19th March 1987: Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite convicted of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm uprising in Tottenham in October 1985. The convictions were based on little evidence, much of that concocted.
During a police search on the home of Cynthia Jarrett on 5th October 1985, after the arrest of her son Floyd on trumped up charges of car theft and assault on police, DC Mike Randall shoved Mrs Jarrett to the floor, stepped over her body and continued with his search. She suffered a heart attack and died before arriving at hospital. The following day a demonstration at Tottenham police station protesting the raid and demanding the suspension of the officers involved, ended in clashes… As a result police besieged the estate later that day, and invaded in force, in riot gear, with dogs, shouting racist challenges and blocking all exits. The battle that followed ended with PC Keith Blakelock being hacked to death, 243 police officers injured, 2 officers and 3 members of the media suffering gunshot wounds.
A police crackdown followed, as enraged cops sought revenge for the death of one of their own:
* Between 10 October 1985 and May 1986 the police raided 271 homes and arrested 362 people.
* Over 80% of those arrested were of African-Caribbean descent.
* Those arrested were taken to 14 different stations across London, Tottenham police station was not used as the police did not want the ‘suspects’ to be found.
* 167 charged 195 released without charge
* Three men and three juveniles charged with Murder, Riot and Affray
* 7 people charged with Riot
* 70 charged with Affray
* 20 charged with Threatening Behaviour
* 1 charged with Manufacture of Petrol Bombs
* 13 charged with Possessing Stolen Goods
* 8 charged with possessing an Offensive Weapon
* Seven charged with Theft
* Four charged with Arson
* 3 charged with Assault on police
* Remainder charges unrelated to 6 October
* 68 heard cases were held at the Old Bailey
* 19 pleaded Guilty
* 49 pleaded Not Guilty
* Of those pleading Not Guilty 26 were acquitted (no surprise as 37 of the 49 were charged on confessional evidence only)
* Most had been held incommunicado for up to five days without access to solicitors, family or legal advice.
In the meantime, Floyd Jarrett was acquitted of all the charges that had sparked the search…
Det Ch Supt Melvin put in charge of the investigation into the killing of PC Blakelock. With no forensic evidence to go on, Melvin’s main tactic was to arrest and pressure suspects – including juveniles, some of them regarded as vulnerable as they attended a local school for ‘educationally subnormal children (ESN school) – holding them for days without access to lawyers or family.
Of the 359 people arrested in connection with the inquiry in 1985 and 1986, just 94 were interviewed in the presence of a lawyer and many of the confessions that resulted – whether directly about the murder, or about having taken part in the rioting – were made before lawyers were given access to the suspects.
When people did confess to even a minor role in the rioting, such as throwing a few stones, they were charged with affray a serious offence for which many were to receive up to 8 years in prison.
One resident told the 1986 Gifford inquiry into the rioting: “You would go to bed and just lie there, and you would think, are they going to come and kick my door, what’s going to happen to my children? It was the horrible fear that you lived with day by day, knowing they could come and kick down your door and hold you for hours.”
Forty-nine men and youths were convicted of offences arising from the riots, out of 359 arrested and 159 charged, not counting defendants charged with Blakelock’s murder.
Six men were charged with the murder: Mark Pennant, Jason Hill, Mark Lambie, Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite. Pennant, Hill and Lambie were all under 16, Pennant and Hill had been questioned without lawyers, and all the six had been intimidated and held in highly threatening conditions. Under pressure from the police the first three had named Silcott as having been a ringleader in the riot and the killing. The police had a prior vendetta against Silcott and to an extent the Blakelock investigation was all about how to get Winston Silcott convicted, not discovering who killed Keith Blakelock.
Known as “Sticks” locally, Silcott was living in the Martlesham block of the Broadwater Farm estate at the time of the riots and was running his greengrocer’s shop in the Tangmere block, the block near the spot where Blakelock was killed. He told The Observer in 2004 that he had been in the Tangmere block on the night of the death, and had stopped someone throwing a scaffolding pole through the window of his shop. Then a friend of his, Pam, had invited him to her apartment to keep him out of trouble. He told the newspaper: “And look, I’m on bail for a murder. I know I’m stupid, but I’m not that stupid. There were helicopters and police photographers everywhere. All I could think about was that I didn’t want to lose my bail.” He said he first learned of Blakelock’s death when he heard cheering in the apartment he was staying in, in response to a news report about it.
He was arrested for the murder on 12 October 1985, six days after the riot; he was interviewed five times over 24 hours, Detective Chief Superintendent Melvin asking the questions and Detective Inspector Maxwell Dingle taking the notes. During the first four interviews, he stayed mostly silent and refused to sign them, but during the fifth interview on 13 October, when Melvin said he knew Silcott had struck Blakelock with a machete or sword, his demeanour changed, according to the interview notes. The notes show him asking: “Who told you that?” When the detectives said they had witnesses, he reportedly said: “They are only kids. No one is going to believe them.” The notes say he walked around the interview room with tears in his eyes, saying: “You cunts, you cunts,” and “Jesus, Jesus,” then: “You ain’t got enough evidence. Those kids will never go to court. You wait and see. No one else will talk to you. You can’t keep me away from them.” The notes show him saying of the murder weapons: “You’re too slow, man, they gone.” He was at that point charged with murder, to which he reportedly responded: “They won’t give evidence against me.
Nineteen-year-old Engin Raghip, of Turkish-Cypriot descent, was arrested on 24 October after a friend mentioned his name to police, the only time anyone had linked him to the murder. During his trial, the court heard from an expert that Raghip was “in the middle of the mildly mentally handicapped range,” although this testimony was withheld from the jury. His mental impairment became a key issue during his successful appeal in 1991 in R v Raghip and others, when the court accepted that it rendered his confession unsafe.
Raghip was born in England in 1968, ten years after his parents had emigrated from Cyprus. He left school at 15, illiterate, and by the time of the murder had two convictions, one for stealing cars and one for burglary. He had a common-law wife, Sharon Daly, with whom he had a two-year-old boy, and he worked occasionally as a mechanic. He had little connection with Broadwater Farm, though he lived nearby in Wood Green, and had gone to the Farm with two friends on the day of the rioting to watch, he said. One of those friends, John Broomfield, gave an interview to the Daily Mirror on 23 October, apparently boasting about his involvement in the rioting. He was arrested, and he implicated Raghip. Broomfield was later convicted of an unrelated murder.
At the time of Raghip’s arrest he had been drinking and smoking cannabis for several days, had not slept or eaten properly, and his common-law wife had just left him, taking their son with her. He was held for two days without representation, first speaking to a duty solicitor on the third day, who said he had found Raghip distressed and disoriented. He was interviewed by Det Sgt van Thal and Det Insp John Kennedy ten times over a period of four days. He made several incriminating statements during the interviews, at first admitting he had thrown stones, then during the second interview saying he had seen the attack on Blakelock. During the third, he said he had spoken to Silcott about the murder, and that Silcott owned a hammer with a hook on one side. After the fifth interview he was charged with affray, and during the sixth he described the attack on Blakelock: “It was like you see in a film, a helpless man with dogs on him. It was just like that, it was really quick.”
During a seventh interview the next day, he described noises he said Blakelock had made during the attack. During the eighth interview, he said he had armed himself that night with a broom handle, and had tried to get close to what was happening to Blakelock, but there were too many people around him. He said: “I had a weapon when I was running toward the policeman, a broom handle.” He said he might have kicked or hit him had he been able to “get in.” He was held for another two days, released on bail, then charged with murder six weeks later, in December, under the doctrine of common purpose.
Mark Braithwaite was 18 when Blakelock was killed, a rapper and DJ living with his parents in Islington. He had a girlfriend who lived on Broadwater Farm, with whom he had a child. On 16 January 1986, three months after the murder, his name was mentioned for the first time to detectives by a man they had arrested, Bernard Kinghorn. Kinghorn told them he had seen Braithwaite, whom he said he knew only by sight; stab Blakelock with a kitchen knife. Kinghorn later withdrew the allegation, telling the BBC three years later that it had been false.
Braithwaite was taken to Enfield Police Station and interviewed by Det Sgt McDermott and Detective Constable Colin Biggar. He was held for three days and was at first denied access to a lawyer, on the instruction of Det Ch Supt Melvin. He was interviewed eight times over the first two days, and with a lawyer present four times on the third day. During the first 30 hours of his detention he had nothing to eat, and said in court – as did several other suspects – that the heat in the cells was oppressive, making it difficult to breathe.
He at first denied being anywhere near the Farm, then during interview four said he had been there and had thrown stones, and during interview five said he had been at the Tangmere block, but had played no role in the murder. During interview six, he said he had hit Blakelock with an iron bar in the chest and leg. Rose writes that there were no such injuries on Blakelock’s body. In a seventh interview, he said he had hit a police officer, but that it was not Blakelock. On the basis of this confession evidence, he was charged with murder.
The trial of the Tottenham Six began in court number two of the Old Bailey on 14 January 1987, and lasted 44 days. All the men were charged with murder, riot, and affray; Lambie was also charged with throwing petrol bombs.
The jury consisted of seven men and five women, including one Afro-Caribbean woman. They were not told that Silcott’s had been out on bail for the murder of Anthony Smith when Blakelock was killed, or that he had subsequently been convicted of that murder. Silcott’s barrister, Barbara Mills (1940–2011), a future Director of Public Prosecutions, decided that he should not take the stand in case it left him open to questioning about his previous convictions. The effort to avoid introducing the previous conviction meant the jury could not be told that Silcott had signed on for his bail – related to the Smith murder charge – at Tottenham police station at around 7 pm on the evening of Blakelock’s death, when witnesses had supposedly placed him at a Broadwater Youth Association meeting, making inflammatory speeches against the police.
The press coverage of the trial included the publication on day two, by the Sun, of a notoriously violent-looking photograph of Silcott, one that “created a monster to stalk the nightmares of Middle England,” as journalist Kurt Barling put it. Silcott said he had been asleep in a police cell when it was taken; he said he was woken up, held in a corridor with his arms pinned against a wall and photographed, and that the expression on his face was one of fear, not violence.
The charges against the youths were dismissed by the judge because they had been detained without access to parents or a lawyer. Four armoured police vehicles waited in Tottenham as the jury deliberated for three days. They returned on 19 March with a unanimous guilty verdict against Silcott, Raghip and Braithwaite.
The men were sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that Silcott serve at least 30 years. The black female juror fainted when the verdicts were read out. The tabloids knew no restraint, writing about the beasts of Broadwater Farm, hooded animals, and packs of savages, with the old jail-cell image of Silcott published above captions such as “smile of evil.”
A campaign to free the “Tottenham Three” gathered pace, organised by the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign. They published an 18-page report in 1987 by two American law professors, Margaret Burnham and Lennox Hinds, who had attended part of the trial, and who wrote that Silcott’s conviction “represents a serious miscarriage of justice.” In May 1989 Silcott was elected honorary president of the London School of Economics by its students’ union, to the dismay of the college’s more serious director and governors. Silcott resigned shortly afterwards, saying he did not want the students to become scapegoats.
Engin Raghip’s solicitor was now Gareth Peirce – who had also represented the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, prominent cases of miscarriage of justice – and his barrister Michael Mansfield. Peirce applied for leave to appeal. She began to explore Raghip’s mental state, arguing that his confession could not be relied upon. She arranged for him to be examined by Dr. Gísli Gu?jónsson of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, a specialist in suggestibility; Gu?jónsson concluded that Raghip was unusually suggestible, with a mental age of between 10 and 11. Silcott was again represented by Barbara Mills and Braithwaite by Steven Kamlish. Mills noted the lack of photographic or scientific evidence, and argued that Silcott would have been unlikely to stop firefighters from extinguishing a fire on the deck of the Tangmere block, given that he was renting a shop there.
Lord Lane, then Lord Chief Justice of England, dismissed the applications on 13 December 1988, arguing of Raghip that the jury had had ample opportunity to form its own opinion of him. Amnesty International criticised the decision, pointing to the problems with confessions made in the absence of a lawyer, and was criticised in turn by Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, who said Amnesty had abandoned its impartiality. During a BBC Newsnight discussion of the case, Lord Scarman, a former Law Lord, said the convictions ought to be overturned. Gareth Peirce obtained another psychologist’s report about Raghip and, supported by Raghip’s MP Michael Portillo, asked the Home Secretary to review the case. She also submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the way Raghip had been interviewed breached the European Convention on Human Rights. In December 1990 Home Secretary Kenneth Baker referred the case back to the Court of Appeal.
In parallel with the efforts of Pierce, Silcott’s lawyers had requested access in November 1990 to his original interview notes, so that the seven pages from his crucial fifth interview – the notes he said were fabricated – could be submitted for an Electrostatic Deposition/Detection Analysis (ESDA) test. The test can identify a small electrostatic charge left on a page when the page above it is written on; in this way, the test’s developers say, the chronological integrity of interview notes can be determined.
In Silcott’s case, according to the scientist who conducted the ESDA test, Robert Radley, the notes from the section of the fifth interview in which Silcott appeared to incriminate himself had been inserted after the other notes were written. The seventh and final page of the fifth interview, where the participants would normally sign, was missing. The ESDA test suggested that, on the third to sixth pages of the interview, no impressions had been left from previous pages, although these earlier impressions appeared throughout the rest of the notes. According to Will Bennett in The Independent, the test “also revealed an imprint of a different page five from the one submitted in evidence which was clearly the same interview with Silcott but in which he made no implicit admissions.” In addition to this, David Baxendale, a Home Office forensic scientist who was asked to investigate by Essex police, said that the paper on which the disputed notes were written came from a different batch of paper from the rest of the interview.
The disputed section of the interview had been written down by Det Insp Maxwell Dingle. It said that, when Silcott was told the police had witness statements that he had attacked Blakelock, he replied: “They are only kids. No one is going to believe them”; he reportedly said later: “Those kids will never go to court, you wait and see.” As a result of the ESDA test evidence, the Home Secretary added Silcott and Braithwaite to Raghip’s appeal.
The appeal was heard in the Royal Courts of Justice on 25 November 1991.
The Court of Appeal heard the case on 25 November 1991, and took just 90 minutes to quash all three convictions, delivering their 74-page decision on 5 December. R v Raghip and others is regarded as a landmark ruling because it recognised that “interrogative suggestibility” might make a confession unreliable.
Lawyers for the three argued that Silcott’s interview notes were contaminated, and that Raghip’s suggestibility and Braithwaite’s having been denied a lawyer rendered their confessions unreliable too. The Crown prosecutor, Roy Amlot, conceded that the apparent contamination of the evidence rendered all three convictions unsafe. Rose writes that Amlot’s statement to the court was “one of the more sensational speeches in English legal history.” Amlot said: “We would not have gone on against Braithwaite, against Raghip, against any other defendants, having learned of the apparent dishonesty of the officer in charge of the case. I say that because the Crown has to depend on the honesty and integrity of officers in a case … The impact is obviously severe.”
Braithwaite and Raghip were released on 25 November. Silcott remained in jail for the 1984 murder of Anthony Smith. He received £17,000 compensation in 1991 for his conviction in the Blakelock case. He was offered up to £200,000 in legal aid in 1995 to sue the police for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The Metropolitan Police settled out of court in 1999, awarding him £50,000 for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. He was released on licence in October 2003 having served 18 years for Smith’s murder
In July 1992 Det Ch Supt Melvin was charged with perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and Det Insp Maxwell Dingle with conspiracy. None of the three people present during the disputed interview with Silcott – Melvin, Dingle and Silcott himself – gave evidence during the detectives’ trial at the Old Bailey in June–July 1994.
The prosecution alleged that the notes of the fifth interview with Silcott had been altered to include the self-incriminating remarks. Silcott had refused to answer questions during the first four interviews. During the fifth, when told that he had struck Blakelock with a machete or similar, the notes show him saying that no one will believe the “kids” who have spoken to the police, and “Those kids will never go to court. You wait and see. No one else will talk to you. You can’t keep me away from them.
The detectives’ lawyers produced 14 undisclosed witness statements from the tainted Blakelock inquiry, one of which said Silcott had been carrying a knife with a two-foot-long blade on the night of the murder, and that he had attacked Blakelock. The detectives were acquitted on 26 July by a unanimous jury verdict. They told reporters after the verdict that they had been through a “terrible ordeal.” Both officers had been suspended during the case. Melvin returned to work afterwards, while Dingle retired.
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online