example I think the Spycop is portrayed too heroically given the wideranging testimony of the havoc that these police officers have unleashed on people’s lives – although it is possible this side of things may be dealt with in greater detail in future instalments, as White Riot is the first of a trilogy.
But creating a space for these criticisms to be made is good. One of the valuable things about the book is drawing attention to the struggles of the past and what lessons can be learned from them.
I’m excited to see how the story is received and what conversations can be had about the subject matter.
The book includes some useful notes and bibliography which clarifies which parts of the story are fictionalised and what sources are used.
White Riot is published by Arcadia Books on 19th January. You can pre-order it through Pages of Hackney.
There have naturally been some terrible takes from the usual right wing pundits about how the influence of Colin Jordan’s band of Nazis was overstated in the show and that they would never have seized power. This misses the point that neo-Nazi groups can make life miserable for ordinary people on a day to day basis – and they can shift the “overton window” of political discourse to the far right and influence mainstream parties that way.
History Workshop have produced an absolutely cracking podcast about the history and struggles of Ridley Road market:
It includes some great oral history about the fight against Oswald Mosley’s fascists, but the accounts from market traders about recent battles against regeneration are even more interesting. Interviewees include local resident Tamara Stoll, who has published a photo book on the social history of the market and was one of several people to work on the essential Rio Tape Slide Reel book.
Newington Green Meeting House has a couple of interesting things happening at the moment:
When proposals for Crossrail 2 (originally called the Chelsea to Hackney line) were first considered by Government Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and the plans were passed in front of her for approval. Her memorable (and deadly) response was reported to be: “Hackney! Hackney! – who wants to go to Hackney?”
Christian Wolmar, the celebrated railway historian and journalist, will talk about the long and tortuous battles for London’s railways.
(Online and also in person at Newington Green Meeting House – £11.25 or cheaper for Hackney Society members)
Crass Go Disco by Expletive Undeleted sheds light on the under-explored overlap between the anarchopunk movement on the 1980s and the rave movement of the 1990s. It is extraordinarily comprehensive and there are a few references to gigs, squats raves etc in Hackney.
The new space outside the revamped Britannia Leisure Centre was named BRAFA square following extensive engagement with the local community. BRAFA was the British Reggae Artists Famine Appeal – a benefit single and live event inspired by Live Aid – or rather, the lack of black artists involved with Live Aid.
Hackney Museum have produced a useful film about the story of BRAFA and launch of the square:
In other Hackney reggae news, I thoroughly enjoyed the memorial event for veteran dancehall soundsystem operator Ruddy Ranks that Hackney Archives organised in October:
The evening at BSix College included the unveiling of a plaque for Ruddy, who attended school there when it was called Brooke House – as well as many memories of someone who was by all accounts a proper Hackney character. The Archives have some film of the event which I am sure they were upload in due course for people who couldn’t attend.
Hackney Slave Traders
The Museum of the Home has issued another statement about its statue honouring slave trader Robert Geffrye. Whilst this statement is an improvement on previous ones, it basically just says that the museum feels bad about the statue being there. It has been surprising to see how much praise this has generated.
I am firmly in camp Vernon on this one and would encourage people not to visit the museum until the statue is removed:
Meanwhile the Council has been quietly getting on with asking local people what they want to be done with the remnants of slave-trading – and then doing something about it. (Like most people I am hardly a fan of the council, but credit where credit is due!)
I was also pleased to see Tyssen Community School near Clapton Common (named after the slave-trading Tyssen family) was putting up some new signs to mark its renaming as Oldhill School:
Just nice things
It’s been a tough couple of years. I think we all need to be reminded that good people in the community have been doing their best to crack on and make things better with very little resources. These two films about grass roots sports in Hackney both cheered me up immensely.
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:
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 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.
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…
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:
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.
There was also a conference at Hackney Town Hall in May 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:
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.
Good to see our main local paper covering some radical history and mentioning current struggles around spycops. Hackney Community Defence Association and the Hackney Trades Union Support Unit were both based at the Colin Roach Centre.
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.
“Alison” (formerly of the Colin Roach Centre) and Helen Steel (formerly of London Greenpeace, McLibel etc) were joined on the platform by Graham Smith (founder member of Hackney Community Defence Association) and Mark Metcalf (formerly of HCDA, Colin Roach Centre, Hackney Trade Union Support Unit etc).
It was good to see the Hackney Community Defence Association banners in action once again (see pic above – “Alison” understandably did not want to be photographed, hence the empty stage).
Even better than that was the diverse cross-section of Hackney radicals who were present – I reacquainted myself with people from my union branch, Hackney Independent, Hackney Anarchy Week, various radical history initiatives and from doing zines in the 1990s.
I’ve not had much time to work on this site recently, but will steal both of those and add them here in due course. In the meantime, do check them out on Mark’s blog alongside his other writing and see what he has to say on twitter.
Big Brother – Who’s Watching You? Mark Jenner meeting
February 26 @ 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Why did undercover cop Mark Jenner infiltrate Hackney campaigns in the 1990s?
The Special Demonstration Squad’s Mark Jenner was deployed using the name Mark Cassidy.
The Undercover Research Group’s extensive profile of Jenner shows the range of issues he spied on – anti-racist campaigns, trade unions, Irish republicanism and Hackney community campaigns. He chaired meetings, wrote articles and instigated action.
Why was he there?
Graham Smith – former secretary of Hackney Community Defence Association, founding member of the Colin Roach Centre
John McDonnell MP – shadow chancellor and social justice campaigner