Dalston riot, July 1981

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Below is an eyewitness account by journalist Paul Harrison on disturbances in Hackney. This is followed by some reports from Hackney People’s Press about the riot and its aftermath.

Harrison tries to be even-handed about the police throughout the book this is taken from, even spending some time with them on the beat as part of his research. The police’s side of the story was believed by fewer and fewer people throughout the eighties. The credibility of cops at Stoke Newington police station was severely undermined in the 1990s after numerous exposés by Hackney Community Defence Association and the police’s internal investigation “Operation Jackpot”.

But before the written account, here is a brief bit of oral history about the beginning of the riot by anti-racist campaigner Claire Hamburger, including an amusing anecdote about the non-rioting community and the police:

THE ROUGHEST BEAT: POLICING THE INNER CITY
Paul Harrison

The peacemaker gets two-thirds of the blows.

He who lights a fire should not ask to be protected from the flames.

Arab proverbs

In 1981 a Conservative government that had promised a strong approach to law and order presided over one of the most serious breakdowns in law and order in mainland Britain of this century.

On 10 April, the first Brixton riots erupted. On 3 July came disturbances in Southall, followed in rapid succession by major troubles at Toxteth in Liverpool, Moss Side in Manchester, and again in Brixton. There were smaller-scale disorders in Bristol, Southampton, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Halifax, Leeds, Huddersfield, Blackburn, Preston and Teesside, and across London from Acton to Walthamstow and from Haringey to Clapham. The list was a catalogue of Britain’s inner cities, finally forcing themselves dramatically into the nation’s consciousness.

Hackney, too, had its say. The year had already seen the earlier emergence of an ominous phenomenon of law-breaking by large groups of black youths. On 20 April, towards the end of a bank-holiday fair at Finsbury Park, hundreds of youths went on the rampage with sticks and bars, smashing up stalls and mugging people.

On the night of Tuesday, 5 May, about a hundred youths, most of whom had just come out of Cubie’s, the popular Afro-Caribbean disco off Dalston Lane, gathered round while some of them ripped out a jeweller’s window and stole jewellery worth £500. The retreating crowd threw bottles at the police.

In the early hours of Wednesday, 24 June, gangs of youths roaming the streets, again after chucking-out time at Cubie’s, smashed the windows of a travel agency and a fish-and-chip shop, grabbed the till of Kentucky Fried Chicken on Kingsland Road, and mugged three pedestrians.

Part of the problem was that London Transport bus crews, fearful of trouble, had been refusing to pick up passengers from Cubie’s for some months, thus leaving large gangs of black youths to walk home, along streets lined with shops, in a mood of anger and frustration.

It was not until Wednesday, 8 July, that the first attacks on police occurred [apart from chucking bottles at them on 5th May? Ed]. That night two officers on patrol in Stoke Newington were stoned [insert joke here about Stoke Newington police and drugs – Ed] and towards midnight four police cars were damaged by missiles. The next evening, police were out in force, on foot, in the Dalston area, keeping a couple of hundred youths on the move. Five shop windows were smashed and one policeman injured by missiles.

The worst disturbances occurred on 10 July. The location: the junction of Sandringham Road and Kingsland High Street. There was a certain inevitability about the site. Sandringham Road leads down into the heart of some of the worst private rented housing and the densest settlement of people of West Indian origin in Hackney. At the top, on the left, the Argos showroom windows gleam with consumer products. On the right, Johnson’s cafe, a haunt favoured by young blacks, the scene of frequent drug busts and raids in pursuit of ‘dips’ (pickpockets) escaping from their favourite hunting-ground of Ridley Road Market (a quiet back alley, Birkbeck Road, leads between Ridley and Sandringham). At the junction of Sandringham and Kingsland, there are permanent pedestrian barriers lining the road, offering support and, if necessary, shelter against attack.

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Johnson’s Cafe, Sandringham Road, from the 1976 UK reggae documentary “Aquarius”

The trouble that day began around 5 p.m. when a group of youths robbed a jewellers’ shop in Kingsland High Street. The police closed down Johnson’s cafe and moved on groups that formed outside: a few bricks and bottles were thrown. Then larger groups of blacks began to congregate. At around 7.30 p.m. two fire-bombs were thrown: one at the Argos showrooms, followed by looting; and one at a policeman in Arcola Street, site of the main social-security office in Stoke Newington. The police charged down Sandringham Road, but were pushed back by the youths for a distance of about 40 metres before making a successful counter-charge. Just before midnight bricks were thrown at the police stationed at the mouth of Sandringham Road, from the barrier railings outside the Rio cinema, opposite. Under attack, exhausted from working days of fourteen and sixteen hours around London’s riot areas, some officers lost their cool. A unit of helmeted police charged across the road, truncheons drawn, and used them to `disperse’ the crowd at the railings. One girl suffered a head wound and was rushed to hospital.

I arrived on the scene just after midnight. There was an atmosphere of Sweeney and Starsky and Hutch. It was just after the stoning incident, and police Rovers, Escorts and blue-and-white vans packed with men were using Kingsland Road as a race-track, hooters wailing and lights flashing, in pursuit of the suspected assailants. For the meanwhile, the protection of property took a back seat, and I watched for half an hour as menswear shop, Mr H, was looted down to the last button and buckle. The window smashed a few seconds after I had walked past it: there was no one in sight but a young black boy of about thirteen, looking a picture of innocence. A few minutes later five or ten youths, black and white, began to arrive, clambering over the railings from the road, then leaning against them and looking around themselves with great caution before acting. One boy set the example, snatching a white sweatshirt and stuffing it down the front of his jacket. The others helped themselves, each one walking away in a relaxed manner calculated to allay suspicion. Mr H’s alarm was ringing noisily: but so were many others. After a lull more wardrobe hunters arrived, and some of the first wave returned for second helpings. The first time they’d snatched anything that came to hand. This time they were more discriminating, checking sizes and colours and discarding unsuitable ones.

Three whites in their late twenties stood opposite, smiling benevolently and shouting ‘Police’, with the accent on the first syllable, whenever men in blue came near. A skinhead in a long Edwardian jacket, attracted by the Victoria Wine off-licence next door to Mr H, wrapped a brick in a paper bag and hurled it at the window with all his might. It bounced off. A boy slipped on the glass outside Mr H, and cut himself badly, and the others gathered round to help. The looting proceeded, while at the back, thieves were smashing their way through security bars and looting the racks inside. Some of the earliest looters had the opportunity to saunter by five or six times, while the skinhead persisted in his increasingly desperate attempts to smash the off-licence window, the only effect being to leave a dusting of brick powder on the glass.

At about 1 a.m. a big black bearded youth in a long leather raincoat took out a pair of model legs from the window and threw them into the middle of the road. Police vehicles had passed the scene at least forty or fifty times, but this act finally attracted their attention. A van screeched to a halt, a dozen officers leapt out, and one of them stayed behind to stand guard over what, by now, was a totally empty window.

The whole evening had been, by the standards of Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side, a mere affray, but it was a disturbing pointer to what could happen when police attention was diverted and the thin veneer of ice that caps Hackney’s troubled waters was cracked. In all forty premises were damaged that night and sixty arrests were made. The score of injuries was even: twenty-three police, twenty-three members of the public.

High Noon in Dalston

The following day, Saturday, 11 July, far worse was expected. Shoppers stayed away from the High Street and the Wimpy Bar owner complained of his worst Saturday for business in twenty years. But the shopkeepers had their minds preoccupied in other ways. From Dalston Junction to Stamford Hill, they were measuring and sawing, drilling and screwing, fitting and hammering. According to means, great panels of corrugated iron, wood, plywood, chipboard, hardboard and cardboard were being battened up by those who did not already have armour-plated glass, grilles and shutters. Builders’ merchants were running out of supplies, security firms doing more business than they could cope with, employees and friends and relatives were dragooned into a frenetic race against time to put up their protective walls before the expected confrontation of the late afternoon and evening.

The media came sniffing for trouble. One camera crew arrived and interviewed people on the street. Another crew filmed a festival at London Fields where trouble had been predicted. People threw darts at images of Thatcher, drum majorettes twirled, and the Marlborough pub heavies won the tug-of-war match. But there was not a stir of trouble. When one of the organisers phoned the television company to ask why the festival had not been televised, she was told it was because ‘nothing happened’.

Up at the end of Sandringham Road, the atmosphere was High Noon. The police were scattered, in twos and threes, all down the High Street. About fifty black youths, with the merest scattering of whites, were sitting along the railings and on the wooden fence of the petrol station and crowding outside Johnson’s cafe. I talked to many of them and the grievances bubbled out, against unemployment, racialism, but above all against the police.

A pretty girl of seventeen, with four grade ones in the Certificate of Secondary Education, out of work for ten months, said:

‘I go down the temp agency every morning. There’s only been two jobs going there all week. Since Thatcher’s come in, everything’s just fallen. She needs a knife through her heart.’

Her nineteen-year-old friend continues:

‘I got three O-levels and that’s done me no good at all. A lot of my friends are having babies. If you haven’t got a job, you might as well have a baby.’

Vengeance for colonialism and slavery, rebellion against discrimination, redress for police abuses, all mingled together as a group of boys pitched in. They were angry, agitated.

‘You can’t win,’ said a tall youth worker:

‘If a black person drive a nice car, the police say, where you get the money to drive that? You wear a gold chain, they say, where you thief that? We like to gather in a little place and have a drink and music, so what the police do? They like to close it down, so we all on the street instead. And what happen when they get hold of you? They fling you in the van, they say, come on you bunnies [short for ‘jungle bunnies’]. They play find the black man’s balls. They treat us like animals, man, they treat their dogs better than they treat us. They kick the shit out of us and put us inside to rot. They think they are OK in their uniforms. But if that one there was to walk over here naked now, we’d kick the hell out of him. Somebody said, black people will never know themselves till their back is against the wall, well, now our backs is against the wall. I’m gonna sit right here, and I ain’t gonna move.’

A boy of eighteen in a flat corduroy cap said:

‘I was driving down from Tottenham to Hackney once, I got stopped seven times on the way. Four years ago, they came to my house searching for stolen goods and asked me to provide a receipt for everything in my house. We’ve been humiliated. It’s time we show them that we want to be left alone.’

‘We’re fighting for our forefathers,’ said the seventeen-year-old secretary:

 ‘We’ve been watching Roots [the film series on American slavery]. They used us here for twenty years, now they got no use for us, they want us out.’

An eighteen-year-old boy in a green, red and black tea-cosy hat went on:

‘The police can call you a fucking cunt, but if you say one word at them they’ll take you down. They don’t even like you to smile at them. You try to fight them at court: you can’t fight them, because black man don’t have no rights at all in this country.’

There was a lot of military talk, for this was not seen as a challenge to law, but a matter of group honour: the police, as a clan, had humiliated young blacks, as a clan, and clan revenge had to be exacted.

‘Since they got these riot shields,’ said a boy of twenty, ‘they think they’re it. We can’t stand for that. Tonight we have to kill one of them, and now there’s a crowd of us, we’re gonna do it. If they bring in the army we’ll bring in more reinforcements and kill them.’

One boy in sunglasses, sixteen at the oldest, launched into a lecture on guerrilla tactics:

‘If you come one night and they make you run, then the next night you bring enough stones, bottles and bombs that they can’t make you run: you don’t run, they run.’

He smirks, as if he has just stormed their lines single-handed:

‘But look at everyone here. They’re all empty-handed. Last night they were wasting their petrol-bombs, throwing them on the street. It’s no use throwing one without a specific target. Look at that police bus: one bomb at the front, one at the back, and that would be thirty-two or sixty-four police less. You got to have organisation, like they got.’

There were moments of humour, too. One drunken man in a leather jacket was straining to have a go at the police. ‘What can you do?’ his girlfriend asked him, holding him back by the jacket.

‘I can at least fuck up two of them. I can take the consequences. They ain’t gonna kill me.’

‘They will kick the shit out of you,’ says his girl-friend. She pacifies him for the moment, but he eludes her and stands, slouched on one elbow, against the railings, awaiting his moment of glory. Levering himself up he staggers half-way across the road towards the main police gathering, shouting, ‘You’re all a load of fucking wankers.’ Before he has got five metres he is arrested by the district commander in person.

In the end, the brave talk remained talk. At 6 p.m. the police decided to clear the crowds that had assembled. They moved on the group on the petrol-station fence, pushing them down Sandringham Road. At the same time another cordon of police began to walk up Sandringham Road from the other end. An escape route was deliberately left open — the alley of Birkbeck Road — and the cordons let through most of those who wanted to get by.

But many of the youths believed the police had trapped them in a pincer with the intention of beating them up. Several of them started to break down the wall next to Johnson’s café to use the bricks. As one young boy explained:

‘When they come smashing you over the head with a baton one night, the next time you know you’ve got to get something to defend yourself with.’

But this misinterpretation of police intentions itself brought on the attack it was intended to prevent. The police closed in to forestall the brick-throwers, there were scuffles, one policeman was injured, and five arrests were made.

And that was it. The expected explosion did not occur. The proceedings ended not with a bang but with a whimper. It is perhaps typical of Hackney that, although more deprived than Lambeth and most of the other scenes of disturbance, it couldn’t get together a full-blooded riot. The reason lies in Hackney’s fragmentation: it has no single core like Brixton has, where blacks predominate and congregate, no ghettos without their admixture of poor whites, Asians and Mediterraneans. The sheer numbers required to start a large-scale disturbance never came together. Police tactics, too, were flexible and effective: with the experience of Brixton to learn from, they did not offer a static, concentrated defensive line that was a sitting target for missiles. And they split up the opposition into smaller groups and kept them moving down separate side roads, preventing any larger crowds from forming.

Nevertheless, there was rioting and there was looting and there was violence. It is important to understand why. These were not the first skirmishes in the revolution, nor were they an organised protest against monetarism or mass unemployment. Many of the rioters were at school, some had jobs. The conscious motivation of those who were not just in it for the looting was, quite simply and straightforwardly, hatred of the police among the young and the desire to hit back at them for humiliations received. Monetarism and recession were, however, powerful indirect causes. The strains produced by loss of hope and faith in a society that seemed to have lost all charity certainly provided emotional fuel for the troubles. More specifically, recent recessions, each one deeper than the last, pushed up levels of violent theft and burglary, and therefore led to a greatly increased pressure of policing in the inner city, bringing police into unpleasant contact with increasing numbers of whites and blacks, guilty and innocent alike.

BLUE IS THE COLOUR: VIOLENCE IS THE GAME
Hackney People’s Press issue 71, August 1981

The clashes in Dalston and Stoke Newington between police and local people on the weekend of 10-12 July were the culmination of several days of tension, caused mainly by police tactics.

Local traders had been told repeatedly to board up shops because the police were expecting trouble, and this created an unreal siege-like atmosphere in both Kingsland and Stoke Newington High Streets. There were also a number of raids on Johnson’s, a West Indian cafe in Sandringham Road, which was to become the focus for the worst disturbances.

Our reporter was threatened by this policeman with getting his camera smashed. Shortly after, he was clubbed to the ground by another, and  had to have stitches put in a head wound.

Our reporter was threatened by this policeman with getting his camera smashed. Shortly after, he was clubbed to the ground by another, and  had to have stitches put in a head wound.

After groups of youths had gathered on various street corners police presence in the area was increased dramatically throughout the week. Trouble became inevitable when the police tried to prevent people going down Sandringham Road, to gather outside Johnson’s. On the Friday night, there were at least two baton charges by police to clear Sandringham Road. Policemen were lashing out wildly with truncheons – aiming at the head, in direct contravention of the Metropolitan Police Standing Orders – and many people were injured, including a Hackney People’s Press reporter, who was standing in the doorway of the Rio Cinema. He was taken to the Hackney Hospital, and had three stitches in a scalp wound. Our reporter writes:

“The casualty ward of the hospital was like a battle-field. A number of people were being treated for head wounds. I spoke to two 16-year old white youths who had been attacked. One of them had been truncheoned and kicked while outside the Rio, at the same time as me. Another had been attacked with a group of friends while on his way home to Stoke Newington. With his head bleeding from a wound, he and his friends walked all the way from Sandringham Road to Hackney Hospital. While at the hospital I saw uniformed and plain-clothes police writing down the names and addresses of people being treated. They were being helped to do this by at least one member of the administrative staff.”

In Stoke Newington on the same night there was repeated use of violent police tactics to clear the streets of people, many of whom were innocent bystanders and spectators. Several times Transit vans full of police were driven very fast down narrow roads and up onto pavements. Coachloads of police would suddenly rush out of their buses and chase off local people, lashing out wildly with their truncheons. HPP knows of a number of people who were attacked and arrested on that evening.

In most of these cases criminal charges are now pending, which makes any comment on them at the moment difficult, but it is quite clear that random attacks and arrests were being made, on the assumption that anyone around on the streets deserved what they got. On the Saturday, there were further disturbances during the afternoon, particularly in the Sandringham Road area. A pincer movement by police to try and clear the streets led to further violence and a number of arrests. Residents of St. Mark’s Rise were disturbed during the afternoon by groups of police chasing youths through their gardens. In one incident the police commander himself, Commander Howlett, arrested a man outside the Rio Cinema, during a conversation with a Hackney Councillor and the Secretary of the Hackney Council for Racial Equality. The man has now been charged with insulting behaviour after he had shouted at the group of people talking.

By the Sunday, the situation was a lot calmer, but there was still a massive police presence on the streets. Coachloads of them seemed to be permanently parked in Sandringham Road, and a new style of Transit van, with iron grids over the windscreen to prevent it being smashed, was seen outside Stoke Newington police station.

The organisers of two local festivals held that weekend at London Fields and Stoke Newington Common, were asked by the police to cancel their festivities. Both of these refused and, of course, there was no trouble at all. Since that weekend the inquests have started. A Hackney Legal Defence Committee has been set up and has started helping those arrested and attacked by the police during the various incidents. Already more than 50 people have been contacted by the Committee, most of whom will appear in court during August. The Borough Council, Hackney Council for Racial Equality and Hackney Community Action have all come forward in condemning police behaviour on Hackney’s streets that weekend. Below we report on a number of these initiatives. [an article on proposals for community control of the police, not included here – Ed]

UPRISING AFTERMATH
Hackney People’s Press issue 72, September 1981

Over 100 people were arrested after the uprising in July when youth took to the streets and clashed with the police. Many of them have now appeared in court, and some very severe sentences have been imposed by the magistrates. The Hackney Legal Defence Committee (HDLC) has been set up to assist those arrested during the uprising. Below we summarise what they are trying to do. First, we print an account of some reactions in the month following the uprising.

Along Kingsland and Stoke Newington High Streets, local traders were still repairing damage done to shops. I called in at Johnson’s cafe in Sandringham Road and asked about the baton charges and damage done to the West Indian cafe. I was told:

“All the glass wall and glass door at the front of the shop was kicked in, kicked in by the police – bash! and smash!”

Not doubting the fact that the police had lashed out wildly, zooming with their batons and cracking scalps, I said: “What’s your opinion of the riots that took place between the black youths and the police in the Dalston area in July?” The woman in the cafe said:

“Police came into the cafe using truncheons, slashing them in…a them head, using all their strength in murderous attacks on defenceless people. They was not concern about the frighten state of the people’s mind.”

I asked if there had been anything missing or stolen. She exclaimed: “No. Blood! Blood! Spilled by police tactics. They batter them, batter them in a tha head.”

Then I interviewed two administrative officers at the Town Hall, Mare Street. They suggested that the local authorities hadn’t any direct links with the action and movement of the local police force. They are only concerned in the parking sector and community work, and have a liaison committee with the police.

Nonetheless, I thought these questions were vital. At the time of the Civil Service dispute, the Town Hall was relied upon to share the work to help the unemployed. So I continued to ask their opinion on the riots and terrorism people suffered by the serious violence inflicted by the troops of armed police leaping from their vans, causing breach of the peace with unnecessary provocation.

One said:

“The government, in general terms, is giving the local authorities less and less money, therefore their plans for central facilities on programmes for work become fewer.”

He added:

“The riots in Hackney are minor compared with, say, Manchester or elsewhere.

“The disturbances should not cause great alarm, with the number of people who were involved. The local authorities are presently having committee meetings regarding additional educational courses. Benefits may be gained from self-organisation.”

I approached Stoke Newington Police Station enquiring about the clashes and police tactics, and asked to talk to the local home beat officer informally. I was told to write to the superintendent of police. Hercules [“Hercules” being the pseudonym of the reporter – Ed]

HOW YOU CAN HELP THE HACKNEY LEGAL DEFENCE COMMITTEE

If you are one of the arrested and require legal or financial assistance, or if you are a witness to any arrest or have any information which would help us in the legal defence of those charged, or if you received any injuries (or witnessed anyone receiving injuries) or have photographic evidence which would assist in our work, please contact us immediately at the address below.

We need financial contributions to pay for legal costs and fines, to ensure the best possible defence.

HLDC also needs your active participation in visiting courts and collecting information from those charged, those who witnessed incidents, those who were beaten up, etc.

If you want to contribute to the work of HLDC or require any further information, con-tact us at: The Co-ordinator, Hackney Legal Defence Committee (HLDC), c/o 247 Mare Street, E8; tel 986 4121.

HLDC meets every Friday evening. Contact the above for further details.

Finally, there is a suggestion on the Hackney Buildings site that the Hackney Peace Carnival mural was partly inspired by the riots of 1981, presumably including our own riot around the corner…

Communist Plan for Life in Hackney (1930s)

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This pamphlet was produced by Hackney Communist Party, probably in 1937 – prior to the London County Council elections that year. This page in the Amiel Melburn Trust Internet Archive suggests that similar pamphlets were produced for 28 London boroughs.

1937 was twenty years after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and one year into the Spanish Civil War. But there is a disappointing lack of revolutionary zeal (or even mention of communism) in the text below – the focus is on critical support for the Labour Party and commendable bread and butter working class issues like health, housing and wages instead. This is partly down to Lenin, whose “Left Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder encouraged British communists to work with the Labour Party rather than taking a hardline extra-parliamentary position as suggested by Sylvia Pankhurst and others.

So, whilst the General Strike of 1926 gets a mention, the Battle of Cable Street which had taken place in the previous year does not – even in the section on combatting fascism.

Some of the demands have resonances with today – landlords exploiting tenants with high rents and poor conditions, a lack of social housing or affordable childcare, poor people struggling to make ends meet etc.

But there are also some differences, which are arguably as a result of past campaigning victories – paid holidays for employees, raising of the school leaving age to 16 and decent maternity facilities in Homerton Hospital. Until fairly recently we also gained access to free education up to University standard and free milk for school children…

All the Hackney constituencies and Stoke Newington (which was then a separate borough) returned Labour councillors in the 1937 elections.

The future development of Hackney Communist Party is covered elsewhere on this site:

Bob Darke’s disaffection from the Hackney CP in the 1950s.

A Hackney Communist Party banner from 1952.

Hackney Needs Socialism – a similar pamphlet from 1978

Of related interest is a look at Lenin in Hackney.

The full text of the pamphlet follows below. I have amended some of the grammar, particularly some hyphenation that annoyed me. Scans of the original text are included too – you can click on the images to see a bigger version.

If anyone has a copy of Communist Plan for Life in Stoke Newington, please get in touch!

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WHO OWNS HACKNEY?

Hackney’s nearness to the City of London has influenced its development from a country manor to a suburban town and finally to a part of London. With the growth of the City of London and the rise in influence of city merchants we see a change taking place also in Hackney. The ownership of Hackney passes from the landed aristocracy into the hands of the city merchants, with the result that [in] about 1700 Mr. Tyssen, one of the merchants, became the Lord of the Manor. Today, descendants of this Mr. Tyssen still own large parts of Hackney. Among other large landowners of Hackney today are of course the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, St. Thomas’ Hospital Estate and the Spurstowe Trust.

Our Fine Record
With the growth of London we see workshops and factories rising in Hackney. Among the earliest known industries in Hackney were paint, and boot and shoe manufacturing, and as industry developed, so did working class activity! Hackney played its part in the famous Chartist Movement. Our workers providing a fair quota of Chartists, while the Lord of the Manor and his brother helped the Government to organise special constables in the attempt to prevent the demonstration of April 10, 1848. But this demonstration did meet – and elected delegates to present to Parliament the famous “Six Point Charter”, claiming political rights for the workers.

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The working people of Hackney were among the pioneers in the trade union organisation, some of London’s oldest trade union branches being in Hackney. Just as in the past, so today the people of Hackney are in front wherever there is a need to defend the people’s rights. They actively participated in the General Strike in 1926. They helped the miners both morally and financially. They assisted the famous Hunger March in 1934 by providing shelter to the Tyneside marchers. There isn’t a single working-class activity in London from which the workers of Hackney are absent.

Overcrowding
Growing industry and the rise of factories and workshops have changed Hackney from an area of open spaces to a densely built-up town. It has also brought a big rise in the population. In 1807 there were, in Hackney, four persons per acre, whilst now we have an average of 64.5 persons per acre! This growth has been chaotic and unplanned, causing very serious hardships for the workers and people of Hackney. It is the object of the Hackney Communist Party to discuss some of the more important questions concerning the life of the people in Hackney, and to give some positive proposals for the solution of these questions.

Win Better Factory Conditions !
Looking at Hackney today one sees a large industrial centre with 1,268 factories and workshops, some factories of worldwide repute, employing many hundreds of workers. There are firms in Hackney which have expanded from small beginnings to large millionaire establishments. Lewis Berger is a good example. This firm originated in Hackney and today is a worldwide firm whose profits for the last five years amount to £470,000. (The chairman of this company is Viscount Greenwood, who, as Sir Hamar Greenwood, let loose the Black and Tans in Ireland just after the war.)

commplantrans
There are many other factories, particularly in tailoring, where conditions are absolutely appalling. Speed-up is the predominant factor in production, and the conveyor belt, known among the workers as the ” chain-gang,” is in operation. Labour [i.e. the workers] is mainly juvenile owing to its cheapness, one particular factory connected with Hector Powe [tailors] has been a source of grievance not only to the workers in the factory but to the clothing workers in general.

A large number of factories have sprung up in the last few years in the Hackney Wick area where trade union organisation hardly exists and juvenile labour is predominant. The conditions are such that last year we had strikes taking place at Ingrarns, Bouts Tillotson, Morris’s, Bloom & Phillips, and other factories. Only complete trade union and shop organisation can secure improvement. Every year a large number of young people are crippled through accidents whilst working without proper protection. This barbaric system could be prevented if an adequate number of factory inspectors were maintained.

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Organise the Out-workers!
Whilst the conditions of the workers in factories are very bad, the conditions of ‘the workers who subcontract out and take the work home is far worse. This out-work is largely seasonal and even at the height of the season very few earn a decent wage for a working week of anything up to 100 hours. According to the Medical Officer of Health’s Annual Report for 1936 there are 1,565 out-workers in Hackney. These are on the register, but in reality this number can safely be doubled. Apart from the large factories and workshops there are, of course, a very large number of workshops employing a few workers each where exploitation is again very high, because of the lack of organisation.

Make the Transport Combines Give Us Better Travel!
Thousands of our workers have to travel long distances to work. Their life is made a bigger burden by the lack of trains, buses, and trains. In many cases they have a 10 or 20 minutes walk to get to one of these services and then they are invariably dangerously and unhealthily overcrowded.

The transport problem would not be difficult to solve were it not for the monopolist control by the London & North Eastern Railway and London Transport Board. These companies, anxious to maintain their profits, prevent any improvement being made in this vital service. The people of Hackney are entitled to better travelling facilities. This can be achieved by building an underground railway to the city, by adding more buses on existing services as well as by introducing new services where needed. There is now a favourable opportunity through the present extension of the underground railway from Liverpool Street to Woodford, passing through Bethnal Green, for Hackney to have a branch line giving speedy travel to the city and other parts of London.

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Housing
We often hear it said that in Hackney the housing conditions are not so bad as in other boroughs. There is some truth in this. But we say, without fear of contradiction, that in Hackney housing is still in a deplorable state. Here are some facts from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health:

(a) Overcrowding. The Public Health, Department discovered that at the end of 1936 out of 61,615 families visited, 2,876 families were living under overcrowded conditions;

(b) Unfit Houses. Out of 11,380 houses inspected for defects under the Public Health Act 5,067 were “found not in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation,” and in addition there were 344 houses found to be in a state so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation (suitable for demolition). 5,511 of 11,380 unfit for human habitation! If this is not bad we would like to know what bad housing conditions are!

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Landlords
Many thousands of houses in Hackney are nothing more than boxes placed one upon the other. These are the kind of “houses” that our landlords want us to live in and pay high rents for. At the Local Housing Inquiry the landlords’ agents put up a strong resistance against any clearance schemes of the Borough Council. Here are some arguments used against the demolition order:

“To demolish these houses will be a most wasteful proceeding, the families who are now happy and comfortable under quite good sanitary conditions will have to be rehoused, and they cannot afford to pay the rents charged by Local Authorities.”

“These small houses each contain a living room, a bedroom, and a scullery. They are ideal homes in a neighbourhood like Hackney, in the centre of London, for a married couple with one or two children. It is true that the heights of the rooms are not so much as the present regulations require, but that is really a very, unimportant detail.”

“The houses are quite equal to the standard prevailing in the district. The drains have been reconstructed and are quite sanitary.”

“There is only one defect that can be alleged against them—they have no backyard and no back windows. As to this, it is counteracted by the fact that if the front door is opened and the front window on the upper storey is opened, a current of fresh air is at once set up, and this operation can be put in motion as often as possible.”

The Labour Borough Council have made a good start, during the last three years they have cleared some of the blackest spots. Their 1935 Housing Programme provides for clearance of 31 acres containing 570 buildings and further clearance schemes are in hand. Compare this with. the Municipal Reform (Conservative) record. Their 1930 five-year programme provided for the clearance of 16 areas containing 277 buildings. The Labour Borough Council has built new flats at Clapton Common and Rossington Street. The new Hindle Street scheme provides for 205 flats to be built in blocks with perambulator and cycle sheds, also a communal laundry fitted with electric washing machines. A communal hall is provided for the use of residents. The rents of the Borough Council Flats compare very favourably with rents for private houses and they are much lower than those rents originally fixed by the Conservatives for their Council flats. For example the rents of the new Rossington Street flats are: 4s. 6d. one room; 7s. 6d. two room’s; 10s. 6d. three rooms.

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Keep the Rents Down!
Rents today are too high. But now every tenant is threatened with rents actually being put up! For the Rent Restrictions Act, which protects tenants from profit-grabbing landlords ends early in 1938! This Act must be renewed, and extended to protect every working-class house. But will the landlords’ National Government do this? Not unless the people themselves act, in support of our Council. Tenants’ Defence Leagues in many parts of London have won better conditions from landlords. Hackney needs such a League, if the coming struggle for rent control is to be successful, and we urge our Borough Council, with other Boroughs, to bring immediate pressure on the National Government.

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Labour’s Good Start
The Communist Party fully appreciates the advance made by the Labour Borough Council. It is good, but not good enough. With 2,475 families living under overcrowded conditions and with 5,511 houses not reasonably fit for human habitation, the Borough Council housing programme, planning to build 1,100 flats, cannot be considered as a satisfactory solution of Hackney’s housing problem. The Borough Council as well as the L.C.C. schemes are for rehousing of slum areas. We want houses for all Hackney people at reasonable rent. We say to the Borough Council:

Increase your housing programme so as to provide houses not only to replace overcrowding and slums, but also to provide houses at reasonable rents for those thousands of workers who are forced to pay high rents to private landlords. The chief reason for the existence of these bad conditions is the blocking of housing plans by the landlords and their National Government. Our Labour Council, with a strong Labour Government behind it, could soon solve the problem of housing!

Fine Health Achievements

The Labour Borough Council have also improved the Public Health Services. In the face of bitter opposition not only from the local Conservatives, but also from the National Government, the Borough Council has some remarkable achievements to its credit. The result of improved health services is best seen in the death rate. In 1936 the Hackney Borough Council was able to record its lowest maternal death rate. Only four mothers died in childbirth, the rate being 1.2 per thousand, whilst the rate for England and Wales was 3.6. Similarly the infantile death rate reached its lowest point for Hackney in 1935, being 47 per thousand as compared with 58 per thousand for the County of London for the same year. The Labour Borough Council has built a new Child Welfare Centre in Richmond Road and is proposing to build two or three other centres. No doubt it would have done much more but for the policy of the National Government, which puts armaments before social services. For example, but for the Labour Borough Council’s fight against the Ministry of Health, the Richmond Road Centre would not have been comparable with what it is today.

Maternity and Child Welfare Centres
Though, as we have seen above, the Labour Borough Council has made a good beginning in this field, the Maternity and Child Welfare Centres are still, with one or two exceptions, inadequate in some ways. The centres are not open long enough to deal with the number of mothers attending for advice and help, and no privacy exists for consultations with the doctors, etc. We ask that the Borough Council build Welfare Centres (in spite of the obstructionist tactics of the National Government) in all areas, so as to be in reasonable reach of all mothers, and that no new housing estate be built without its own Welfare Centre.

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Maternity Hospital for Hackney
Every year there are 3,000 babies born in Hackney. The majority of them are born of working-class parents whose mothers cannot afford to go into private nursing homes, and who are forced either to have their babies at home (often in already overcrowded premises) or seek confinement accommodation outside of our Borough. This is an intolerable position and we demand that a modern Maternity Hospital be built in Hackney. Our Borough is not a poor Borough; if we can afford to spend £250,000 for a new Town Hall, and also to spend £3,000 on Coronation decorations, and pay 5 per cent. interest on loans to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, surely we can afford to spend an appropriate sum for a Maternity Hospital.

Free Milk for Babies and Schoolchildren
Milk, the most essential body-building food, is absent from many homes in Hackney. It is too dear to buy. Many a mother cannot afford the price of 3 1/2 d. per pint, Yet milk is cheap for industrial purposes. More than 1d. out of 3 1/2 d. you pay goes to subsidise the manufacture of butter, cheese, chocolate and other milk products. These manufacturers get their supplies of milk as low 1/2 d. per pint. London’s milk trade is dominated almost entirely by one huge company, the United Dairies. Over the past 10 years this company has netted nearly £6,000,000. The National Government protects the profits of these huge combines and with its armaments programme forces food prices to go up. The cost of living is rising every day and housewives find it more difficult to get enough, bread, let alone milk. The Communist Party urges the Borough Council to provide every child with at least one pint of milk daily. We ask the Borough Council to provide not only free milk, but also other nourishing foods and medicine to all necessitous mothers, ignoring the Means Test and all other restrictions. This can be done—make the National Government pay the bill. We must also insist that the policy of the Milk Board of cheap milk to industries and dear milk to workers should cease.

Higher and higher prices for food. More and more mothers unable to buy proper nourishment. All the more need to see that full powers are used to give our children cheap milk and free meals!

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Day Nursery
An adequate number of Day Nurseries is urgently needed. Hackney, with a population of over 200,000, has many thousands of working women who go out to work, and there is only one small Day Nursery. Even this nursery is a private concern, though subsidised by the Borough Council to the extent of £200 a year. Therefore we demand that Municipal Day Nurseries be established in every ward and every large housing estate. These nurseries must be staffed by competent and qualified persons.

Education

  1. The C.P. demands the raising of the school-leaving age to 16 years with adequate grants to parents. This would contribute to the solution of the problem of unemployment among youth.
  2. Full opportunity-for every child of access to free education up to University standard.
  3. Limitation of classes in accordance with the National Union of Teachers demands.
  4. Provision of sufficient number of well-equipped modern schools, especially in areas where large new housing estates have been built.

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Hands Of the Unemployment Fund ! Food Before Guns !
In spite of the fact that we are supposed to be living in the time of boom or so-called “prosperity”, in Hackney there are nearly 5,000 on the Unemployed Register and some 4,000 persons receiving outdoor relief. The C.P. realises that the real solution of the problem of unemployment can be attained only under Socialism, but we propose the following as immediate steps to relieve the hardships of the unemployed:

  1. A 40-hour week for all workers. The Borough Council to give a lead to introduce this at once for municipal employees.
  2. A fortnight’s holiday for all with pay.
  3. All the Borough Council building schemes to be carried out by direct labour under T.U. rates and conditions.
  4. Full relief for unemployed at T.U. Congress scales: 20s. each adult, 10s. each dependant, 5s. each child, and full relief for single men and women.
  5. Abolition of the Means Test.

The Means Test was introduced as a means of economy in 1931 by the National Government; the Unemployed Fund has accumulated a surplus of £60 million. The war-mongers’ Government is after this money in order to use it for its arms programme. The C.P. declares that this money belongs to the unemployed and it must be used to increase the scales of relief, particularly in view of the rapidly rising cost of living.

But not with the Food Prices Rocketing!
The cost of living has risen so much that a pound buys less than 57 shillings did a year ago! Meat, bacon, flour, butter, bread, tea, milk—all are going up almost every week ! To catch up with these rising prices, workers need a rise of at least 3s. 6d. in the pound. Not to make them better off, but just so they can eat as well as they did last year!

The workers who are most seriously hit by the increases are the unskilled labourers, unemployed, and old age pensioners.

Who is responsible for this increase? The shopkeepers? The Co-operative Societies? No! The policy of the National Government, in giving subsidies to the Marketing Boards and their price-fixing policy. Who benefits from these high prices? The big trusts and companies who are piling up profits. And it is the deliberate polity of the National Government to raise prices to help pay for the war plans. They make the poor pay instead of the rich, through their food taxes.

How can we fight the policy of the National Government and the Marketing Boards? Communists propose an immediate united campaign by the whole Labour Movement:

To force a reduction in the combines’ profits, and so a reduction in food prices.

To abolish the taxes on our food.

To put working-class representatives on the Food Council, and to make this body publicly expose profiteering prices.

To raise wages to meet the high cost of living. Our Council must help in this by an increase of 5s. to all municipal workers under the Joint Industrial Council. To win an increase of 2s. 6d. in the pound to all those on Public Assistance—and the unemployment scales to those advocated by the Trades Union Council, of 20s. to each adult, 10s. to each dependant, and 5s. to each child. To increase old age and all other pensions. To make the rich pay for these necessities out of their super-profits.

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We Want Cheaper Electricity
“Electricity is cheap in Hackney,” says the Borough Council. But it is not cheap to the small consumer. The scale of charges favours the rich. For example, it varies in price from 1/2 d. to 4 1/4 d. per unit, and for industrial purposes the rate is half that of the domestic rate. For example, in 1936 the industrialists paid an average of 1.09d. per unit and domestic users paid an average of 2.01d. per unit.

We want the unification of the scales of charges, and free wiring installations for all working-class houses to make electricity available to all.

Defence of Hackney Citizens Against Fascism
Whilst new homes and better conditions are essential, it is necessary to safeguard these by defending our democratic rights. Hackney workers have a special problem to face in the growing Fascist menace. Brutal attacks on Hackney residents have been made: people have been beaten up. Fascism is attempting to obtain a foothold in Hackney and is planning to oppose Herbert Morrison [Labour MP for Hackney South] in the coming Parliamentary Elections. The C.P. appeals to every worker who values his home and liberty to keep the Fascists out of Hackney. This can be done by the unity of all progressive elements and more particularly by the unity of all working-class parties in the Borough without exception. As an immediate step to combat the Fascist menace we propose the following:

  1. Banning of all Fascist meetings in Hackney, whether outdoor or indoor.
  2. The closing of the Fascist barracks.
  3. Democratic control of the police to ensure protection against Fascist attacks.

Against War
With the continued existence of the National Government in office the war menace grows daily. Everything goes to prove that the National Government is encouraging Fascist aggression abroad and at home. Spain and China today, and it may be England tomorrow. How can those who are leading us to war be trusted to protect us against war? Can the National Government and their local Conservative allies, who have continually condemned the British working class to ill-health and starvation with their economy stunts, Means Tests and rising prices, be trusted? Can these people be trusted to protect us from air raid attack? Obviously not! We believe that the only defence for peace is the defeat of the National Government and their local allies. We do not think that war is inevitable, but we believe the National Government should be made responsible for the supply of suitable protection equal to that for the rich. Gas masks must be of the very best quality, and the construction of gas- and bomb-proof shelters, under the control of the Borough Council, should be undertaken at once. All air raid precautions should be democratically controlled by the Borough Council and the working bodies in the Borough. The full cost of these schemes must be borne by the National Government and not by the Borough Council.

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Make the Rich Pay!
The proposals as outlined in the preceding pages will, of course, require money. Now, where is the money to come from? This need not come from the rates, but should be borne by the people who are exploiting. Hackney. How can this be done?

  1. End the Derating Act, by which the National Government relieved the rich employers of three-quarters of the rates making the workers foot the bill. Make employers pay their rates in full!
  2. The rating of empty premises. This measure would not only bring in more money from the landlords, who can afford to pay. But it would immediately bring down rents!
  3. Reduction of interest on loans.
  4. Steeply graded municipal tax.
  5. Grants from the L.C.C.
  6. Increased grants from the National Government. Social services must come before armaments. The National Government spends £350 million per year for arms. If they can find the money for armaments, they can find the money for the improvement of the standard of life of the people!

Communists believe that all working people of Hackney want to see the plans outlined in this pamphlet put into action. How can it be done? By a united, determined, Labour Movement, composed of all working class bodies including the Communist Party. United Labour action will not only strengthen Labour Councils everywhere. But will also defeat the National Government and put in its place a strong Labour Government.

A STRONG COMMUNIST PARTY IS THE
SUREST WAY OF GETTING SUCH UNITED
ACTION BY THE WHOLE LABOUR MOVE-
MENT. THEREFORE IF YOU WANT TO
TAKE A HAND IN BUILDING THE NEW,
HAPPY AND HEALTHY HACKNEY – JOIN
THE HACKNEY COMMUNIST PARTY AND
PLAN FOR LIFE.

Published by the Hackney Communist Party, 280a, Richmond Rd., Hackney, E.8, and printed by Marston Printing Co. (T.U.), Nelson Place, Cayton Street, London, E.C.1.

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Who Killed Aseta Simms? 1972

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A small (A6ish) pamphlet published by the Black Unity and Freedom Party in 1972. There is an overview of the history of the BUFP by Professor Harry Goulbourne here. Ken Worpole mentions the group having regular street sales in Ridley Road market.

Aseta Simms is one of an inexcusably large number of people to have died in suspicious circumstances in Stoke Newington police station. Mrs Simms’ death was also a front page story in Hackney Gutter Press.

Aseta Simms is often mentioned in lists of deaths in police custody but it’s harder to find the context. The text is reproduced below (with some small corrections for consistency etc) alongside the original pages so you can see the presentation of the original.

PREFACE

Will we ever know? Mrs Simms was certified dead in Stoke Newington Pig sty. It is very strange that of late, people seem to be leaving everywhere else to die and end up on a cold slab in the Pig-Sty. For our part, the answer is very simple. There is a plot to commit Genocide against our people. The pig-police hands are stained with the blood of our people. They are the hatchet men of the racist fascists.

Printed and Published by Black Unity And Freedom Party c/o 31, Belgrade Road, Stoke Newington, ISSUE No.1. London N.16. 1972.

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CHAPTER ONE

Her Daughter Speaks

“My mother was picked up outside the gas station (Manor Road), at approximately 11.30pm. She was brought to the local police station (Stoke Newington), and died at approximately, between 12.00pm and 12.30pm [Hackney Gutter press (link above) report this as having happened on 13th May 1971. The later times in this sentence should probably read 12:00am and 12:30am, i.e the early hours of the 14th May – Radical History of Hackney note].

Here the police stated that she was too drunk to find her way home, and she could not tell the police where she lived. But a white girl who live in one of her houses in Brighton Road, Stoke Newington, had a piece of paper on which my mother had written my sister’s name, her telephone number, her addresses etc. The police claimed they did not see this note. WHY NOT?

The girl, Mrs Archer, said she saw my mother fall. WHERE? She also had my mother’s bank book. Where did she get it from?

On the same day, my mother had a rental Tribunal Case with the Archers. The Tribunal gave them a week in which to leave the house.

Mrs Archer said that my mother was drunk. How did she know? Mr. Archer said that my mother and his wife left the house at the same time and went to the Off Licence. He said further that my mother bought a bottle of Whisky and his wife bought a bottle of Guinness. He showed me the bottle of Guinness. But in the afternoon my mother had bought a bottle of whisky. So therefore; she couldn’t have bought a bottle of whisky when Mr Archer said so.

The police said they laid my mother on her tummy, so if she was sick, it would not stifle her. They said they watched her until she died. What did she say before she died? NO ONE KNOWS!

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CHAPTER TWO

The coroner’s Hearing St. Pancras

Coroners Chambers

Police Doctor from WOOD GREEN

“I examined the body of this coloured woman, and found that she was a well-nourished woman. There was swelling above the right eye and bruising below. There was deep bruising over her head but no fracture, but the brain was swollen. The heart was not the cause of her death. There was no barbitrates in her organs. There was alcohol in the blood stream. It is arguable that some people might die with this level of alcohol in their blood stream; but we have had people with much higher levels who are still alive today. The bruising was consistent with someone falling about or with someone who had been beaten. There was very little evidence that she had inhaled vomiting, but this was not the cause of her death. I cannot truthfully say what was the cause of her death.”

DOCTOR FOR Police commission

“I received two samples said to be taken from the body of this dead coloured woman: Samples of blood and whisky. The blood samples showed 479ml grammes of alcohol and this concentration may be considered lethal; but there is no firmly established level to equate with death. The level found in the blood samples could only have arisen if a full bottle of whisky was drunk quickly.”

EIder DAUGHTER Says

“I saw my mother last alive at 2.00pm on 13/5/71, it was polling day of the local council elections. She was sober and alright. She had eaten some fish and chips earlier on. About once every other week my mother would buy some drinks. My mother was fine and healthy. I knew my mother died while in police custody. I saw her at St. Leonards hospital after she was dead, and noticed that she had a lot of bruising over and below her right eye, which she did not have before.”

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COUSIN Relates

“She came by my place about 1.30pm on the day she died. We then left and went to Archway and then to Tottenham. She ate some fish and chips. She did not drink before she came to my place. But while we were out the day before 12/5/71, she bought a bottle of whisky on the way back to my place at about 5.00pm. We had two drinks each that evening before she left for home, leaving the whisky behind with me. On the day that she died, she took the bottle which was 3/4 full and put it in her bag and left at about 9.00pm to go and look after her children. She had some grown up children and another four aged from 12 years old down-wards. She often came round to my place to leave money for her daughter to pay the mortgage. She had a tribunal case on that day. I have never seen her drunk. When I went to the police station the drinks (whisky) was not there, but I was shown an empty bottle. I cannot say what has happened to the 3/4 bottle of whisky which she left with, for she never drank in the street. It is still a mystery to me where she could have been between the time she left and when I saw her body in the police station. The woman (Mrs. Archer) who lived upstairs had her bank book”

The coroner, Douglas Chambers interrupted quote “We can-not take such evidence.”

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CHAPTER THREE

THE BIG COVER-UP!

Mrs B. Archer

“I have lived at 47, Brighton Road, for over a year. Mrs Simms and I never did get on. I have seen Mrs Aseta Simms worst for drink before, but I cannot really say when. When I returned from the tribunal hearing I saw Mrs Simms..”

The coroner interrupted and said “This is the period which the daughter cannot fill in.”

“I saw Mrs Simms fall near the Post Office in Brighton Road, we picked her up and I went into the Off Licence. She did not bang her head or anything. She then got onto the bus stop, she would have got a shilling fare to go home. She was walking unsteadily. I last saw her at about 10.30pm. She didn’t buy anything in the Off Licence; but when she fell, I saw a bottle of whisky fall out. I have never seen her so drunk.

Mrs Archer was taken to and from the coroner’s court in a police car.

STOKE NEWINGTON POLICE

G.196, KING

“I was a passenger in a police car, we were following a bus; as we went over the junction, I saw a coloured woman lying on a forecourt in Manor Road, N16. She was shouting and supporting herself on one arm. I went to pick her up; She became terrible violent, grabbed my belt and began twisting it, after a struggle, we got her into the van. We lifted her into the van and laid her out onto the floor; she was still kicking out. She forced herself onto her bottom. I then held both her wrists and P.C.227, held her ankles. She was still being violent.

At the station, we carried her into the charge room and placed her on the floor. She was not capable of standing; her knees were badly bruised. I didn’t see any bruising over her eyes; come to think of it, I did see bruising over her head. We then put her on the floor in the cell. I couldn’t get through to her. She was left semi-prone, she was calm and snoring quite loudly. While in there the snoring began to diminish, I thought she was asleep.

I went back to arouse her, but I could not. Sergeant Barker and I then tried to give her respiration but failed. An ambulance was then sent for. We did not send for any doctor. She was not lying on anything; just the bare floor.”

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G.227.

“I was with officer G.196. She was lying between cars and swearing, she appeared to be drunk even from a distance. She kicked me two or three times. We lifted her into the van and she fought her way back onto her feet. In the charge room I was to accept that she was very violent. Two hours later, I went back to where we had picked her up and found a whisky bottle leaning against a wall with some whisky in it.”

Sergeant G.81.

“I was on patrol duty in another vehicle when I received a radio call for assistance. When I got to the scene, I saw her on the floor of the van with two officers holding her arms and legs. She was very violent. At the station several of us carried her into the station. Inside I tried speaking to her but she didn’t understand. I did see bruises on her head.

I saw her body later in the back of an ambulance, well she was very drunk. I cannot say exactly when the doctor arrived, but about shortly before 11.45pm.”

Sergeant G.78.

“I was on duty earlier on in the evening, I was driving a car in the Stamford Hill area. I received call for help. I went there and saw her being restraint. I didn’t see any injuries. I saw her being carried into the charge room kicking and struggling; she could not stand. She was crawling about on the floor. Mrs Simms, as I now know was incapable of doing anything. I assisted P.C. G.196 to carry her into the charge room. I held her by the left arm, she was struggling. She was breathing normally, I then left. I returned later and saw P.C. G.196 sitting outside-on the stairs with head in hands and he told me that Mrs. Simms had stopped breathing. I immediately commenced respiration until the ambulance came. The police doctor arrived and examined the body.”

WOMAN POLICE H.345. LEMAN STREET

“I got to Stoke Newington police station at 11.45pm, I went into the cell and saw lying face downwards; I was then called away. I was then told that she was dead.”

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INSPECTOR

“I was on duty and I saw events as stated and knew. I did not know the deceased. The doctor was sent for at 11.55pm. Doctor arrived same time as the ambulance. It was normal procedure to have drunken people in that manner. Tries were made to get other doctors before but this failed. ”

The CORONER retired with the jury

“She was violent. She died with an amount of alcohol in her blood stream. The Home office says that the coroner has a choice to sit or not to sit with the jury in special circumstances. There are special circumstances in this hearing, therefore under the Home office rules for coroners’ courts, I shall sit with the jury .

How, when, where or why the person or persons should be charged with murder or manslaughter; under the circumstances, there is no such accusation. No question of the verdict to have civil liabilities . A rider could be put in to prevent repetition of this kind of deaths. Some reasonable people would assume that the bottle found, was the same one from which she had consumed whisky until she was found between the cars. She could not be charged because she could not have understood.”

Verdict

“The verdict is death by misadventure, there is no rider.”

CHAPTER THREE

Conclusion

WE DEMAND AN IMMEDIATE PUBLIC ENQUIRY IN TO THE BRUTAL RACIST ACTIVITIES OF THE POLICE AGAINST BLACK PEOPLE.

We know this Black sister Mrs Simms was murdered by the racist police. This much we have no doubt of. In the face of the evidence given at the coroner’s court held on 10/6/71, at St Pancras. The coroner, Douglas Chambers went and sat with the jury; claiming he had power to do so under some unknown Home Office rules. Now ask yourselves, why did he found it necessary to sit with the jury? The smell left from this inquest bears too potent a stench to be tolerate, even by the greatest appeasement inclination.

ASETA7

BLACK PEOPLE IN BRITAIN MUST WRITE TO THEIR LOCAL MPs, DEMANDING AN IMMEDIATE PUBLIC ENQUIRY INTO THE DEATH OF MRS. SIMMS AND INTO THAT OF THE BEHAVIOUR OF CORONER DOUGLAS CHAMBERS DURING THE INQUEST.

This is only the beginning of the campaign. We shall not rest until the pig-police who have murdered our sister, Mrs Simms are weeded out punished. We shall organize, demonstrate and use any means necessary.

IF WE ARE SO FOOLISH TO ALLOW THIS BRUTAL MURDER OF OUR BLACK SISTER TO GO UNPUNISHED: SURELY AS DAY FOLLOWS DAY: WE SHALL BE MURDERED IN OUR BEDS.

UNLIKE THE JEWS IN GERMANY, WE HAVE NO INTENTION OF LYING IDILY BY. WE SHALL RESIST AND COUNTER ATTACK EVERY INCH OF THE WAY TO THE GAS CHAMBERS. [NB: I don’t think this point is well made – there was significant Jewish and other resistance to the Nazis. Also, as a bad as 1970s Hackney was, a comparison to Nazi Germany, gas chambers etc is well over the top – Radical History of Hackney note]

WE HAVE A DUTY TO OUK CHILDREN , OURSELVES, BLACK PEOPLE THE WORLD OVER AND TO HUMANITY TO STRUGGLE CEASELESSLY UNTIL THESE RABID, RACIST POLICE ARE DEALT WITH.

NO RIGHTS – NO OBLIGATIONS.

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Aseta commemorated on a Hackney Community Defence Association banner, as seen at a meeting about Spycops earlier this year:

HCDA banner at Chats Palace Spycops meeting

Hackney Archives and the struggle for equality at Percy Ingle

I spent a great afternoon in November at the Hackney Archives’ “Occupy The Archives” event as part of the Antiuniversity series.

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I was very impressed with the dedication of the staff, the contributions of other attendees and the general atmosphere. It was great to meet some people who’d seen this site too.

There was perhaps predictably too much stuff to take in, but my eye was drawn to a particular file which included notes, minutes and letters from various protest groups – many of which had postal addresses courtesy of Centerprise:

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IMG_2566  IMG_2565.
This material has been used to update a previous post on Centerprise’s radical mailboxes.

If I get another spare afternoon then I’ll be straight back to Hackney Archives to do some more digging for this site…

The archives do good twitter too, if that is your thing: @archiveshackney

In the meantime, drop me a line or leave a comment below if you were involved with any of the above – particularly the Percy Ingle campaign.

 

Roach Family Support Committee – Bulletin 3, 1983

Colin Roach died of a gunshot wound in the foyer of Stoke Newington Police Station on the night of the 12 January 1983. The subsequent protests and community investigation are covered in the book Policing In Hackney 1945-1984.

The bulletin below gives a flavour of the protests and campaign for a public inquiry about Colin’s death.

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Roach_Bulletin_3 [pdf version]

Scans courtesy of the comrades at Mayday Rooms.

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TIME FOR WHITELAW TO STOP DITHERING

At the start of the campaign for an independent public inquiry into the death of Colin Roach, the Roach Family Support Committee wrote to Home Secretary William Whitelaw. RFSC called on the Home Secretary to set up a PUBLIC INQUIRY into all the circumstances surrounding the death of Colin Roach in Stoke Newington Police Station. Numerous other organisations and individuals also wrote to Whitelaw making the same demand.

In response, the Home Secretary accepted the need for a “full independent and public inquiry into the matter.” However, he argued that such an inquiry would be provided by the inquest. This latter argument is fallacious and has been thoroughly discredited.
Firstly, the Coroner, Dr Douglas Chambers, publicly stated that his inquest was not a public inquiry, that the Home Secretary was wrongly and badly advised. He demonstrated this by pointing out that in the case of Kevin Gately who was killed by the National Front, both an inquest and a Public Inquiry were held.

Secondly, when the Coroner went to the High Court over the venue of the inquest and the interested party Status of Hackney Black Peoples Association, he was rebuffed by Mr Justice Woolfe on both counts. In his judgement, Mr Justice Woolfe said,

“Although AN INQUEST IS THEREFORE AN INQUIRY WHICH IS TO BE HELD IN PUBLIC, IT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A PUBLIC INQUIRY, USING THAT PHRASE AS REFERRING TO THE TYPE OF INQUIRY WHICH THE HOME SECRETARY HAS BEEN ASKED TO SET UP.”

Given those circumstances, the Home Secretary also has to bear in mind that over 100 members of Parliament have signed two Commons Motions calling for, an Independent Public Inquiry.

The Home Secretary cannot dither any longer. Now is the time for him to announce the setting up of the Independent Public Inquiry, regardless of whether it is held before or after the inquest.

RFSC calls on all individuals and organisations who support our central demand to write to the Home Secretary again on this matter.

Letters should be sent to:
William Whitelaw M.P. Home Secretary
The Home Office
Queen Anne’s Gate
London SW1

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THE INQUEST AND THE CORONER

The inquest on Colin Roach was resumed at 9a.m. on April 18th at St. Pancras Coroner’s Court. The Coroner immediately adjourned it until Monday April 25th again at St. Pancras.

The family’s lawyer asked that it should be adjourned as the family were all prepared for it to go ahead. The Coroner did not even consider this.

Lawyers acting for Hackney Council and Colin’s family asked that the inquest be transferred to Hackney Town Hall so that all the people who wanted to attend the inquest could do so. The police opposed the transfer of the inquest but refused to say why in public. They would only give their reasons in secret. They said they would produce Affidavits later in the day.

After listening to the lawyers the Coroner decided that he would not transfer the inquest.
The lawyers acting for Colin’s family were puzzled as to why the police were producing Affidavits. These were clearly not needed in the Coroner’s Court as the Coroner had already announced his decision as to where and when the inquest would be held.
Later that day (18.4.83) summonses were delivered to the family’s solicitors, to HBPA, to Hackney Council, and to the GLC. The Coroner was going to the High Court to seek a Declaration that the GLC could not order him to move the inquest. The police Affidavits were to be used by the Coroner to support his case that the inquest should not be moved.

This raises a number of questions –

  • How did the police know the Coroner was going to need the Affidavits?
  • Was there collusion between the police and the Coroner over the weekend before the inquest resumed?
  • Was the Coroner’s application to the High Court a deal cooked up by him and the police before the inquest even started?
  • If so, that means the Coroner is colluding with the police and the hearing on April 18th was a charade because the police and the Coroner had taken all the decisions beforehand.
  • If so, that would mean the Coroner was in the pocket of the police, and the police were telling him what to do and what to say.
  • If so, have they already told the Coroner what verdict he has to produce at the end of the inquest?
  • If the Coroner is colluding with the police, how can he be regarded as independent?
  • If the Coroner is not colluding with the police, why did he go to the High Court to stop the inquest being moved? Why didn’t he let the police do it?
  • After what has happened no one can have any faith in the independence of the Coroner and no one can have any faith in the inquest.
  • Why won’t the Coroner let Colin’s family see all the evidence he has collected?
  • What is the Coroner trying to hide?
  • Is he trying to protect the police by suppressing evidence?The inquest is just another part of the cover up. Don’t be fooled.

Who Killed Aseta Simms?

(Reprinted from BLACK VOICE, VOLUME 2, 1971.)

asetasimms

Mrs. Aseta Simms, while in the custody of police officers from Stoke Newington police station, received multiple injuries of which she later died.

These injuries must have been inflicted by someone inside Stoke Newington but unknown to the community, except the police.

At the Coroner’s hearing on 10.6.71, a police doctor from the Wood Green area says this:
“I examined the body of Mrs. Simms and found that she was a well-nourished coloured woman. There was swelling and bruising above and below the right eye. There !vas deep bruising over her head but no fracture, but the brain was swollen. The heart was not the cause of death. There was no evidence of alcoholic poisoning. There was little evidence of inhaling vomitting. I cannot say what was the cause of her death. “

With this evidence given by a police doctor. The racist Coroner, Douglas Chambers in his hasty quest to cover up the murder of this black woman; took over both roles in the hearing of Coroner and jury: claiming that he had the right to do so under some unknown home office rules. He went and sat with the jury, returning a verdict of ‘Death by Misadventure’ meaning that this black woman murdered her own self.

The family of Mrs Simms is not going to allow her brutal murder to go unpunished, Black people in Britain and outside Britain are not satisfied either. We are determined that these murderers will be weeded out and be punished by the people. We, members of the Black Unity And Freedom Party shall give every assistance to the family in their struggle for justice.

This is a part of our general struggle against this rotten, racist, capitalist system. There is no force in the world more powerful than a determined people. If we allow the perpetrators of this brutal murder to get away with it. Then we all know surely as day follows day; they are going to murder us all the following day.

WE CHARGE WITH COMPLICITY OF MURDER:
1) Insp. Barton of Stoke Newington
2) Coroner Douglas Chambers who sat on the hearing as judge and jury.
3) Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham or Quintin Hogg.
4) Commissioner of Police, Waldron, under whose commission this crime was committed.
5) The two doctors who gave evidence in the coroners’ hearing.

INQUEST SET FOR JUNE 6
Coroner Dr. Douglas Chambers who officiated in the Aseta Simms case is also the Coroner in the Colin Roach inquest.
He has set the date for the resumed inquest for Monday June 6 at the Clerkenwell County Court 33 Duncan Terrace, Islington N1.

STATE CRACKS DOWN ON RFSC SUPPORTERS
For those people arrested while campaigning for the Independent Inquiry, a hardening of attitudes by Magistrates at Highbury Corner is manifesting itself.

In particular, all those people who appear before Magistrate Mr. Johnson have no chance of being acquitted however diabolical the police evidence.

To date, every person who has come before Mr. Johnson have been convicted and sentenced very severely.

He appears to come into court with his mind already made up, with a blind faith in the total sincerity and total unemotional involvement of the police.

Two most disturbing cases are those of Merville Bishop, a RFSC Steward on the 12 March demonstration, and the case of Fred Chitole who was not taking part in the demonstration, was not taking part in it, but happened to be on his way home when police attacked the last RFSC March.

For performing his duties as a Steward, Merville was physically assaulted and arrested. He was sentenced to 28 days imprisonment by Mr. Johnson.

Fred Chitole was not demonstrating. He had been to Woolworths to buy batteries, then to Rumbellows to buy a cassette. He was on his way to Boots the Chemist to buy shampoo when he was arrested.

Fred Chitole was convicted by Mr. Johnson and sentenced to six weeks imprisonment.
Both cases are subject to appeal.

WIDESPREAD SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC INQUIRY
The campaign for an Independent Public Inquiry has received widespread local and National support.

Here, we publish a sample of the letters received by RFSC.

Brothers & Sisters,
Hail I, and Greetings. I will be on the march on May 14th. I have participated in previous marches and have witnessed the provocative behaviour of the police. In my own case, I was pushed and dragged for no reason.
My previous experience with the police leads me to believe that the police are engaged in a cover up over how Colin Roach met his death. In November 1982, my brother was being arrested by the police – ten minutes after leaving home, for allegedly committing a mugging up the Narrow Way.
As a Youth Worker, I tried to explain to them my concern and the impossibility of him being involved.
They abused me verbally, used violence to arrest me, then charged me with assault, criminal damage and obstruction. My brother was released without any charge. I am now awaiting trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court.
The circumstances of my arrest and the charges against me are similar to what happened to a number of the people arrested on the previous marches.
We must not give up! We must continue to fight for our rights! We must keep on fighting until we get the independent public inquiry we are campaigning for. That is the only way we will know the truth.

Sister Asher

Dear Brother / Sister,
We are writing you in order to send our support for the aims of your committee. We have urged the Sunderland Polytechnic Students’ Union to send a formal letter of support, on behalf of all its members, to you.
We would further like to show our support by marching with you in solidarity at your forthcoming national march. We therefore ask that you please send us the relevant information (date, time, place etc).
We are presently arranging a collection, among the students, for your financial appeal. If there are any other ways in which we could be of assistance, please let us know.

Radical Black Students Society Sunderland Polytechnic

Dear Sir / Madam,
First of all, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to Colin Roach and his family, in what they have been through. I feel that we (meaning S.P.E.A.R.) would like to contribute our support in any way we can to help to promote your cause.
S.P.E.A.R. (which stands for, Solidarity of Pupils in Education Against Racism), is a political and cultural body in our school that was formed to promote the issues that affects Black people in general and Black interest as a whole. It is at present very successful, in that we have successfully amalgamated every Black conscious pupil as well as white sympathisers, into organising themselves on issues that arises such as your cause. I feel as the Colin Roach Committee is a newly set up committee, it is important that S.P.E.A.R. can play an important part in your campaign for justice, for Blacks in Britain, by opening the eyes of both the whites and Blacks of our school and our community, in order to do that, we need your help.
S.P.E.A.R. would like to help:
(1) Distribute leaflets about the case of Colin Roach
(2) Would appreciate a speaker to come up to our school and talk to us about the case
(3) Would like to organise an activity e.g. sponsored walk in order to help fund your cause.
In order to do so, I feel that we need you to open our eyes to the realities that affects us all, and in doing so, I feel that we need your presence at our school

Yours faithfully,
President of S.P.E.A.R.
Leyton Senior High School for Girls

Dear Friends,
The Students of Warwick University Students’ Union, a considerable number of whom come from the south and east of London, have instructed me to write to you expressing our support for you in your fight to fmd the truth surrounding the death of Colin.
In recent years too many people, white as well as black, have died in similar mysterious circumstances while in police custody. It also can no longer be ignored that Black youth in many of our cities are continually. harassed and intimidated by police Officers.
Good Luck in your struggle.

Yours fraternally,
General Secretary
Students Union, Warwick University
Dear Friends,
Having recently learned of the tragic death of Colin Roach, we wish to extend our condolences to his family. We also wish to offer our support to your campaign.
We have discussed the leaflet which you have produced and would like to write to William Whitelaw to request that a full and proper inquiry (into the circumstances leading to Mr Roach’s death) is carried out.
If you think it would be helpful to you we will write to the Home Secretary in support of you, and provide you with a copy of the letter. Please write and let us know.

Yours sincerely,
Helen Best
Secretary, Tameside Immigration Campaigns Support Group.

Dear Sir,
RE: COLIN ROACH
I am writing this letter to point out to you and your colleagues that I was particularly impressed with the measure of codification and discipline demonstrated on Saturday at the March and Rally re: the above-mentioned brother’s death.
It is a fact of life and we have the ability and capacity to delineate concretely that we Blacks can expose the lie rather the mendacity and the myth, that we are unconstructive and un-productive.
As the Superintendent minister for Stoke Newington, I would like you to be assured of my Circuit support at all times. Not to mention my personal conviction, commitment and dedication to the total and whole liberation of oppressed and indigent people.
May the inner need and power of solidarity and that deep and penetrative love for each other motivate us at all times, to work, plan, demonstrate, and move towards that degree of human audacity, that when fully and truly translated means justice, freedom, unity, and liberation.
May the eternal light of love ie concrete human love and brotherhood keep you and your committee contiguously.
Please keep me posted and do feel free to call on me anytime for my support.
Yours in the struggle for the creation of peace, justice, love, brotherhood and manumission.

Yours sincerely,
Rev. Robinson Millwood
The Methodist Church
Stoke Newington Mission Circuit

Dear Sir / Madam,
The following resolution was passed by the National Executive of the N.C.B.T in its meeting held at the Institute of Education, University of London, on Wednesday 16th March 1983.
The N.C.B.T give their full support to the Colin Roach Campaign in their fight against systematic attempts on the part of the police to cover up and to obstruct any investigation in the event under which Colin Roach’s death took place.
We support the demand for an official inquiry.

Yours faithfully,
Co-ordinating Secretary
National Convention of Black Teachers
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I am writing on behalf of the Hackney branch of the Confederation of Health Service Employees to express our support for the PUBLIC INQUIRY and for the activities of the Roach Family Support Committee.
We wish to extend our sympathy to the Roach Family and to support the campaign in whatever they
We wish to extend our sympathy to the Roach Family and to support the campaign in whatever way we can. We have supported previous demonstrations and will have members on the May 14th March.
Could you please let us know if there are any other activities we can take to support you.

Yours in Solidarity,
Andrea Campbell
Branch Secretary
Dear Friends,
We are a West Midlands based Community Magazine, with Readership of about 1500.
The current issue as you see includes a short article about the death of Colin Roach, publicising your Committee and the ‘suspicious’ circumstances of Colin’s death.
May I offer our support to your campaign and its aims. If there’s any other way we can help publicise your activities etc, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Best Wishes
Abdul Sheir
For Musique
Moseley, Birmingham B13

A PERSONAL VIEWPOINT
It is very important for Black people to find out the truth of How and Why Colin Roach died.

I think there is going to be trouble or some-thing big before there is a Public Inquiry.

I think everybody should know the truth. There have been too many deaths of Black people in mysterious circumstances. Colin Roach is one too
many.

A Public Inquiry may help to settle the arousement of some people even though the whole truth might not come out But I don’t see how even half the truth can come out at an inquest.

COLIN ROACH ARRESTS
Outrageous Sentences At Highbury

Since the untimely death of Colin Roach on 12 January, a total of 84 persons were arrested over five major demonstrations. Demonstrators have campaigned for and INDEPENDENT PUBLIC INQUIRY into all the circumstances surrounding the shooting of Colin Roach in Stoke Newington police station.

Eight persons were arrested on. January 14, seventeen on January 17, twenty-five on January 22, ten on February 12 and a further twenty-four on March 12.

Magistrates at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court have bent over backwards to convict people. To date, there have been 18 convictions and 14 Acquittals.

The sentencing policy of the Magistrates is outrageous. In the case of Delray Thompson, he was charged with threatening behaviour and having an offensive weapon. Despite being found not guilty on the offensive weapon charge, he was nevertheless convicted of threatening behaviour. He was sentenced to seven days imprisonment by a Magistrate who appears to have his eyes, ears and brains closed to anything but police witness statements.

An immediate appeal was lodged. Delray is now on bail pending appeal. He told a
reporter, “I knew Colin Roach. I don’t believe that he would go into a police station to kill himself as the police would have us believe. I took part in the first demonstration because I support the demand for an independent public inquiry. I know the truth will never come out at an inquest.”

roachpol

Another, outrageous sentence was that imposed on Chas Holmes, a young student at North London Polytechnic. On January 22, he saw someone being arrested. He asked for the person’s name and address. This is not illegal. He was arrested and charged with obstruction.

In their evidence, police claimed that Chas grabbed a policeman by the neck. If that was true, he would have been charged with assaulting the police. Despite pictures disproving the false evidence given by the police, Chas was found guilty of OBSTRUCTION, fined £100 with £125 costs. This case is also subject to appeal.

The Roach Family Support Committee is co-ordinating the defence of all the people arrested. RFSC has pointed out that the police strategy is to criminalise anyone who dares to protest publicly against the racism and violence which pervades Stoke Newington police. Their intention of driving the Roach campaign off the streets has failed. RFSC plans to begin counter charges of conspiracy to arrest, to use violence against peaceful demonstrators and to break up peaceful protests against the local police.

Most of the seventeen people convicted are appealing against conviction. RFSC will meet the legal costs of these appeals where legal aid is not granted.

Defendants. are appearing in court on the following dates and support and solidarity is needed at these court appearances.
MAY 17 Highbury Juvenile Court
MAY 17 Old Street M.C.
MAY 18 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 19 Highbury Juvenile Court
MAY 19 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 23 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 24 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 25 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 26 Highbury Corner M.G.
MAY 27 Highbury Corner M.C.
MAY 31 Highbury Corner M.C.
JUNE 1 Old Street M.C.
JUNE 1 Highbury Corner M.C.
JUNE 2 Old Street M.C.
JUNE 14 Seymore Place J.C.
JUNE 20 Old Street M.C.

IN SUPPORT OF THE ROACH FAMILY

At this phase in our campaign because many of us have different levels of involvement and therefore different levels of understanding and consciousness, it becomes important that certain basic principles should be spelled out clearly.

A Black family – the Roach family – have suffered a devastating loss. The death of their son Colin Roach, killed by a shotgun blast in Stoke Newington police station on 12th January this year, has caused the Roach family great pain and distress and has fired anger and outrage in our community. This much we all know. But more times we have to remember the basis of the Campaign.

There can be no doubt that this Campaign is unique. Because of its various dimensions it is a major issue for Black and other people. And once this is over we will have learned how effectively Black people in this community can rally round and organise.

Many of us are aware that the first two demonstrations were organised by Black and white youths from Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Those demonstrations on 14th and 17th January called for an independent public inquiry. Those demonstrations were characterised by a mass presence and peaceful protest. Those demonstrations were mainly co-ordinated by members of Colin’s family and friends. The family called for an independent .public inquiry and initially took the demand onto the streets. This is how the Campaign began.

The Roach Family Support Committee was only launched after Mr and Mrs Roach, Pauline Roach and Patrick Roach had agreed with representatives of Hackney Black Peoples Association that there be a Campaign in and co-ordinated from Hackney. This means that from the beginning – the Roach family, a Black family decided the basic terms of how the Campaign should go. They wanted an independent public inquiry and as part of the Campaign for this, demonstrations were necessary. But only peaceful protest demonstrations would allow us to mobilize people, publicize our concerns and present our case. This is not to say that if we are attacked we should not defend ourselves – we should always defend ourselves when attacked. But it means that if we are to be successful in our Campaign we should not consciously cause any unnecessary confrontations.

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE BLACK COMMUNITY AND A BLACK FAMILY IN THEIR HOUR OF CRISIS?
At any time in our life times there are always difficulties which confront Black people. This is because we are oppressed – downpressed. Oppression is the condition of our existence. This means that if we are seriously concerned about unity amongst Black people when any one of our families is under threat or suffers intense hardship, we must rally round. We must come together, we must organise, we must unify around that family.

That is unity and that is strength.

This is how we are supporting the Roach family in this Campaign. And every Black person, young and old, man and woman, should feel shame if they do not support the Roach family and support us. This is the only way the Black community can be strong because it is we who are taking the lead. This is why we have decided that no white individual, group, politician or political organisation will set the terms or tell us what to do in this Campaign. Although we respect the fact that there will be white people and their organisations involved in this Campaign – they must support us on our terms and not on their terms.

WHAT SORT OF CAMPAIGN ARE WE IN?
It must be said time and time again that we are campaigning for an independent public inquiry -this is one major and original objective of the RFSC. We have to make a case for an independent public inquiry. This is why we are campaigning for an independent public inquiry. What we are demanding exists in law. Under Section 32 of the Police Act 1964, the Home Secretary can exercise his discretion to authorise an independent public inquiry into an area of policing – the death of Colin Roach is an area of policing.
This is what we are campaigning for and it is clear that the police have been frightened by our campaign because they are eager to put a stop to us. But they will not put a stop to us because we intend to campaign and support the Roach family – a Black family – until we win.

RFSC BENEFIT
with
Saka Dedi & Stepaz Dance Group
UNKNOWN QUANTITY
SHARON FOSTER
K. K. KHAN
IMRUH CAESAR ASHER PLUMMER
Friday 20th May at 8pm
at Chats Place, Brooksbys Walk
Homerton, London E9
Admission £2.00 Unwaged £1.00

VIDEO: WHO KILLED COLIN ROACH?
Three students from St. Martins School of Art Film School have made a film of the RFSC campaign. Entitled “Who Killed Colin Roach”, it shows the campaign in its various dimensions, from marches to pickets, poetry, music, interviews, press conferences etc.

During the course of filming, all three members of the film crew were arrested. Two were charged and one was released without being charged.

The video is available from RFSC and can be used for showing at meetings, youth clubs, schools and colleges etc.

Details from RFSC, 50 Rectory Road, London N16 7PP Telephone: 01-254.74- 80

Published by RFSC,
50 Rectory Road, London N16 7PP.

Also on this site:

Policing In Hackney 1945-1984

Deaths in custody: Songs for Colin Roach

Workers’ Playtime on the death of Colin Roach and “community policing”, 1983

Mark Metcalf on the 2011 riots – and the Colin Roach Centre

Caribbean House, Hoxton 1976-1988

Caribbean House postcard

Caribbean House postcard

postcardbk

I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of Caribbean House prior to watching the Somewhere In Hackney film from 1980 courtesy of the British Film Institute. That film largely concerns itself with Free Form Arts Trust, who decorated the front of the building (see the section from 6:45-8:00 minutes), so I was curious about what went on inside.

caribhouse1

There’s not a huge amount of information about Caribbean House available online, so this post is mainly based on a book published in 1985 by its founder, Rev Dr Ashton Gibson:

ashtongibsonbook1

Ashton Gibson – a black Robin Hood?

Gibson was born in Barbados in 1927. By his own account he was “barely able to speak” when he began school at the age of eight and didn’t do particularly well educationally until his father moved him to a fee-paying “prep” school, where he excelled. After school he worked in a variety of different jobs, (teacher, newspaper sub-editor) as well as embracing Catholicism and committing unspecified “anti-social acts”. In 1952 at the age of 25 Ashton’s mother paid for his passage to England to keep him out of trouble.

Like most Caribbean immigrants of this era, Ashton was forced to take up jobs that were more menial than those he done in his home country. He worked as a kitchen hand, a driver and an office cleaner, using his spare time to train as an accountant. The racism of 1950s England eventually got to him. He began to hear voices.

God was apparently speaking to Ashton and informing him that “the Church had money enough to solve the problems caused by poverty among his people”. He began what can only be described as a campaign of radical wealth redistribution, initially by going from church to church and pleading poverty. The resultant funds were then donated to organisations dedicated to the welfare of West Indian immigrants like himself. In the book, Ashton is at pains to say that none of the money he acquired went into his own pocket.

Nevertheless, the authorities took an interest in him. After a couple of referrals for psychiatric treatment Ashton was eventually sentenced to two years in prison for obtaining money by false pretenses. He shared a cell with a safe cracker, and perhaps inevitably put his newly acquired skills to use on release. Church safes up and down the country were relieved of their contents, although once again Ashton states forcefully that any money obviously set aside for charities was untouched and that he never used the loot for his own gain.

After further brushes with authority, Ashton became involved with slightly more conventional community work – volunteering at the Black House set up by Michael X and the Racial Action Adjustment Society (RAAS) on Holloway Road, then launching the Melting Pot Foundation in Brixton (“with £30,000 of his own money”) – a garment factory aimed at giving West Indians work opportunities/experience. The Melting Pot also branched out into finding places to live for homeless black youth.

The book makes it clear that Ashton’s own upbringing and experience of the the alienation brought on by a racist society and education system inspired him to try and improve the lot of black people in the UK.

Westindian Concern Ltd

Gibson resigned from the Melting Pot Foundation when it became more established, receiving funding from Lambeth Council and support from the wider voluntary sector. He was paid off to the tune of £20,000 and used this to set up a company called Westindian Concern. The launch was held in a church in the City of London on 22 July 1975. The emphasis was on black (or West Indian) self-help – a black-run charity which encouraged black people to develop the skills and networks they needed to survive in the UK. Various locations were sought for premises before the right one was found:

“Three derelict buildings were found near New North Road on the borders of Islington, Hackney Boroughs in Hoxton, North London. The three terraced houses, 76-80 Bridport Place, were all adjacent to one another, making conversion into a single unit relatively simple. But the overwhelming advantage to these premises, dwarfing the many problems raised by their unpromising condition, was that they were cut off from the residential area. This meant that the organisation stood infinitely more chance of succeeding in its long term aims, which naturally included acceptance in the local community. In particular there were no neighbours to complain of noise when social or recreational activities took place. As an added bonus, unimpeded view across Shoreditch Park afforded some pleasure to the eye in a heavily built up and neglected area. The London Borough of Hackney, to whom the property belonged, was persuaded to make a gesture to its large Westindian population; a five year lease was granted to Westindian Concern for the proposed community centre and hostel.”

bridportmap

Caribbean House

After extensive renovation work, undertaken by people from the black church movement, the centre opened during Easter 1976.

Initial problems included funding issues and an article in Private Eye suggesting that Ashton Gibson was using the centre for his own financial gain. More seriously, a fire broke out in the building, gutting 78 and 80 Bridport Place. Arson was suspected, with reasonable suspicion being leveled at supporters of the National Front, which had a lot of support in the area at the time and would open its headquarters in nearby Great Eastern Street in 1978.

caribhouse2

Repairs were made and funding issues resolved. Activities and work undertaken at Caribbean House included:

  • A children’s hostel
  • A family-centred child care service, with emphasis on the reconciliation of children with their parents where there had previously been conflict
  • A social club for the elderly
  • An Education Unit, helping children with school work – as well as courses for social workers, teachers, probation officers to assist them in better understanding of issues faced by black people.
  • Career advice, and a job-finding scheme
  • A food co-op
  • Music workshops
  • Cricket and dominoes teams
  • Westindian Voice – a newspaper (which admittedly only lasted for 7 months)

Bazil Meade gives a flavour of what Caribbean House was like in his book when describing rehearsals of the London Community Gospel Choir there:

“Soon our rehearsals became like mini-concerts themselves. Caribbean House was a busy place where people came to socialise with their friends. When they heard us rehearsing they would wander into the hall to listen, and before long the hall was full and people were spilling out of the doors, clapping and singing along…”

(from Bazil Meade & Jan Greenough: A Boy, A Journey, A Dream. Monarch Books, 2011. P111)

Policing and “Homeward Bound”

Ashton Gibson gave evidence on behalf of Caribbean House and Westindian Concern to the Scarman Inquiry which was set up after the Brixton riots of 1981. His submission is reproduced in the book. He stops quite a way short of saying that the riots were an understandable reaction to a racist society in general and the institutional racism of the police in particular. Instead he sees prejudice developing as a result of two well meaning groups of people who happen to originate from cultures that do not quite understand each other.

Indeed, most of Gibson’s criticism is leveled at the black community. “Badly run late-night clubs” attended by teenagers are singled out as a source of inter-generational conflict and the breakdown of families.  The “black leadership” in Brixton is criticised as being “very poor… Few of the leaders of those organisations funded and supported by the authorities have any grasp of the problems besetting this area.”

To put things in context, It is worth bearing in mind that the police in Hackney were widely viewed as being intensely racist at this time. Hackney Black People’s Organisation had been set up in 1978 as a result of racist violence and policing, specifically the death of Michael Ferreira. (Ferreira was a black teenager who was stabbed by National Front sympathisers in Stoke Newington. He was taken by friends to Stoke Newington Police Station where he was then questioned by the police about the incident rather than receiving medical assistance. Michael eventually died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.) The tensions between the community and the police would increase throughout the eighties with the killing of Colin Roach inside Stoke Newington police station being just one notable flashpoint.

Ashton Gibson receiving a cheque in 1984 from the Police Property Act Fund via Hackney Mayoress Bella Callaghan

Ashton Gibson receiving a cheque in 1984 from the Police Property Act Fund via Hackney Mayoress Bella Callaghan

Six months after the 1981 Brixton riots, Caribbean House launched its “Homeward Bound Fund”, “to enable Westindians with little hope of adjusting to life in Britain to be resettled in in the Caribbean or other region of their choice”. The fund was severely criticised by Hackney Council for Racial Equality, Darcus Howe (then of the Race Today collective) and even Melting Pot, the organisation in Brixton which Gibson had set up. Essentially the critics felt that the fund was a capitulation to the right wing press and “send them back” racists like the National Front and Enoch Powell.

There are some lengthy rebuttals to these criticisms by Ashton Gibson in the book. He suggests that the fund was a purely humanitarian venture that was intended to help Caribbean families who were “at breaking point”. Its critics are portrayed as “White Liberals and their Black lackeys in the Race Relations Industry”. The fund was abandoned shortly after its launch, having amassed £2,000.

The criticism of the fund also included various people demanding that funding for Caribbean House be reviewed. Although it is unclear how successful this lobbying was, it does seems that there were some real difficulties with resources when A Light In The Dark Tunnel was published in 1985. The book concludes with an appeal for funds which notes that the Greater London Council (GLC) was to be abolished in 1986 along with its extensive funding of a huge array of community groups (the London Irish Women’s Centre in Stoke Newington would be just one other example). Coupled with this, other sources of funding from local government were due to expire.

Ashton Gibson seems to have been very talented at courting those in positions of influence and power – the book includes numerous testimonials from politicians, bishops and members of the House of Lords. Unfortunately this did not prove to be enough to sustain his organisations through funding cut backs.

I’ve not been able to find much material about the dissolution of Caribbean House. This Youtube clip suggests that it managed to survive its problems with funding until 1988:

The clip also has some great footage of the interior of Caribbean House. However the comment below is slightly ominous:

THAMES NEWS 6.9.88.CARIBBEAN HOUSE,HACKNEY IS IN DEBT; DR. ASHTON GIBSON,WHO RUNS THE HOUSE,IS ACCUSED OF STEALING THE CHARITY MONEY TO RUN THE HOUSE FOR A HOTEL IN BARBADOS._x000D_

 

Bridport Place now

Bridport Place today

Westindian Concern was wound up as a company in October 1988. King Bee Music Academy were based at 76-80 Bridport Place from 1988 “to provide the urban youth of Hackney with the belief and knowledge that music builds self-confidence, and encourages people to play a positive role in their community… “

The building was listed as “an empty commercial property” by Hackney Council in 2011. And seems to have been sold for £2,861,000 in 2012 (BBC PDF linked from this story). It looks like it was divided up into 8 flats later that year. And the company doing the conversion was busted for health and safety offences in 2014.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to get into the nitty gritty of the funding, administration, or legacy of Caribbean House. Whilst I only have the rather uncritical book which is co-authored by Rev Dr Gibson to go on, I will say that trying to provide essential support and resources for marginalised people in a prejudiced society is a noble aim. I’m sure large numbers of people were helped by the work of Ashton Gibson and the many others who organised and contributed to the activities at Caribbean House.

There are echoes of the controversies about funding, administration and the relationship with the state in the recent furore about Camila Batmanghelidjh and Kids Company.

If you have any memories of Caribbean House, feel free to leave a comment below, or get in touch.

Centerprise’s radical mailboxes

Centerprise, 1980

As well as being a meeting space, café and bookshop, Centerprise allowed community, and political groups to use the building as a mailing address.

“Box X, 136-138 Kingsland High Street, London E8” would appear regularly in radical publications from the seventies until the shop closed a few years ago.

Below is an incomplete list of groups that used Centerprise as a contact address throughout its life. (Some boxes were used by different people at different times – where I believe this has happened I have given each user a new line.)

Please comment below or send an email if you can fill any of the gaps or have anything else to add…

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Box 1: Hackney Against the Cuts (early 90s)

Box 2: Anarchist Communist Association (late 70s)

Box 3: ?

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Box 4: The Apostles (controversial anarchist punk band, 1980s) / Academy 23 (experimental music group, 1990s) / UNIT (prog rock, pop and improvisational music, 2000s) also SMILE magazine and other publications.

Box 5: The Black Women’s Network (1990s)  “is organizing SOJOURN II, sponsoring visits by black activists to Zimbabwe, India and Nigeria. Sojourners will study the role of women in relation to land use and ownership, and network with health workers (in order to better understand issues like AIDS, female genital mutilation, and nutrition). The Black Women’s Network publishes a regular international magazine called Linkages.”

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Box 6: Theatre of Black Women (1980s)  “Theatre is a powerful mode of communication and Theatre of Black Women is the only permanent Black women’s theatre company in Britain. As such we concern ourselves with issues such as Black women in education, health housing, feminism in history and in the Arts. Our theatre is about the lives and struggles of black women and provides an opportunity for Black women’s voices to be heard positively through theatre. We use theatre to promote positive and encouraging images of Black women as individuals, examining and re-defining relationships with men, living independent lives, giving and receiving support from other Black women, discovering their own Black identity, celebrating their Black womanhood.”

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Box 7: Hackney Not 4 Sale (2000s) opposition to Hackney Council’s post-bankruptcy sell-offs of property and community facilities.

Box 8: ?

Box 9: North Hackney Anti-Nazi League (late 1970s)

Box 10: Anti Racist Action (early 1980s) “An organisation not run by trendy middle class lefties or by guilty patronising farts. Or even by political parties.” – from the sleeve notes to the 1982 “Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It ‘Til It Breaks” EP by The Apostles (see Box 4 above).

Box 11: Hackney Jewish Socialist Group (1990s)

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Box 11: Hackney Trades Union Council (2000s)

Box 12: ?

Box 13: An Phoblacht – newspaper of Sinn Féin.

Box 14: News From Everywhere / Campaign For Real Life (1980s/1990s) Communist publishers of books, pamphlets and texts – with a tinge of the situationist / “ultra-left”.

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Box 15: London Psychogeographical Association / Unpopular Books / Workers Scud / East London Association of Autonomous Astronauts (1980s-1990s)

Unpopular Books: “Purveyors of proletarian literature since 1983. Peculiarly pertinent portrayals of proletarian pressure to usher inouternational notions that negate normal ideological identifications in a no nonsense way. In particular, publishers of London Psychogeographical Association material along with such gems as ‘Black Mask’ and Asger Jorn’s ‘Open Creation and Its Enemies’.”

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Box 17: Hackney Campaign for Equal Opportunities in Percy Ingle Shops.

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Box 22: ELWAR – East London Workers Against Racism

Box 24: Unity Group (1990s) “Promoting unity between anti-fascist groups.”

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Box 26: Spare Change Press (book publishers – punk fiction and others) / Mad Pride (anarchistic mental health protest group) (1990s/2000s)

Box 32: Between the Lines (1990s) Humorous and slightly heretical left-wing fanzine. Also organised “looney left football tournaments” and discussion meetings.

Box 33: Stop Thorp Campaign (1990s) Opposition to new nuclear waste reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

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Box 38: Stoke Newington Rock Against Racism (late 70s / early 80s)

Box 39: Hackney Anti-Deportation Campaign

Box 44: Melancholic Troglodytes (1990s/2000s) internationalist council communist pamphleteers.

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Box 48: Hackney Mental Patients Association (1980s)

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Box 48: Hackney Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) (late 90s, 2000s) Community politics in South Hackney. Later became Hackney Independent.