At about 1:30am on Saturday 10th December , six black youths were walking past the Astra Cinema in Stoke Newington [117 Stoke Newington Road]. They were returning from a party. Three of them stopped to get a drink and the other three waited. While they were waiting, three white men walked past on the other side of the road. They stopped and shouted National Front slogans at the black youths, two of them decided to move off to avoid any aggravation.
One of them, Michael Ferreira, decided to stand his ground. The three white thugs crossed the road, and one stabbed Michael in the chest. He fell and the three ran away.
Michael’s friends returned and carried him the short distance to Stoke Newingtion Police Station. They arrived there at 2am. The police began to question the others about what they were doing out at that time and didn’t seem very interested in Michael bleeding to death. It took 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. (Shoreditch Ambulance Station is less than ten minute’s drive away.)
Michael was eventually taken to St Leonard’s hospital, where he died at 4am.Hackney peoples press #40 January 1979
Michael Ferreira was born in Stanleytown, Guyana in 1959. In 1971 he emigrated to the UK to join his parents who had moved here a few years earlier. He was a pupil at Downsview School, Hackney and left at the age of 16 to become a mechanic. Michael was still a teenager when he was killed.
According to Hackney Council for Racial Equality:
“The police were more interested in questioning him, instead of getting him to hospital immediately, although they said later that they called an ambulance straight away. His friends saw that he was rapidly weakening but could not get the police to accept that the most urgent action was needed. When the ambulance eventually came, it was too late. He died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.”HCRE quoted in Benn & worpole
1978 – increased tensions in Hackney
Mentioning that Michael’s assailants “stopped and shouted National Front slogans” was significant. The fascist group had been increasingly active in the borough at the time.
- On April 29th 1978 the National Front (NF) held an election meeting at Whitmore School in Hoxton, which was picketed by teachers’ unions and others. The day after this, the enormous Anti Nazi League “Carnival Against The Nazis” was held in Victoria Park, attended by tens of thousands of people.
- In June 1978 the first meeting of the North West Hackney Anti-Nazi League was disrupted by an organised gang of 25 NF sympathisers.
- Also in June 1978, 45 year old Ishaque Ali died of heart failure following a racially motivated attack on Urswick Road, Lower Clapton. According to some accounts, his attackers strangled Ishaque with bootlaces.
- In July 1978 a ‘Black Solidarity Day’ was organised by the Tower Hamlets and Hackney Defence Committee in response to racial violence and discrimination in East London.
- In August 1978 a group of NF supporters paid a visit to community bookshop and cafe Centerprise with rolled up union jack flags on ornamental poles and copies fo National Front News. The group verbally and physically abused customers and staff. One of them pissed in the childrens’ play area.
- In September 1978, the National Front revealed that its new national HQ would be Excalibur House at 73 Great Eastern Street, South Hackney. Thirty NF members attempted to menace a special meeting of Hackney Council convened to discuss the new HQ.
There had been intense protests against large NF marches in Wood Green and Lewisham in the previous year and the NF was building up to a major campaign in the 1979 general election.
Michael’s death also needs to be seen in the wider context of violent racism throughout London at that time, for example the killing of Altab Ali in May 1978 in neighbouring Tower Hamlets – not to mention the day to day casual and institutional racism of the time.
The Communiy Responds
Over 150 people attended meeting on 21st of December 1978 to protest the circumstances of Michael’s death. They agreed to set up an group called Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation. The group held regular public meetings at Ridley Road market and organised picekts of Hackney police stations.
On Friday 12th January 1979, the men accused of being Michael’s assailants appeared at Highbury magistrates court. They included 17 year old Mark Sullivan (a market trader from Kingsland Road, Shoreditch), 18 year old James Barnes (a meat porter from Bethnal Green) and a third whose identity I have not been able to determine.
According to the West Indian Times, the accused had been picked up by the cops shortly after the stabbing and had confessed to their involvement. Sullivan was accused of being the one who fatally stabbed Michael Ferreira. Barnes’ charge was reduced from murder to “disturbing the peace”. His bail conditons included him not setting foot in Hackney “for his own protection”.
Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation arranged for a large turnout at the second hearing a week later on the 19th of January, which was met with suspicion by the authorities. According to Hackney Peoples Press:
- All black people entering the court were searched, but white people were not.
- The hearing was adjourned “due to the large black presence”
- Michael’s mother Mrs Ann Moses, was naturally distressed at the adjournment and shouted “We want justice!” in the court, at which point the magistrate ordered the room to be cleared. Mrs Moses was then taken into police custody and “manhandled and insulted”.
- A unnamed young black man protesting at Mrs Moses’ treatment was arrested and bound over.
- A second young black man, Winston James was physically assualted by police in the corridors of the court with no provocation. He was charged with obstructing the police and assaulting a policeman. Hackney Black People’s Association secured Winston a good lawyer and publicised his case.
(Hackney Peoples Press #41 Feb 1979, p8)
Michael’s funeral was the day after the furore at the court – Saturday 20th January 1979.
On a cold and snowy January Saturday, several hundred people gathered in Clapton to join the funeral cortege of nineteen-year-old Michael Ferreira, murdered just before Christmas in east London’s fourth racist murder in eight months.
No banners or placards were carried, no chants were raised, no papers were sold. There was just a solemn procession, about equal numbers of black people and white people following a flower-lined hearse, with an enormous wreath reading “SON”, and two black limousines carrying Michael’s family.
As the march moved slowly up Kingsland High Street, crowds of black people gathered at the end of Ridley Road market to pay their respects. Raised fist salutes were given as “We shall overcome” was sung again and again. And a man standing by the side of the road asked: “Who was he? Was it anyone important?”
Of course Michael Ferreira was important. He had a family, he had friends and they have lost a nineteen-year-old son or brother, cut down in a cowardly attack. But there is more to his name now. By his death he has become a symbol of all that is wrong with our racialist society.
This is why the black people on the procession were angry, and why many demanded that they should protest outside Stoke Newington police station, instead of tamely dispersing when the cortege moved off to the crematorium.
This is why the Hackney Black People’s defence organisation has been formed, to demand justice for the death of Michael Ferreira, and justice for the racialist oppression of black people everywhere.Hackney Peoples Press #41 Feb 1979 p1
Friend of this site Alan Denney was at the funeral and has kindly sent us his haunting photos:
Alan described the procession as a:
“Somber occasion”, with a ‘simmering sense of anger and disbelief’.In conversation with Tom ramsden
Other attendees agreed:
“The funeral became an occasion for a dignified and very large procession through Hackney; an event which specifically focussed a strong sense of hostility on Stoke Newington police station.”Melissa Benn and Ken Worpole
Teacher and author Chris Searle recalls meeting up with his friend Blair Peach on the day:
“As we walked with hundreds of others behind the cortege through the streets of Hackney, Blair told me how he had been targeted and attacked by local fascists.”
Three months later Blair Peach was killed by a policeman of the Special Patrol Group during an Anti Nazi League protest against the National Front in Southall. His killer was never brought to justice. Peach’s widow, Celia Stubbs, was monitored by undercover police officers for about twenty years afterwards.
Winston James’ trial
Winston James was charged with assaulting two police officers the initial hearing of charges aginst Michael Ferreira’s killers at Highbury Court. The officers had in fact brutally attacked him when he protested agains the treatment of black people attending. Winston’s case is covered in Hackney People’s Press #42 and #43. PC Drew 563 was cross-examined mercilessly by Winston’s barrister about grabbing his client by the testicles. Winston was acquitted of two counts of assaulting police officers, but found guitly of the far less serious charge of obstruction.
The trial of Michael Ferreira’s killers
Mark Sullivan and James Barnes were eventually both convicted of manslaughter at the Old Bailey. It seemed to be widely believed that Sullivan was a National Front sympathiser:
According to West Indian World, the judge “dismissed any connection with the National Front”. West Indian World also interviewed Michael’s bereaved mother:
“There is no justice in this land for Black people… I am completely flabbergasted with the sentence. I cannot see black people given proper justice in the courts of this land. I myself felt like dying when I heard that the judge had sent that “murderer” down for just five years. I expected that Sullivan deserved to get 14 years for killing my son.”
A class of local secondary school pupils was inspired to write a short play about Michael Ferreira’s death. This was published anonymously as a pamphlet and will appear here shortly as part two of this post.
Michael Ferreira was not the first black person to die following a visit to Stoke Newington police station. As far as I know that was Aseta Simms in 1971. Nor, tragically, would he be the last.
A year after Michael Ferreira’s death, Hackney’s newly appointed top cop, Commander David Mitchell was exposed as an admirer of the National Front.
In November 1982, Hackney Black People’s Association (possibly the next incarnaton of Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation?) called for an independent public enquiry into the conduct of the police in Hackney. Their concerns were specifically about corruption, and violence against black people.
On the 12th of January 1983, Colin Roach died of a gunshot wound in the foyer of Stoke Newington police station. Corruption and violence by officers at Stoke Newington Police Station would intensify throughout the 1980s and 1990s – and so would the campaigns for justice by the local community….
Sources / Further Reading
Hackney Peoples Press – issues 32-43. Available as PDFs here.
West Indian World – undated clipping from “Who Killed Michael Ferreira” booklet. (1979)
Melissa Benn & Ken Worpole – Death In The City (Canary Press. 1986)
Policing in Hackney 1945-1984: A Report Commissioned by The Roach Family Support Committee (Karia Press, 1989)
Chris Searle – Remembering Blair Peach: 30 Years On (Institute of Race Relations, 2009)
John Eden – “They Hate Us, We Hate Them” – Resisting Police Corruption and Violence in Hackney in the 1980s and 1990s (Datacide #14, 2014)
The clipping from Flame: Black Workers Paper For Self-Defence is courtesy of Splits and Fusions Archive.