Today in London radical history, 1990: Hackney anti-poll tax demonstration erupts into rioting

As previously related, the introduction of the Poll Tax (officially called the Community Charge) across the UK in 1989-1990 enraged millions of people and sparked a mass community-based rebellion. A single flat-rate local authority charge on everybody, based on the number of people living in a house, replaced the rates system, calculated on a property’s estimated value. Everyone would pay the same rate set by the local council, regardless of how rich they were or how much their property was worth. This gave the tory government fits of joy, as it would increase the burden of paying for Council services on the working class, and lightened the load for the better off, by thousands (millions in some cases).

After a decade in which the Thatcher-dominated Conservative government had defeated most working class opposition – steelworkers, miners, printers, etc, they thought they were on a rollm and that the new Poll tax would not only make them more supporters among the middle class, but also stick the knife into the leftwing Labour Councils they hated so much, forcing them to slash services, especially in inner cities… They reckoned without the mass opposition it inspired.

The introduction of the poll tax was widely unpopular from the outset, and increased when tax rates set by many local councils turned out to be much higher than initially predicted.

Huge campaigns sprang up against registering to pay, filling in forms, giving the local council any info etc., and then against payment. Thousands of local anti-poll tax groups or unions were set up. Opposition ranged from marches, occupations, resisting bailiffs seizing property for unpaid poll tax, to riots and filibustering the courts with endless arguments . Hundreds of people were jailed.

Community networks of members were set up to watch out for and resist bailiffs, and the operation became so successful that debt collecting firms in some areas went out of business. In Edinburgh local APTUs patrolled working class areas with cars and radios to watch for bailiffs, and in London some cab drivers fulfilled the same role. Bailiffs offices were often picketed and occupied, and in Scotland hundreds of people defended houses against the forced removal of goods by sheriffs.

The campaign for non-payment gained in strength through the early months of 1990, and eventually became the single most damaging reason for the government to continue with the poll tax. By August of 1990 one in five had yet to pay, with figures reaching up to 27% of people in London. 20 million people were summoned for non-payment. Many local authorities were faced with a crisis, and councils faced a deficit of £1.7 billion for the next year. Initial successes with non-payment campaigns led to several large demonstrations in cities across the country, including the famous disturbances that occurred in central London on March 31.

Here’s an account of the demonstration/mini-riot that took place in Hackney, in North-East London, on 8th March 1990, written by local campaigners and published by Hackney Community Defence Association shortly after the events.

A PEOPLES’ ACCOUNT OF THE HACKNEY ANTI-POLL TAX DEMONSTRATION ON MARCH 8TH 1990

Contents

I. Introduction
II. Background
III. Organisation of the demonstration
IV. Thursday March 8th
V. Arrests
VI. Not guilty
VII. Personal accounts
VIII. What the papers said
IX. Conclusion

INTRODUCTION

On Thursday March 8th 1990, Hackney Council met at the Town Hall to set its poll tax charge for the financial year 1990/91. The Hackney Against the Poll Tax Federation (HAPTF) organised a mass lobby of the meeting. An estimated 5,000 people attended the demonstration outside the Town Hall which developed into a confrontation between police and protesters with many people injured and 57 arrested. Inside the Town Hall Hackney Council set a poll tax charge of £499. It is normal practice for the Metropolitan Police to compile reports into public disorder incidents. Home Secretary, David Waddington, demanded an urgent Scotland Yard report into the Hackney disturbance the very next morning. However, such reports are specifically prepared to meet the state’s needs for the policing of public disorder, and are never made public. In all matters to do with policing it is important that the community, and its representative groups, compiles its own reports. This report has been compiled by Hackney Community Defence Association (HCDA) in association with some of the people arrested on March 8th.

BACKGROUND

I. Against the Poll Tax
The scale of opposition to the poll tax has taken many people by surprise. Who could have imagined Tory councillors resigning in protest against a Tory Tax? The opposition of working class people was expected, but few Labour councillors have taken such a principled stand.

The Labour Party’s refusal to organise demonstrations against the poll tax has led to the growth of an independent political campaign across the country. In the absence of any other form of organisation, an alliance has emerged which includes disillusioned Tory voters, left groups, and the dispossessed people of Britain. Resistance to the poll tax has been co-ordinated through a well orchestrated campaign of civil-disobedience; in Scotland many people have not paid a penny one year after its introduction. In England and Wales, where the tax has been introduced one year later, many have declared their intention not to pay.

The campaign has united sections of the population who have very different ways of protesting against unpopular measures. After a decade of high unemployment, the replacing of social security with harder to get income support and widespread cuts in public services, there are many people who believe they now have little to lose by all-out confrontation.

Public demonstrations against the poll tax have drawn together on the streets those people opposed to the tax in principle, because it is unfair and infringes on civil liberties, and those who see the poverty which the tax imposes as the last straw. Both sections of the population are equally determined to express their opposition to the tax. A long tradition of free speech and the right to protest is being continued.

The poll tax directly affects council workers and members of the community who rely on the services provided. Many councils have had to make widespread cuts in order to keep poll tax bills down. Hackney Council’s poll tax rate of £499 includes £10 million cuts in services; these include the closing down of the George Sylvester Sports Centre and of the Media Resources Centre, 100 redundancies as a result of a 15% cut in grants to the voluntary sector, and cuts in education, social services and environmental services.

On the other hand, the poll tax is far more expensive to administrate than the old rates system. Thus money is being taken away from services to implement the tax, provoking outrage among council workers and members of the community affected.

It is important to stress that broad sections of the population have not suddenly’ raised their voices against one unpopular piece of government legislation. Since 1977, when the Labour Government commenced making public expenditure cuts, the welfare state has been under consistent attack. At issue is not simply how local services are to be paid for, but whether the welfare state itself is going to survive into the twenty first century. In effect the poll tax summarises over a decade of Thatcherite attacks against the working class.

II. Living in Hackney

Radical history

Hackney has a radical tradition which matches its poverty and deprivation. This radicalism has not been significantly based in the Labour Movement, primarily because the area is not a home to any large scale industry. However, on issues which transcend purely economic affairs, Hackney has been in the forefront of political struggles. Three of the most important mass movements this century have been strongly based in Hackney and the East End of London – the Suffragettes, the Communist Party and the anti-fascist movement. It should therefore come as no surprise to discover a strength of feeling and determination against the poll tax in Hackney.

Unemployment/employment

Hackney is generally recognised as one of the poorest boroughs in Britain, enduring unemployment rates far higher than the national average. In the four years 1984 – 87, when statistics bore some resemblance to reality, over one in five of the working population was registered unemployed, more than double the national average. The largest employer in Hackney is Hackney Council. On December 1st 1988 it had a workforce of 8,619. All of these jobs have been threatened by rate capping in recent years, and now by the poll tax. A quick glance at the Department of Employment’s statistics for 1986 shows that out of 75,302 jobs in Hackney. 36,771 (49%) were in local government, transport, construction, distributive trades, and clothing manufacture, all low paid jobs. Only 2,575 (3.5%) worked in the higher paid engineering industry, and despite its proximity to the City of London and the new yuppie paradise docklands area, only 5,009 (6.6%) jobs existed in finance, banking and insurance.

Housing

Hackney suffers from homelessness, poor housing stock and inadequate back up services. Alongside the large council housing estates Hackney has a large private rented Sector (18.7% in 1981 compared to a national average of 11%), which is notorious for poor quality. In 1987 Hackney Council investigated 1,670 new cases of homelessness. This figure does not include the many ‘homeless’ people living in squatted accommodation. With recent estimates putting the number of squatted properties at 3,500, Hackney contains the largest squatter community in the country.

Out of 46,072 council properties in 1988, 13,450 (29.2%) were considered to be in an unsatisfactory state (i.e., properties which are either unfit for living in, or lack basic amenities, or in need of basic repairs). Private sector stock is generally older than the post war council stock and council estimates suggest that over half (6,000 homes) are in an unsatisfactory condition.

Alongside the imposition of the poll tax, council tenants have seen their rents, excluding the old rates, increase by about double the rate of inflation. Private tenants have not generally had their rents reduced to take the Poll Tax into account and therefore have to find an extra £41.58 a month per member of household.

Health

A recent report by the City and Hackney Health Authority entitled “Health in Hackney” found that the local population is “suffering from “poverty and multiple disadvantages”.

The report, which  was published soon after the announcement that a planned extension to the Homerton Hospital  would not go ahead, disclosed high levels of food poisoning, heart disease, tuberculosis, and one in six smoking related deaths.

Race

Over half of Hackney’s population is made up of people of non-British descent. It has become far too easily accepted that black and ethnic minority Communities suffer the highest levels of unemployment, work in the lowest paid jobs, live in the worst housing conditions, and suffer a high frequency of police harassment.

Policing

Hackney police have built up national notoriety in the past 20 years for brutality and racism. Since the death of Aseta Simms in Stoke Newington police station in 1971, there have been five other suspicious deaths in Hackney’s police stations, including the shooting of Colin Roach in 1983.

There have also been a growing number of reports of cases of brutality and misconduct, including the well reported case of Trevor Monerville in 1987. Police oppression has been met by determined resistance. Throughout the eighties there was a succession of community campaigns which culminated in the setting up of the Hackney Community Defence Association in the summer of 1988.

As in other inner city areas the police in Hackney have increasingly concerned themselves with public order policing. More and more, the police have acted as a force engaged in social control, rather than crime control. They have taken every opportunity to destroy any growing sense of community by criminalising sections of the population and closing down public meeting places.

As in Brixton and Notting Hill, black people and their pubs, clubs and cafes have specifically been targeted. In August 1988, 200 police sealed off the Clapton Park estate while the home of a community leader was raided under the pretext of looking for drugs. Two weeks earlier the home of another community leader on the estate had been raided without a search warrant. Armed police raids against black clubs, with press photographers in tow, took place on several occasions in 1988. These raids were linked to much media hype about Jamaican ‘Yardie’ gangs.

The Turkish and Kurdish communities have been subjected to police immigration raids throughout the years. After 37 people were arrested following such a raid in February 1989, 5,000 people, mainly Turkish and Kurdish refugees, took to the streets in protest.

The police have also singled out squatters and their meeting places for harassment. In 1986 the Three Crowns public house in Stoke Newington was forced to close after a series of violent police raids. In 1988 a community centre set up by squatters on Northwold Road, N16, was closed down by the police. In the last two years the Cricketers pub has been subjected to regular police raids. On one occasion, a Territorial Support Group unit entered the pub and ordered people to leave. Outside in the street more police officers started to abuse the people on their way home, and one person was viciously assaulted. The Stamford Hill estate in Stoke Newington developed into a squatting centre with over 120 flats squatted. In the spring of 1988 Hackney Council, needing to defend a failing housing policy, decided to renege on its non-eviction policy and announced that there was to be a mass eviction.

Squatters put up determined resistance by barricading the estate against bailiffs and police. It was only when riot police charged the estate that the council successfully evicted the squatters.

Over the years Hackney has seen many public demonstrations. The marches following Colin Roach’s death in 1983 were attacked by the police leaving many people injured and arrested. More recently, the police adopted heavy handed tactics against the Third Annual “We Remember” Commemoration, held in January 1990.

Demonstrations covering a broad range of issues, from immigration raids to support for the ambulance drivers, have been heavily policed in attempts to intimidate protesters and criminalise protest. Based on these experiences the community’s expectations of the police at demonstrations is that there will be far too many in attendance, and they will behave in an aggressive manner.

III. A week of demonstrations against the Poll Tax

On Monday March 5th, Haringey Council met at the Civic Centre to set its poll tax rate. A demonstration of some 500 people disrupted the meeting and caused it to be abandoned, there were 13 arrests. Throughout the week mass demonstrations against the poll tax across England and Wales featured on TV news programmes and in the press. The media focused on the confrontations between protesters and police, highlighting the numbers of injuries and arrests.

By the time the early evening TV news on Thursday March 8th reported that Hackney Council was about to set its poll tax rate, a large crowd had already assembled outside Hackney Town Hall. Hackney’s radical history, the prevailing economic conditions, a long standing breakdown in police community relations, and the gathering momentum of a nationwide campaign against the poll tax, seemed to make it inevitable that a confrontation would follow.

ORGANISATION OF THE MASS LOBBY

I. Hackney Against the Poll Tax Federation

The Hackney Against the Poll Tax Federation (HAPTF) is affiliated to the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation. Its principal role is to co-ordinate the activities of the Anti-Poll Tax Unions which have been organised on Hackney’s housing estates. The unions’ work is devoted to preparing for the non-payment campaign, and mobilising support for demonstrations against the poll tax.

II. HAPTF preparations

The HAPTF’s main concern in organising the mass lobby of Hackney town Hall was to get people to attend. Posters were fly-posted and leaflets distributed around Hackney by the Federation and local Anti-Poll Tax Unions.

The HAPTF did not pay any attention to the stewarding of the demonstration, nor did they prepare any contingency plans in readiness for confrontation between police and protesters. The HAPTF did not have any stewards at the demonstration who might have controlled the situation at the outset, or help people who might get caught up in any violence. As well as the HAPTF, other organisations mobilised for the mass lobby. Most Importantly the Joint Shop Stewards Committee (JSSC), consisting of the main council unions, distributed leaflets advertising the event. The JSSC agreed to provide a public address system for a rally to be held outside the Town Hall. Speakers at the rally were to include representatives from the HAPTF, Anti-Poll Tax Unions and trade unionists.

Ill. HCDA preparations

Although not ‘officially’ approached by any of the organisers, HCDA recognised the potential for confrontation and arrests two days prior to the event. Four solicitors were contacted and asked to be on standby for the evening of March 8th to represent persons arrested. 2,500 bust cards were produced giving protesters information on what to do if arrested, a telephone number to call, and an appeal for witnesses. 500 bust cards were left at the Mare Street NALGO office for distribution among the council unions. Two photographers were contacted to take photographs of people being arrested.

THURSDAY MARCH 8TH

I. Chronology of events

The times given in this chronology of events are all approximate. Because the situation developed very quickly, and many incidents took place at similar times, we have kept to 15 minute intervals to outline what took place. After the first arrest in front of the Town Hall, at approximately 7.15pm, 57 arrests were made. Numerous police charges and sporadic fighting took place throughout the mid-late evening, and many missiles were thrown at the police. The demonstration was effectively over by 9.30pm, although isolated incidents continued late into the night.

6.00pm People begin to assemble outside Hackney Town Hall, about 200 present. The lower windows of the building and those of the Housing Office in Reading Lane have been boarded up. A private security firm Is patrolling the inside of the Town Hall with dogs. A scaffolding barrier has been erected by the council on the steps to the main entrance of the Town Hall forming a narrow passageway up the steps. At the foot of the steps in front of this passageway 10-15 police officers are situated under the command of a superintendent, a few police officers are at the top of the steps by the main doors. Plain clothes police are also in evidence on the steps, outside the barriers, and on Wilton Way beside the Hackney Empire.

Police officers are much in evidence around the building. The police headquarters is behind barriers cordoning off both ends of Hillman Street behind the Town Hall. Green buses containing police reinforcements are parked in this area along with many police vans. Barriers guarded by police officers. The HAPTF is setting up a stall directly opposite the Town Hall steps. Militant has a stall on the right hand side of the square facing the building. HCDA members are distributing bust cards. Many of the demonstrators are handing out leaflets to passers by on Mare Street.

Police tell the organisers that 25 people will be allowed into the Council Chamber public gallery to hear the poll tax debate. In the Assembly Hall at the side of the town Hall, 200 people are to be allowed into the Liberal Democrat’s public meeting at which Paddy Ashdown is speaking.

6.30pm About 700 people present. The Joint Shop Stewards Committee falls to provide a public address system, and HAPTF members discuss whether to commence the rally with a stand-in megaphone. A contingent of Socialist Workers Party arrives and takes up a position directly opposite the police facing the Town Hall steps on the other side of the service road. SWP placards against the Poll Tax are handed out to demonstrators. Demonstrators begin to chant slogans against Thatcher (“Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – Out. Out, Out”) and against the poll tax (“No Poll Tax, No Poll Tax, No Poll Tax,…”). In the fading light TV arc lights are turned on and directed at the crowd.

6.45pm About 1500 people present. Large numbers of anarchists/squatters begin to arrive and take up positions directly opposite the police lines, and in front of the SWP contingent. A small number of people in this section of the crowd appear to be drunk and carrying cans of beer. The HAPTF attempts to hold their rally from the Town Hall steps.

Due to the absence of an effective PA system the speeches are inaudible beyond a limited area. After a couple of speeches the rally is abandoned.

7.00pm The crowd quickly swells to about 3,500. The make up of the demonstration is predominantly white, with equal numbers of men and women. There is a lot of pushing and shoving, and a few missiles are thrown at the police, mainly fruit and empty cans, by people directly in front of the police lines. The odd bottle and heavier missiles are thrown from towards the rear of the crowd. A line of Territorial Support Group (TSG/riot police) officers. wearing flat caps, forms up in front of the Town Hall steps.

7.15pm About 4,000 people present and the crowd still growing. The Town Hall steps are packed with people. The densest part of the crowd is standing on the right hand side (facing the Town Hall). A lot of pushing and shoving in front of the Town Hall and more missiles are openly thrown at the police by people in the front of the crowd. Protesters chant at the police “Out of the way”. A significant number of people, about 1500, are standing on the grass in the square opposite the Town Hall. The first arrest takes place. Two police officers from the steps, one in the front line and one free standing on the steps, arrest a white male from the left hand side (facing the Town Hall). He is dragged by police to a van parked in Reading Lane. Abuse is hurled at the police in response to the arrest. A short while later there is a big surge by the crowd and more arrests take place. Protesters are arrested trying to help others who have already been arrested. Some protesters run from the fighting and others run towards the fighting. By 7.30pm more and more missiles are being thrown at the police including a few small smoke bombs and flour bombs. the power on the TV arc lights is increased, illuminating the whole area in front of the Town Hall.

7.30pm 4,500 to 5,000 people present. For a short moment there is an eerie kind of silence before hand to hand fighting breaks out between police and protesters on the left hand side (facing the Town Hall) in front of the steps. Police officers hold their ground on the steps and more people are arrested. Officers who enter the crowd suffer violence when they get cut off from the police lines. A protester climbs onto the balcony above the main entrance facing the square. He is handed a large banner saying “Pay no Poll Tax” and is warmly cheered by the crowd. He stays on the balcony for about 30 minutes coming down just after 8.00pm.

7.45pm There is a concerted effort by demonstrators to overrun police lines and gain access to the building through the main entrance. The police maintain their position and skirmishes follow at the foot of the steps.

The focus of the demonstration begins to shift away from the main entrance to Reading Lane. Some protesters follow the police and arrested persons, and fighting continues.

Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown is shouted down by the crowd as he is interviewed by TV news. About 200 people try to force their way into the Liberal Democrat’s meeting. Police reinforcements come from the rear of the. Town Hall and form a cordon across the entrance to the meeting. The situation calms down and police let people into the meeting. About 100 demonstrators enter the meeting with the people going to hear Paddy Ashdown speak. There is no attempt to disrupt the meeting but protesters try to go from the hall through to where the council meeting is taking place in the Council Chamber. They are chased out of the Town Hall by security guards with dogs, and police move into the meeting to throw out protesters. There are no arrests at this stage. Town Hall windows are broken by demonstrators in Reading Lane. Police press protestors up against the car park fence, forcing many to retreat over the fence into the car park.

A convoy of about 10 TSG vans arrives and moves into Reading Lane from Mare Street. Demonstrators and bystanders standing on Reading Lane by the Housing Office scatter as the vans arrive. 40-50 riot police form a cordon across Reading Lane in front of the side entrance to the Town Hall. Some TSG vans remain parked on Mare Street and some riot police move into the area facing the Town Hall.

8.00pm There is a big push by about 400 people towards the entrance of the Liberal Democrats’ meeting. Many of these people have moved from the fighting in front of the Town Hall. They are met by the police cordon. At this time there is a change of mood among protesters who become more actively anti-police. About 200 demonstrators fight with police. An industrial refuse bin is turned over and rolled towards the police line, and a road traffic sign is used as a makeshift battering ram. The police retreat down Reading Lane and regroup by entrance to Liberal Democrat’s meeting. Police then make a few small charges.

Police from behind the Town Hall charge demonstrators standing by the entrance to the Liberal Democrats’ public meeting. Police dogs move into the car park and demonstrators climb the fence and escape down cycle path towards Richmond Road. Missiles are thrown at police throughout this period.

8.15pm Until this point the police had on the whole soaked up a section of the crowd’s violence against them with remarkable restraint. However, the increased involvement of the TSG unleashed a police assault on the whole demonstration with indiscriminate attacks and arrests.

Riot police in Reading Lane draw truncheons and charge into the crowd. At the corner of the Town Hall the police line breaks up as police charge down Reading Lane towards Mare Street, and across in front of the Town Hall into the square. Bystanders on the periphery of the demonstration, including families and the elderly, are caught up in the police charge. Police do not appear to make any arrests, but single out demonstrators by lashing out with their truncheons. Many people are screaming and some push-chairs are overturned by the charging police.

Demonstrators spill onto Mare Street and a conscious decision is made to bring the traffic to a standstill. About 40 of the 800 demonstrators in the road sit down. There are about 2,000 people in the Mare Street area, in the road and on the pavements opposite the Town Hall. The character of the demonstration changes. Many of the original protesters leave and are replaced by younger people. A motorcyclist is knocked off his bike. The crowd parts to allow an ambulance through Mare Street and cheers the crew.

8.30pm Glenys Kinnock arrives for International Women’s Day festival at the Hackney Empire in Mare Street. About 12 demonstrators, some masked, surround her car, hurling abuse and kicking the car.

Police charge along Wilton Way from the Town Hall to Mare Street. As they reach Mare Street they meet the main body of the demonstration which repulses the charge. For a brief moment the police appear to lose control of the situation. Demonstrators chase the police back down Wilton Way. Police re-group, draw truncheons and charge at the demonstrators who scatter.

8.45pm Demonstrators throw bricks and debris at police lines in Mare Street from behind a fence enclosing a derelict area. About 70 police clear Town Hall square and drive a wedge into the demonstration on Mare Street opposite the Town Hall. Police block Mare Street by Richmond Road, then after 10 – 15 minutes appear to realise it is a tactical mistake.

Scuffles continue between police and protesters in Mare Street opposite the Town Hall. Police begin to move people away from Town Hall area in the direction of the Narroway.

Groups 30-40 strong converge on Morning Lane to make a crowd 100 strong. The crowd moves down Morning Lane onto Mare Street, causing the police to back off. The crowd turns right into Mare Street and tears up paving stones to smash shop windows. Joined by more demonstrators to make up a total of about 200, they enter the Narroway and more shop windows are smashed.

9.00pm Although many people remain in Mare Street opposite the Town Hall, the poll tax protest is drawing to a close. more arrests are made as people resist police attempts to end the protest. Protesters cordoned off by police near the library are unaware of the situation developing in the Narroway.

200 strong crowd in groups of 10-15 move through the Narroway smashing the windows of business premises and setting fire to litter bins. The crowd moves through the Narroway very quickly, there is not much looting, as protesters concentrate on causing damage. At the end of the Narroway some people return in the direction of the Town Hall; about 100 move up Lower Clapton Road in the direction of Hackney police station and continue to damage some shops.

A brick is dropped on a woman police officer from the railway bridge over Mare Street.

9.15pm Police arrive in the Narroway.

About 75 people in small groups converge on Hackney police station. Windows are smashed and police lock the main entrance. A police car speeds round the corner and stops outside the police station. One PC and a WPC get out of the car and run towards the police station. They then turn round and run back up Lower Clapton Road where they are surrounded and attacked by demonstrators. The empty police car is overturned.

About 12 mounted police come out of the police station and charge up Lower Clapton Road in the direction of the Lea Bridge roundabout.

Although batons are drawn the police do not appear to use them. The police return along Lower Clapton Road at a trot harassing bystanders and people who have come out of the pubs to watch.

9.30pm Police reinforcements arrive, by which time it is all over apart from a few isolated incidents.

II. Emergency legal cover

Throughout the evening of March 8th, from 7.00pm until 3.00am the next morning, HCDA volunteers answered telephone enquiries and arranged solicitors for those people arrested. The first notification of an arrest came at 7.55pm from the duty sergeant at City Road police station, followed by another call at 8.15pm. No further calls reached HCDA from City Road police station. HCDA received one call from the duty sergeant at Leman Street police station. HCDA subsequently learnt that defendants were being told by the police that HCDA’s phone had been disconnected because the phone bill had not been paid – thus defendants were denied their right to make a phone call.

Between 11.00pm and 2.00am HCDA volunteers attended City Road and Leman Street police stations and telephoned through details of persons arrested so that they could be put in contact with solicitors. HCDA volunteers also visited Homerton Hospital to advise any injured persons who might be arrested at the hospital.

ARRESTS

I. Overview
According to police figures, 57 people were arrested on the evening of March 8th. Nine people appeared at Old Street Magistrates Court on the morning of March 10th. At those hearings three persons pleaded guilty to offences and were severely dealt with by the magistrates. One man pleaded guilty to affray (throwing tomatoes), and was ordered to go to an attendance centre for 36 hours (he has since been arrested again for involvement in the Lambeth poll tax demonstration despite the fact that he was not there); another defendant was fined £250 for spitting on a policeman’s back; another was fined £50 for disorderly behaviour.

Six defendants pleaded not guilty to a variety of public order offences. One person charged with assault, criminal damage and disorderly conduct was remanded in custody. His solicitor appealed against the decision and he was later granted bail on condition that he stayed at his parents home in Blackburn. Four other defendants living in squatted accommodation were bailed to relatives living outside London.

The police and media claimed that many of those arrested lived outside Hackney. Contrary to this claim HCDA found that only one person arrested had do address outside the immediate area.

A clear pattern of arrests emerges after the first one at 7.15pm. Between 7.15pm and 8.00pm there were a number of arrests in the area at the foot of the Town Hall steps on the left hand side (facing the building), HCDA knows of 15 arrests. Those arrested were mainly charged with a variety of public order offences and a small number were charged with assaulting police officers, one person was charged with the theft of a police helmet. All the persons arrested during this period were taken to City Road police station.

Between 8.00pm and 8.30pm, when there was much fighting in Reading Lane and the police made their first significant charge, HCDA knows of only one arrest. According to demonstrators, this was the time when police were struggling to gain control of the demonstration and the police appeared to be more interested in beating demonstrators than in making arrests.

Between 8.30pm and 9.15pm, when the police were asserting their control over the demonstration, the police recommenced making arrests in the Mare Street area opposite the Town Hall (HCDA knows of 14 arrests during this period). People arrested at this time were charged with more serious offences by TSG officers, including actual bodily harm against police officers and major public order offences. Many of the people arrested during this period were subjected to police brutality. They were mainly taken to Leman Street police station.

After 9.15pm some people were charged with theft and burglary in connection with the looting in the Narroway (HCDA knows of only three such cases). HCDA knows of one person who was arrested in the area of Hackney police station, and a few people were arrested in isolated incidents after 9.30pm. All people arrested for theft and burglary and after 9.15pm were taken to Hackney police station.

In total HCDA knows of 42 arrests that took place on the night of March 8th; 31 of these approached HCDA for support. The fact that HCDA does not know the details of 15 arrests, could have been because not everyone received a ‘bust-card’ (2,500 were distributed to 5,000 demonstrators).

However, it is more likely that the majority of unaccounted arrests were of those accused of looting which, according to our information, was carried out by people unconnected with the demonstration. Those persons were unlikely to have had any information concerning HCDA.

Out of the 31 people who contacted IICDA, 28 pleaded not guilty to their charges. By August 3rd, 25 of these cases had been heard resulting in 14 acquittals, nine convictions and two bind overs. Two persons, Russell Duxbury and Neil Harding, received prison sentences. Russel Duxbury was convicted of assaulting a police officer at Old Street Magistrates Court on May 22nd and received a three month prison sentence in addition to a three month suspended sentence for a previous offence. His release date from Pentonville prison is August 8th 1990. Neil Harding received a 12 month prison sentence for affray (see below) at the Inner London Sessions House on July 23rd. At the time of writing he is being held in Brixton Prison. Gill Rogers was convicted of assaulting a police officer (see below) at Old Street Magistrates Court and received a 28 days suspended prison sentence.

march818chart

II. Three cases

Below we briefly describe three cases of people arrested at the demonstration.

Gill Rogers

Gill Rogers and her four children live in Hackney. On Thursday March 8th she went with her 18 year old daughter, Kelly, to Hackney Town Hall to protest against the poll tax. She didn’t go looking for trouble, and told her neighbour, with whom she left her other children, that they would be home by nine o’clock.

Gill and Kelly arrived at the Town Hall at 6.45pm and joined the crowd in front of the building chanting slogans against the poll tax. Gill felt it was a good natured protest and did not see any trouble from where she and Kelly were standing.

Some time after 8.00pm, Gill and Kelly were ready to go home and started walking across Mare Street towards the library. Some people were sitting down in the road, and the traffic was at a standstill. They lingered briefly to see what was going on, and were moved down the road by two policemen along with other demonstrators.

Suddenly, a policeman grabbed Gill, and another took hold of Kelly, and frogmarched them down the road in the opposite direction to which they were going. Gill heard Kelly call out to her. She looked round and saw a policeman twisting Kelly’s arm up behind her back and, with his other hand, digging her repeatedly in the kidneys. Naturally distressed at this sight, Gill moved towards her daughter, trying to get between Kelly and the policeman. Gill was immediately swamped under a sea of blue uniforms, and was held by three or four police officers in a doubled up position. She managed to take hold of Kelly’s hand, who was crying, and told her to leave her and go home. Gill was then dragged off to a nearby police van.

After a while Gill was joined in the van by a young man who had been arrested and the vehicle sped off to City Road police station, getting lost on the way. At the police station Gill objected to having her fingerprints taken before she was informed that the police have the right to do this under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

At 12 midnight Gill was charged with assaulting a police officer; the police claimed that she hit a police officer around the head three or four times. She was eventually let out of City Road police station at about 12.30am having spent more than three hours in custody.

On Thursday July 5th 1990, Gill Rogers appeared at Old Street Magistrates Court and was found guilty of assaulting a police officer. She was given a 28 days suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay £25 costs.

Kate Millson

Kate Millson lives in Hackney and works in a centre for the unemployed in South London. An active trade unionist all her working life, she went to Hackney Town Hall on March 8th to protest against the poll tax.

Kate arrived at the Town Hall at 6.10pm and went to stand on the steps to the front entrance. She witnessed people getting arrested in front of the Town Hall some time after 7.00pm and was quite concerned for their welfare.

Despite the trouble that was going on around her, Kate was determined to remain outside the Town. Hall and maintain her right to demonstrate peacefully.

At about 8.30pm Kate was in Mare Street along with many other demonstrators. All of a sudden she was swept along with the crowd running down Mare Street towards the Hackney Empire, she stepped aside at the junction with Wilton Way and stood on the corner.

At this time police officers drew their truncheons and charged into the crowd along Wilton Way from the Town Hall towards Mare Street. Right beside where Kate was standing three women fell over one another as they tried to escape the violence. A policeman running past hit one of the young women on the head with a great deal of force with his truncheon. Kate helped the woman up and asked her if she was alright. A police officer then told her “mind your own fucking business”, to which Kate retorted “it is my business”.

The police officer began pushing Kate towards Morning Lane telling her to go home. She was angry at the way in which she was being treated and said “I am 38 years old and do not need to be told when I have to go home.”

The police officer continued to push Kate and pulled her suede jacket causing it to tear. Eventually, he let go of her jacket and she was able to see the amount of damage caused. She then asked him for his number, which she could not see in the poor light, saying that she would be making a complaint and seeking compensation. At this point the police officer said “You want my number? You can have it, you’re nicked.”

Kate was then handcuffed by the police officer and with another officer led to a police van in Wilton Way. She waited in the van for 15 to 20 minutes while other people were arrested before being taken to Leman Street police station.

At the police station the officer who arrested Kate could not be found, so she was left sitting on a bench, still handcuffed. She thought her period had started and asked what she should do if she needed to go to the toilet. To this an officer replied, “You say ‘please may I go to the toilet’”. When Kate said she thought she had started to menstruate and needed sanitary protection the police officers were quite embarrassed, released her handcuffs, provided her with a sanitary towel and escorted her to the toilet.

Eventually a black police officer came into the custody room and Kate was informed that he was her arresting officer. Kate said this could not be true as the police officer who arrested her was white and clean shaven, and this officer was black and had a moustache.

The black officer then proceeded to inform Kate that she had shouted out “You fascist bastard” at a police officer on the steps of the Town Hall. She was charged with threatening behaviour. Having been held in police custody for over three and a half hours Kate was released at 12.30am. She had been refused her right to make a phone call, and had her photograph and fingerprints taken.

When Kate attended Old Street Magistrates Court on March 29th the additional charge of assaulting a police officer was brought against her.

At Old Street Magistrates Court on Monday May 14th, Kate Millson was found guilty of threatening behaviour and assaulting a police officer, despite the existence of photographic evidence which contradicted the police story.

She was fined £50 for each charge.

Kate Milison appealed against the guilty verdicts. At Kennington Crown Court on Thursday August 3rd she won her appeal overturning the magistrate’s decision. She is now preparing to take out a civil action against the Metropolitan Police.

Neil Harding

Neil Harding has lived in Hackney for seven years. He recently began a business enterprise scheme to set up his own music publication business. A week before March 8th, Neil pulled a muscle in his back which caused him much pain and restricted his movement. On Thursday March 8th at about 8.10pm he decided to go to the anti-poll tax demonstration.

Neil walked down the cycle path joining Reading Lane to Richmond Road, to find police and protesters fighting beside the Town Hall. He stayed and watched for some minutes before walking back along the cycle path and up Richmond Road to Mare Street, and then to a place opposite the Town Hall. By the time Neil reached Mare Street protesters had blocked the traffic. He chatted briefly to some friends at about 8.45pm. There were many people in the area and missiles were being thrown at a line of about 30 police officers who stood facing Mare Street in front of the Town Hall square.

Neil heard somebody near him shout “Police!”, and everybody around him scattered. Because of the injury to his back, Neil could not run and stood his ground to face a police officer running in his direction. He expected the officer to continue running past him, after the people who had been throwing missiles. Instead, the police officer shouted out to Neil that he was under arrest. Neil did not move, and made no attempt to resist arrest.

The police officer took hold of the sweat shirt Neil was wearing, and in one movement, threw him head first into a bus shelter, causing him to fall to the ground. The officer then held him on the ground.

Other protesters came forward to try and rescue Neil. One attempted to push the police officer away from him, and another took hold of him under the arms and tried to pull him upright. A woman police officer quickly arrived on the scene and pushed the other protesters away. Neil was again pinned down in the gutter, with the arresting officer’s knee forced into his stomach, and his left hand around his throat. With his free hand the police officer radioed for assistance.

When police reinforcements arrived Neil was dragged to his feet and marched across the Town Hall square, which the police had cleared of protesters, to a police van.

At Leman Street police station Neil was charged with affray, being accused of throwing bricks and debris at the police, and causing actual bodily harm to a police officer.

On Monday July 23rd 1990 Neil Harding was found guilty of affray and actual bodily harm at the Inner London Sessions House. He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.

NOT GUILTY

On Friday July 27th 1990, Chas Loft was acquitted of affray at the Inner London Sessions House. The jury took less than half an hour to reach a unanimous verdict. This is Chas Loft’s story.

On March 8th I went to the anti-poll tax demonstration at Hackney Town Hall. I was looking forward to it as I knew there would be a good turn-out. When I arrived I was surprised to see a large number of police on the Town Hall steps, and the Town Hall was boarded up. These two things suggested that the ‘authorities’ had adopted a confrontational attitude to the protest.

I spent the next hour wandering around the Town Hall square looking for friends and joining in the chanting. There was a good atmosphere Of defiance and strength among the crowd with all kinds of people present.

At about 7.20pm I joined the crowd in front of the Town Hall steps. It was like being at the front of a packed gig, with little freedom of movement and sudden waves of pushing and shoving. When I got to the front I saw a policeman shouting “come on then” at the crowd, he was very threatening, beckoning us with clenched fists. Further along the line a policeman was holding a woman by the hair and punching her repeatedly in the face. These were officers from the TSG, identified by their flat caps.

Until I went on this demonstration I thought I had no illusions about the police. But when I actually got to the front of the crowd and saw how violent they were, I was frightened. As I turned to get away from the scene I was grabbed by one of the TSG. Someone tried to pull me away from him and I ended up on the ground. As I was getting up I heard someone say “get this one”, and I was grabbed and dragged away towards Reading Lane. At this point I was amazed rather than frightened at what was happening to me. I was not surprised that the police were arresting people for no reason, but I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I started shouting “I haven’t done anything” and someone shouted “it’s alright, I’ve got photos”, which didn’t seem much use to me at the time.

I was put in a police carrier in Reading Lane and a police sergeant told me that I had been arrested for shouting, swearing and kicking a police officer; it was as if he was reciting a mental list. I was made to sit at the back of the van next to the police officer who had arrested me. When I complained that I’d done nothing, he said that he was going to take me to a closed van and give me a “fucking good kicking”. When we arrived at City Road police station the same officer told the desk sergeant to hurry up because he wanted “to get back to the fun.”

The time I spent in the police station was pretty uneventful. I was held in an an unlit cell for about four hours before being charged and released.

My first court appearance was very frightening because until then I did not know what I was supposed to have done. It was only when I read the police statements, and saw that I was supposed to have lashed out at police officers and kicked one, that I realised I was in serious trouble.

Some time after this I attended an HCDA meeting for March 8th defendants. I was shown photographs taken by HCDA of my arrest and began to realise the significance of what had been said to me when the police were carrying me away. From the photos two witnesses to my arrest were identified and quickly traced.

My solicitor was fairly confident that I would be acquitted, but he seemed to have some difficulty understanding the facts of my case. In early July I rang him and was told that my case would probably be up in a couple of weeks. By this time two more witnesses, who had been standing near me just before my arrest, had been found (one by HCDA and one by myself after scrutinising a picture in the ‘Guardian’ showing the crowd immediately
before I was arrested).

I met my barrister to go through the details of my case on Thursday July 12th. I was feeling good about my chances and my barrister agreed with me that we should ask for more time to prepare the case as statements had not been taken from all the witnesses. He told me to contact my solicitor the next morning so that the statements could be taken.

Then, all of a sudden, everything fell apart. When I phoned my solicitor the next day I learned he had gone on holiday. The same afternoon his secretary rang to tell me I was up in court on Monday July 16th at 10.00am and that my barrister could not make it as he had to go to a funeral.

Over the weekend HCDA took statements from my remaining two witnesses and arranged for all my witnesses to get to court. I discussed my situation with HCDA and I decided that if the stand-in barrister could not get the case adjourned I could sack him and appear unrepresented, forcing the judge to adjourn it.

I went to court determined to follow this through. However, my barrister told me that the judge could force me to defend myself. He was pretty aggressive about it and at one point told me that he wasn’t going to represent me anyway. After all this, my trial was adjourned because one of the police officers was going on holiday the next day.

On Thursday July 26 I turned up at court for trial. My barrister, the stand-in again, had another case to finish before my case could get underway. He finished in one court at 10.45am and came straight over to represent me at 11.00am.

My barrister’s cross examination of the police was pathetic. He concentrated on the structure of the TSG and a possible breakdown in police communications. This all seemed irrelevant to me as the police officers in the witness box claimed to have seen me aim blows at police officers and kick one.

At one stage I called my barrister over to me and told him to ask why the police had said in their statements that I was facing them when arrested while I was running away. He managed to trap one officer on this point, when he said he couldn’t remember if I was facing him or not. I watched the officer hesitate, and waited in vain for my barrister to point out that it wasn’t a question of memory because the contradiction was in his statement, written on March 8th shortly after I had been arrested.

When the prosecution’s case was over I could not believe that my barrister had failed to trip them up. I was sure that I would be convicted.

In the lunch break I spoke to my barrister and was gobsmacked when he said he wanted to change the defence case. One of the police officers had misinterpreted a photograph of me getting arrested and had then been contradicted by another officer. This was totally irrelevant to me as my barrister had virtually ignored their claim to have seen me attack police officers. But here he was asking me to abandon most of my evidence and that of my witnesses. By now I felt completely demoralised and so I agreed to his suggestion.

Luckily for me the support and advice I received from HCDA gave me the confidence to speak to my barrister and insist that I would be sticking to my original defence.

When I came to give evidence I actually enjoyed it. After four months of worry, and all the police lies, it was my first chance to tell people what really happened. Because the whole incident was so ingrained on my memory, I had no trouble dealing with the prosecution barrister when she cross-examined me. After my evidence two witnesses were called, the photographer who had been so crucial to my defence, and a witness who had been traced from one of his photographs.

By the end of the day I felt fairly confident. However, I could not get over my frustrations at the missed opportunities of the morning. With the evidence all heard, the summing up was to take place the next morning. That evening I made a list of all the points I wanted my barrister to make in his summing up. I’m glad I did because he mentioned all my points and, after my acquittal, bragged that he prepared his speech just five minutes before entering the court.

I was acquitted despite my barrister and thanks to HCDA, my witnesses and my own efforts. Now that it is all over this is how I feel about my case.

Firstly, I was found not guilty, but I served a four months sentence in so far as throughout that time my whole life was dominated by the prospect of a prison sentence or a heavy fine.

Secondly, the whole legal system is there to process the defendant. My barrister told me to leave all the worrying to him, all I had to do was be there. If I had done that I’d probably be in prison now. I discovered that it is essential to work on your case yourself and remember that you instruct your solicitor and barrister. Just because someone has a law degree doesn’t mean they know it all. It is very hard to avoid being sucked into the legal factory without the involvement of defence campaigns or organisations like HCDA. Apart from anything else, the actual physical presence of HCDA and my family and friends enabled me to handle the intimidatory atmosphere of the court.

Thirdly, I won. What does this mean? I won the right to carry on with my life. I have found it difficult to put the case behind me, not least because my barrister did not ask the questions I wanted asked. I wanted everyone to know, not only that there was ‘reasonable doubt’ as to my guilt, but that two police officers sat down and made up a pack of lies against me. I very much regret not defending myself, as HCDA suggested to me on a few occasions. I would love to have had one of those bastards in the witness box, not knowing what to say, and squirming in the knowledge that the whole court knew he was lying. This is the hardest thing for me to think about. I ‘got off’, but I didn’t do anything. The police ‘got away with it’, even if they didn’t convict me. They didn’t need to. They scared me and messed up my life for a bit, a conviction would only have been the icing on the cake.

Finally, the ‘authorities’ used my case, and others like it, to pretend that a load of hooligans went down to the Town Hall that night and attacked the police. the only hooligans I saw were wearing blue uniforms, and anyone who fought back has my respect.

PERSONAL ACCOUNTS

In this section of the report, we have recorded four personal accounts by people who were on the demonstration. The views expressed in these accounts do not represent the views of HCDA.

“Not like a riot”

I got the bus with my partner from Stamford Hill to Hackney Town Hall, arriving there at 5.30pm. There was already quite a large crowd. The Town Hall windows and doors were boarded up and three lines of police were standing on the steps by the front entrance. Between the entrance and the police there was a small group of protesters and public speakers.

With my partner, I went to the front of the crowd, where people were chanting anti-Thatcher and anti-poll tax slogans.

After a short while the crowd became more compact and swayed with the force of people. Some people started throwing things which caused the crowd to move away. There were several surges with people being pushed from the back into the line of police. At one point we were pushed right to the front and we both fell over. I was frightened and struggled to get back on my feet and move back into the crowd. I saw my partner fall over in front of me, and while he was trying to stand up two policemen grabbed him and, although he hadn’t done anything wrong, carried him away.

I panicked. I thought 1 must try and see where they were taking my partner. I saw another woman running to stay with her arrested partner, the police considered this to be an attack and she was hit very hard by two officers. Other policemen were grabbing anybody in their way and with much force throwing them aside. Frightened, I went back to the entrance of the Town Hall.

At about 7.45pm a young man got on the Town Hall balcony above the entrance. He waved a banner and the crowd cheered him.

People started moving to the right hand side entrance of the Town Hall. I saw the TV cameras interviewing the Liberal Democrats’ leader, Paddy Ashdown, and I though this was why interest was moving to that part of the building. People were throwing things at the lights on the porch and shouting, Some people were trying to gain access to the building.

Suddenly the police get outrageously aggressive. They started forcing people down the side street [Reading Lane] towards the square saying “Right everyone, time to go home.” I went to the protest with the intention of making a stand, a peaceful protest – I did not want to go home. I tried to stand still, but I saw other people being hit and arrested when they did not retreat. I began moving into the square.

Because I am short, I was especially aware of other women about my height, 5′ 4″, being beaten up if they tried to stand still, or make any objection to the police behaviour. I got thrown out of   the way by the police on one occasion and, very frightened, ran to get away from the trouble.

At one point the police charged at us very aggressively forcing us back into the square. By this time the crowd had blocked the main road, stopping buses and cars. A police Car Came up the road and was stopped by the crowd, an ambulance was then allowed through.

I stayed in the square and watched the police make various charges towards the people in the road. Eventually I saw the police make a charge straight into the middle of the crowd splitting it into two groups. At the same time a line of police came from the Town Hall and forced everyone from the square to join a section of the crowd in Mare Street. We were then moved down the street in the direction of the Narroway. I stayed near the police line because I felt I was being denied my right to make a peaceful protest, but anyone who didn’t move down Mare Street was beaten or arrested.

As we were being forced down Mare Street, some young people ran to the shopping centre and started breaking windows and setting fire to litter bins. It was not like a riot, with looting, it all seemed hopeless and unconnected with the protest against the poll tax.

At this point I gave up and walked to the end of Mare Street. Only a few people were left in this area, some were sitting on the church wall shouting at people to stay and protest against the poll tax, other people were saying that mounted police had arrived. I walked home to Stamford Hill.

“Two demonstrations”

As chairperson of the Hackney Against the Poll Tax Federation, I was one of the organisers of the anti-poll tax demonstration. I arrived at the Town Hall at about 6 o’clock and was shocked to find the lower windows, and those of the housing office in Reading Lane, boarded up. On the steps directly in front of the main entrance a scaffolding barrier had been erected making a passage to the main door. This cordoned off section was occupied by a squad of uniformed police. A small crowd had gathered on the pavement just across the service road in front of the Town Hall.

I found the HAPTF secretary only to hear the bad news that the PA system we were expecting to be brought by the Joint Shop Stewards Committee had not turned up. I was also told that a security firm was patrolling inside the Town Hall with dogs. Only forty people were going to be allowed into the public gallery of the Council Chamber through a side entrance.

With access to the building severely limited and without a PA to address the rally, we were faced with a massive problem. How could we co-ordinate the protest? I helped set up a table on the path opposite the Town Hall, by which time the crowd was rapidly growing. I particularly noticed one man who was wearing an expensive suede jacket and casual clothes, was listening to a personal stereo, and was clearly out of his head on something. He kept demanding the placards I was laying out on the table. He finally grabbed two and walked off. The next time I saw him he was at the front of a crowd up against the police pushing the placards into the faces of the nearest two police officers.

A stand-in megaphone arrived while the HAPTF secretary was being interviewed by a TV team. When he finished we quickly discussed what to do about the rally, planned to begin at 6.30pm. Of most concern to us was the arrival of a large group of SWP supporters, with placards and megaphone, clearly planning their own actions. There was a lot of confusion at this stage. People were milling around in a strange atmosphere of expectancy, heightened by the boarded up building in front of us and the presence of TV and radio crews.

By the time we made our way to the Town Hall Steps to begin the rally, the SWP had moved like a phalanx directly in front of the police and started a loud and insistent chant. The steps had filled up and the crowd was rapidly swelling. I started to address the crowd over the megaphone, speaking about the Council meeting going on inside the building. It was clear that I was not making any impression above the volume of noise. By now it was getting dark and the TV crews were positioning arc lights at the top of the steps. I handed the megaphone over to someone with a louder voice and went down into the crowd. It was almost impossible to hear what he was saying.

Two or three more people tried to address the crowd over the megaphone before we gave up. The noise level was impenetrable, the size of the crowd much larger than we had expected. A mention on the early evening news had attracted more people than our leaflets. We had no hope of influencing the situation with our slender resources. My previous anxiety to control what was happening gave way to exhausted detachment. From the steps I could see people hanging out of bus windows as they drove along Mare Street. In front of the steps there was a dense crowd of mainly young people, in a semi-circle around the square there were families, older people and onlookers. I went down to join them.

Scuffles broke out. I couldn’t see why, but I could see that the TV lights trained on people had the effect of raising the temperature. Finding themselves literally in the limelight increased the excitement in that part of the crowd and among the police. And that, for the most part, was all that TV viewers saw. They didn’t see the large numbers of people standing back around the square in the shadows. But these people were just as angry with what the council was doing behind closed doors and boarded up windows. You could tell their feelings by the way they clapped and cheered when a young man climbed up on the balcony overlooking the square with a large “Pay no Poll Tax” banner. Occasionally the crowd was split up by a police charge.

To my mind there were two demonstrations. One was active, the section that surged round to the side entrance in Reading Lane when it was discovered that Paddy Ashdown was addressing a meeting, and then stopped the traffic in Mare Street. And the other was passively watching, moving out of the way when trouble came their way.

Later that night the active demonstration was in Mare Street, the steps were almost deserted. I showed a friend the way to the nearest toilets in the Florfield pub. Returning ten minutes later there was a police cordon across Reading Lane. A police officer informed us that we couldn’t get through to the Town Hall, it was now a “sterile area”. We then decided to make our way home.

“Love to have a go”

I arrived at the Town Mall at 6.10pm on the night of March 8th. I recognised many faces in the crowd of about 400. I had walked to the demonstration through the back streets, where I had seen a large number of buses and vans with police sitting in them.

I wasn’t surprised to see the Town Hall boarded up as I had been told about it earlier in the day. I had also been told about groups of young people hanging around the Town Hall asking ‘what time’s the riot?’

I wanted to do something, so I helped to give out the HCDA bust-Cards. Initially this involved walking in and out of the crowd, and I took the opportunity to chat to people I knew. As the crowd continued to grow it became impossible to continue walking about, so I stood in one spot on Wilton Way and gave out the bust-cards to people as they arrived. The majority of people were only too willing to take the cards. Some older people on the fringes of the demonstration said they didn’t need them, as did some casually dressed young men who looked like plain clothed police.

As the crowd continued to grow, a fairly large number of people who I would describe as squatters began to arrive. Virtually all of these people collected bust cards and then moved into the area directly in front of the police at the bottom of the Town Hall steps. This area was filled almost exclusively with squatters. Members of the Socialist Workers Party were lined up behind the squatters chanting slogans.

The first arrests came after many things had been thrown at the police. After I had finished giving out bust cards I joined the protest on the Town Hall steps. From there I watched members of the crowd throw bottles, beer cans and the occasional placard at the police. I saw one smoke bomb thrown. Many of the missiles missed the police and hit other demonstrators. I cannot recall seeing a single police officer getting hurt and being taken away as a result of the crowd’s actions. At the front, a number of people were spitting on police officers and some were making gestures of defiance, such as ‘V’ signs. Officers from the left hand side of the Town Hall began to arrest a number of people and as they were pulled away quite a large number of people tried to rescue them.

A black lad managed to scramble on to the balcony and hoisted above his head a ‘Pay No Poll Tax’ banner. He was greeted with tremendous applause and cheering by the crowd. The lad was clearly enjoying himself, but after a few minutes the crowd lost interest in him and you could see the anxiety on his face. He was obviously worried about the risk of getting arrested when he got down.

At this point a number of people announced that Paddy Ashdown was speaking at a Liberal Democrat’s rally at the side entrance to the Town Hall, many people started moving in that direction. The lad on the balcony saw his opportunity to climb down, and was assisted by people on the steps near him.

As we moved towards the Paddy Ashdown meeting, police got out of their vans and buses. A number of people managed to get into the hall and were quite forcibly removed. Hand to hand fighting broke out as the police struggled to retain control. As the crowd moved away from the side of the Town Hall a number of people decided to stop the traffic on Mare Street. People were extremely happy and shouting loudly. Some people sat in the road, but most people didn’t bother.

I walked along to the area close to the Hackney Empire and saw a car being escorted by the police. Someone shouted that it was Glenys Kinnock and there was a lot of booing. A number of people were kicking the car and were brutally attacked by police officers who quickly ran to the area. I saw one demonstrator viciously thumped and knocked over before being arrested. One young black lad looked to be badly hurt as he was pulled into a police van.

A young white lad had been knocked off his motorbike and an ambulance turned up to take him away. As the ambulance drove through the crowd there was a huge cheer and applause. The crew were smiling and waving back. Earlier, a St John’s ambulance had been refused the right to travel through because, in the words of some demonstrators, ‘they had scabbed on ambulance workers’.

At about 8.45pm the police must have decided to try and clear everyone from the area and began making charges to the left and right.

Thinking back on the demonstration I am critical of many of the organisations involved. It was the Poll Tax Federation who organised the demonstration, but they took no account of just how angry people were. Surely they must have known that the presence of so many police around our boarded up Town Hall was bound to be seen as provocative. The union leaders involved in organising the demonstration were incompetent for not providing a PA system so that a rally could take place. The two main political parties behind the demonstration, Militant and the Socialist Workers Party, earned no respect from me that night. Militant supporters, of which there were very few present, stayed well away from the main body of the demonstration. The Socialist Workers Party, while chanting extremely loudly and encouraging others to have a go, did little more than this.

In conclusion, it has to be said that there were a few people who turned up with the intention of attacking the police. The police were able to launch a number of attacks against angry but peaceful demonstrators, who were not on the whole prepared to defend themselves. It seemed to me that by the end Of the demonstration many people would have loved to have a go and attack the police, and only did not do so because they were not organised.

Sacked for an extended tea break

March 8th was International Women’s Day at the Hackney Empire. As an employee of the theatre I went to work as usual. On my way into the building I couldn’t help but notice the crowd that was gathering in the Town Hall square to protest against the poll tax.

I was working in the upper circle of the theatre, the door of which directly faces the Town Hall. Whilst tearing tickets I watched more and more people come to voice their disapproval of this unjust tax. I could hear their anger as they saw that the Town Hall was boarded up, and that the majority of them would not be allowed into the meeting. Somehow, bypassing the barricade of police who were guarding the Town Hall, a young black guy managed to climb up onto the balcony overlooking the square.

The crowd roared, some shouted to him to break in and disrupt the meeting. After this I went upstairs into the Empire. After about half an hour of the show I decided to take my tea break and join the demonstration.

Outside the mood had changed. People were getting angrier, and frustrated. Anti police and Thatcher songs were being chanted with the crowd throwing things and spitting at the police.

Suddenly, the crowd surged forward and the police, who had previously been calm, retaliated. I was standing in the middle of the crowd. I was being pushed from the rear, and the people in front of me were trying to escape the police truncheons, for a moment I felt as if I would be crushed to death. But the whole crowd seemed to disperse backwards onto Mare Street.

Then everybody seemed to go mad. It was war, with the police charging into the crowd, not caring who they hit and certainly not caring who they arrested. A group of about 150 people sat down in Mare Street trying to stop the traffic, but a police charge dispersed them.

I saw a friend of mine who told me she had been tending to an injured journalist. “I was standing there cleaning his eye” she said, “and all of a sudden this plain clothes policeman arrests him.”

I don’t know how long it was before the police started to push the crowd towards the Narroway, surrounding the Empire and denying anyone entry, but when I tried to get back to work I was unable to. I told them I worked there, but they said I would have to walk the long way round. It was approaching the interval and I knew I should be back at the theatre.

As I walked round, I ventured up the Narroway to see what was going on. People were smashing up the shops, especially Marks and Spencers and MacDonald’s, but I didn’t see any looting.

Finally, after about three quarters of an hour, I got back into the Empire and resumed my duties; my tea break should have been for fifteen minutes.

The following day I was sacked from my job. The reason given was that I had left my post to join the demonstration. Even though I explained the situation, that I could not get back into the building, the Hackney Empire’s management felt that my dismissal was warranted. I have taken my case to the Transport and General Workers Union, and they are currently dealing with it.

WHAT THE PAPERS SAID

“POLL TAX MOB LOOTS SHOPS” read the front page headline in the ‘Sun’ of Friday March 9th; “MOB RULE” blurted ‘Today’: “LOOTERS ON RAMPAGE” screamed the ‘Daily Mirror’. A photograph of a man throwing a missile through MacDonald’s window featured in four national newspapers.

“PM BLAMES MILITANCY ON LABOUR” said the ‘Guardian’, likewise the ‘Times’ “THATCHER HITS AT MILITANT OVER POLL TAX”.

These were the two themes which dominated the national press coverage of the Hackney anti-poll tax demonstration. The “gutter press” focused on the looting that took place, and the “quality press” concentrated on Militant’s involvement in the campaign against the poll tax, but still found space to highlight the looting. The looting theme was returned to on Saturday 11th with many papers visiting the Narroway to speak to shopkeepers and assess the damage to the 43 shops which had their windows smashed. The most notable exception to the national press’s coverage was the ‘Independent’ whose March 9th frontpage headline read “POLICE BATON-CHARGE POLL TAX PROTESTERS”. And Hackney’s local, the ‘Hackney Gazette’, gave a more balanced report on the events of the evening under the satirical headline “A TAX OF DERISION: ATTACKS OF HATE….”.

In general the press did what they do best – sensationalise events in order to sell their newspapers. The violence was attributed to Socialist Workers’ Party, Militant and anarchist agitators (the ‘Times’ even went to great lengths to explain how anarchists have co-ordinated anti-poll tax protests as a disciplined force), there was, however, no mention of what it’s like to live in Hackney.

Margaret Thatcher, never one to miss an opportunity to politick at Labour’s expense, was given much space to attack Militant and the 30 Labour MPs who had stated their intention not to pay the poll tax. These MPs, she intimated, were directly responsible for the violence, a conclusion she reached while 400 miles from Hackney in Glasgow. Paddy Ashdown, a veteran of the British Army’s ongoing campaign against Irish nationalists, was there on the night, so he was more than qualified to compare the Hackney scenes to those he had witnessed in the six counties. Did he, we wonder, secretly feel the need for the same solutions? Hackney’s own chief of police, Chief Superintendent Niall Mulvihill, came over as the personification of reason itself, as he explained how local people had the right to demonstrate and had done so in a peaceful manner only to be upstaged by a small hard core of agitators.

As might have been expected by the people who attended the demonstration, the media’s coverage of events bore little resemblance to what took place that night. Militant hardly figured at all in the demonstration, and there was actually very little looting. Although protesters did take out their frustrations on business premises, the damage only occurred after the police forcibly ended the demonstration by pushing people in the direction of Hackney’s shopping centre.

CONCLUSION

This report has tried to put the events in Hackney on March 8th in the broader context of political protest against the poll tax. ‘Criminalisation’ has been a cornerstone of the government’s policing policy throughout the 1980’s, but nowhere is the criminalisation of legitimate protest seen more clearly than in demonstrations against the poll tax. In the ‘Daily Express’ of March 9th, Thatcher said of the Hackney demonstration “It is precisely the type of violence we have seen before at Grunwick, in the coal strike and at Wapping, and it is the negation of democracy.” On Saturday March 31st, the eve of the introduction of the poll tax in England and Wales, a national demonstration marched from Kennington Park to Trafalgar Square. Again there were running battles between police and demonstrators with widespread damage caused to London’s West End. The events of that day, the massive police follow-up operation to make more arrests, and the severity of the courts in sentencing, confirms that the government, police and courts are sparing no expense to criminalise the protest against the poll tax.

The criminalisation of protest is a political strategy by which the government, police, courts and media, combine to portray demonstrators as criminals engaged in illegal activity. For the strategy to work there has to be a high number of arrests followed by convictions in the courts. The only means by which the organisers of demonstrations can challenge criminalisation is by setting up defendants’ campaigns, and by winning the court cases, in order to demonstrate that the policing of protest is a political not a legal concern.

Labour controlled Hackney Council has always prided itself in running local services with an open door policy. On the evening of March 8th, when important decisions were to be made concerning the future of Hackney, the Town Hall was boarded up, private security guards with dogs patrolled the building, and only a few members of the public were allowed into what should have been a public meeting. It was inevitable that such actions were going to provoke hostility amongst demonstrating residents. It is evident that in the early part of the demonstration, until 8.00pm, protesters were attempting to gain access to the Town Hall. In order to do so they had to overrun police lines, and police officers were used as a buffer against an angry crowd.

Following the spate of demonstrations against the poll tax across the country in the days preceding the Hackney demonstration, the Hackney Against the Poll Tax Federation should have been aware of the likelihood of a disturbance. The Town Hall unions, who had become aware of the security arrangements earlier in the day (including the mounting police presence), must have known that the council had set a course for confrontation. Yet no attempts were made to organise stewards for the demonstration. much more importantly, the absence of a public address system meant that the planned rally could not go ahead. 5,000 people attended a demonstration without a focus and without speeches to listen to; what else were people going to do other than hurl abuse at the police officers between them and the subject of their anger?

Until 8.15pm the police, with some notable exceptions, showed restraint in dealing with the demonstration. They were subjected to a high level of abuse, both verbal and physical. However, it would be wrong to suggest that the police were disinterested bystanders in the early part of the demonstration. It appeared to HCDA as if senior Hackney police officers took advantage of the demonstration to engage in a public relations exercise. For the first part of the demonstration they kept a very low profile, wishing to portray themselves as the innocent party attacked by an angry crowd, in an attempt to restore public support for the police and boost morale. National attention has been focused on the police in the past year, most notably after the Hillsborough tragedy and the release of the Guildford Four. In Hackney, HCDA itself has drawn attention to some cases of police malpractice including the detention of two OAPs, Mr and Mrs Burke, the beating of Raphael Joseph, and the fitting up of Glenford Lewis and William Gordon. All these incidents, on both a national and local level, have drawn the public’s attention to police ineptitude and malpractice, and in turn, they have hit police morale. Given that the police were publicly acting for a Labour council at such a media orientated event, they were unlikely to begin the evening with violent charges. The policy of tolerance did not continue all evening however, but changed radically after all the camera crews rushed off their film for the evening news programmes.

HCDA rejects the notion that political agitators were responsible for the developing violence. However, there were present at the demonstration a small number of people in a drunken or drugged state who did not help the process of political protest; demonstrators who were injured by missiles badly aimed at the police can testify to this. It is obviously important that people who attend political demonstrations have their wits about them in order to deal with any eventuality. It is also important that demonstrators act democratically, with care and concern for other demonstrators.

Excessive police violence commenced with the deployment of the Territorial Support Group, particularly following the police charge down Reading Lane at 8.15pm. From then onwards skirmishing took place in the area of the Town Hall, largely as a result of police brutality and aggressiveness. A significant feature of the demonstration was that protesters refused to accept that the police could make arrests at random. Many of those who were arrested had gone to help people who they had seen assaulted or wrongly arrested by the police. HCDA rejects completely the notion, current amongst policing strategists, that anyone who attends a demonstration is ‘fair game’ for violent assault or arrest. There should be no such thing as indiscriminate policing.

The damage caused to the business premises on the Narroway was a result of poor policing strategy. The police directed people away from the Town Hall in the direction of the Narroway, for a short period they even stopped people from leaving the demonstration in the opposite direction. Between the police and the Narroway there was a high concentration of protesters, blocking the police’s access.

Although there was some looting in the Narroway, it was nowhere near as extensive as claimed in media reports. It is quite likely that most of the looting was of an opportunist nature, unconnected with the demonstration, occurring after business premises had been damaged by protesters. It must be remembered that out of a demonstration of some 5,000 only 200 entered the Narroway. It is with great sadness that HCDA has to conclude in part that the organisers of the March 8th demonstration, the HAPTF, failed to stand by those persons arrested on the evening. Most importantly, the HAPTF has acquiesced in the state’s criminalisation of protest by refusing to stand side by side with these people. The lack of concern for those arrested and imprisoned is indicative of the HAPTF’s attitude from the very beginning of the demonstration, they failed even to arrange for ‘bust cards’ to he given out, or to have solicitors on call.

It was left to HCDA to set up a defendants’ campaign at a meeting on Monday March 12th. The campaign’s priority was to prepare a defence case and to search for witnesses to arrests. A bust fund was established to help pay defendants’ fines. To date the bust fund has raised over £800 mainly through the holding of benefits in the Hackney area.

The success of the campaign can be seen in the verdicts in the cases overseen by HCDA. Of the 25 cases that have been tried to date (August 3rd 1990), 14 have been acquitted, nine have been convicted, and two charges were dropped on condition that the defendants agreed to be bound over to keep the peace. These are exceptional results by any standards. As well as showing that the police indiscriminately arrested protesters, these verdicts demonstrate the important role defence campaigns play in challenging the state’s criminalisation of protest.

However, two protesters, Russell Ouxbury and Neil Harding, both received prison sentences, of three months and 12 months respectively, for assaults on police officers.

HCDA considers Russell Ouxbury and Neil Harding to be political prisoners. In the last analysis the only reason for their imprisonment is that they demonstrated against the imposition of the poll tax.

3rd August 1990.

Further reading.

Policing in Hackney 1945-1984: 1988, Roach Family Support Committee, Karia Press.

Enough is Enough: 1988, Poster leaflet, Family and Friends of Trevor Monerville Campaign.

Policing against Black People: 1987, Institute of Race Relations.

Death in the City: 1986, Melissa Benn and Ken Worpole, Canary Press.

Research in Hackney: 1989, London Borough of Hackney Council.

“What will happen if I don’t pay the poll tax?”: 1990, Poll Tax Legal Group.

Today in London policing history, 1990: cops attack striking Bacton Fashions workers, Hackney

Food delivery couriers in the IWGB union have challenged Labour’s Philip Glanville, the mayor of Hackney, to meet them and negotiate over their demands for a safe parking area in the Dalston, East London, after the mayor denied that an immigration raid on couriers in the area was a result of the couriers’ campaign for free parking space where they can wait for orders.

Eight riders were arrested in Dalston for “immigration offences” in January, just two days after protests were held outside Hackney Town Council demanding safe parking spaces.

London’s Metropolitan Special Constabulary (LMSC) said that the arrests were part of “a joint operation” involving “Hackney Police”. Philip Glanville, however, denied that the Council were complicit on the raids, and claimed they had “gone above and beyond in working to ensure that drivers have safer conditions” and that they were “liaising directly with the drivers and their representatives on their concerns.”

The IWGB union’s Couriers & Logistics Branch dispute this, and in response issued a statement to Granville: “As a majority BAME and migrant workforce who work entirely in public space, delivery riders are already disproportionately targeted by police and immigration enforcement in their personal and daily lives. As you know, this is a community of riders that has also already been subject to, for months, a concerted effort by the police and civil enforcement officers to force them out of their workplace. You should understand, therefore, that the riders’ parking campaign and the issue of immigration enforcement are inextricably linked.

“If you are serious that Hackney Council does not support immigration raids linked to enforcement action, we urge you to come to Ashwin Street to meet with riders, to negotiate on our demands about building a free and safe working environment for couriers in Hackney.” The couriers went on to reject Glanville’s claim that the council had sought to ensure safe working conditions for couriers, saying they had “yet to see any evidence of this”.

Parking at the Bentley Road car park in Dalston will cost £2 an hour from March onwards, which the couriers described as “an unacceptable cost for low-paid workers who can receive as little as £2 an hour during shifts”. The additional cost may force couriers to go back to their previous waiting place, on Ashwin Street, where there has been a concerted attempt to move them off, including through the use of £65 council fines, following plans for the regeneration of a nearby road. The IWGB have previously condemned this as “gentrification in action”, and in their statement to Glanville they said that Bentley Road was much more “isolated and dangerous especially at night” for couriers “who already endure disproportionately high levels of abuse, assault, harassment and theft”.

Financial support for the IWGB Couriers and Logistics Branch can be donated here

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This kind of a ‘holistic’ approach to targetting lowpaid migrant workers is hardly new to Hackney, however – as a strike from more than 30 years ago illustrates… a tale of policing, and immigration raids being used to attack migrant workers (many refugees) on behalf of bosses and the repressive regime the workers had fled…

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

Like much of East London, Hackney was home to many clothing factories – often small, employing often migrant labour, on low pay in poor conditions. The 1991 census figures showed that 12,000 manufacturing jobs solely in the clothing industry in 1981. Many of these jobs were in the textile sweatshops which were dotted around the borough.

Most of Bactons workers were Turkish or Kurdish, had been living in Britain for less than a couple of years and were waiting for a Home Office decision on their rights to remain in the UK. Within the factory there were some members of TGWU’s new 1/1312 textile workers’ branch. The branch, formed at the initiative of the political organisation, the Union of Turkish Workers, with the assistance of Hackney Trade Union Support Unit and Service Workers Advisory Project (SWAAP) had recruited almost 600 workers locally.

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

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

The workers themselves were not completely defenceless as they included some that had brought revolutionary traditions from the cities and villages of Turkey and Kurdistan. The previous year (1989) over 4,500 refugees had come to Hackney fleeing the war in Kurdistan. They joined, at least, another twenty to thirty thousand Turkish speaking workers in east London. Almost none of these workers were unionised and no major union had thought to change this. For example, none had ever appointed a Turkish speaking official.

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

Bacton Fashions itself was located in an industrial unit along with other clothing sweatshops. Workers from the different firms used the same entrance to go to work

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

Demands from union branch members for the TGWU to make the strike official were refused, requests for strike pay was therefore ignored and strikers were instructed that they couldn’t even make financial appeals on TGWU headed notepaper.

There was no attempt by the union official, Brian Theobald, to spread the dispute to other factories or to use what was happening to recruit other workers into the TGWU. He came to the picket line on a small number of occasions and took no part in strike meetings.

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

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

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

The next morning (27.02.1990) no one from any of the factories located in the same building as Bacton Fashions crossed the picket line, forcing Bactons to close.

The police attack came almost exactly a year to the day after police raided a number of factories in Hackney (on 27/2/1989) and arrested 38 Kurdish and Turkish workers. By the next day, seven had been deported and a further fourteen were under threat. This action came in the wake of a wave of raids across North and East London.

A protest against deportation raids in Hackney, 1989

The February 1989 raids had in fact themselves sparked the formation of the 1/1312 textile workers’ branch in the first place.

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

One striker Tekin Kartel, later received a five figure sum in damages for what had happened to him.

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

As Mark Metcalf of the Colin Roach Centre put it:

‘Police Hurt during factory protest’ (Newspaper clipping). Nice slant you’ve got there.

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

All in all, the strike was not well supported by the local trade union movement and the TGWU’s conduct didn’t impress the workers in local clothing outfits. Branch membership fell dramatically and recruitment became much more difficult.

However, local textile workers would strike again. On January 3rd 1991 over 2,500 London textile workers took solidarity action with their fellow workers on general strike in Turkey on the same day. Factories in Shacklewell Lane, Somerford Grove, Victorian Grove, Tyssen Street, Tudor Grove and Arcola Street were virtually empty as workers refused to cross picket lines.

Once again, police took the opportunity to attack migrant workers on strike. Police vans were driven at speeds of over 70mph to the Halkevi community centre on Stoke Newington High St, and officers jumped from the vehicles to race into a crowd of around 120. Five people were grabbed and when friends tried to stop their arrests, around 20 police officers drew their truncheons and batoned people to the ground, arresting them as they fell. One woman went to St Barts Hospital with a broken leg.

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

62 people were arrested with four being taken by the police to Homerton hospital. Access to the casualty department was denied by police at the entrance.  29 people were charged with  serious public order offences. Many arrestees were beaten whilst in police custody.

Local police monitoring & defendants support group, Hackney Community Defence Association, set up support for the arrested. HCDA identified the January 3rd arrests as pure revenge for the police loss of face over the confrontations at Bactons:

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

Two of the arrestees, Haci Bozkurt and Baki Ates, both 34 and from Stoke Newington, received a great deal of press coverage when their cases eventually came to trial five years later. Both had been granted political asylum after fleeing Turkey to escape police violence and persecution, when they were arrested for protesting about police arrests and violence, and charged with violent disorder. At Highbury Corner magistrates court in May 1991 no evidence was offered against Mr Bozkurt. Mr Ates was acquitted.


Turkish and Kurdish refugees (like other communities) in Hackney experienced policing as a repressive and violent force; that the police supported employers, acted as frontline troops for immigration deportations, and also tried to attack political refugees on behalf of vicious regimes from other countries was hardly a surprise. Racism and hatred of ‘foreigners’ at a ground level in the force served as the street level strongarm of blatant support for capitalists at a higher level, and the barely hidden hand of secret policing (which often co-operated with/acted as a proxy for repressive regimes…)

That Special Branch had intervened on behalf of the Turkish regime was hardly unique either. Only a couple of years after the events described above, Hackney Trade union Support Unit, which had played a part in assisting the Turkish and Kurdish workers to set up the TGWU branch, and Hackney Community Defence Association, which had helped defend the arrested strikers, together with other local activists, set up the ground-breaking Colin Roach Centre, named for a man who died in a local police station 10 years before), as a meeting and organising space. Police, and specifically Special Branch, would continue their multi-faceted/multi-agency defence of existing power relations, & attempts at repression of those trying to challenge them: Mark Jenner of the Branch’s Special Demonstration Squad was infiltrated to spy on the Colin Roach Centre, due to HCDA/TUSU’s involvement, and the Centre’s affiliation to Anti Fascist Action (AFA). Jenner used this connection to infiltrate trade union activists and reported on their organising back to the SDS, who passed some of this info to blacklisting organisations working to target trade unionists and workers on behalf of employers (he also spied on AFA and other groups).

Police act for the bosses – Never forget it.

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Nicked from the Radical History of Hackney, some bits owe thanks to Neil Transpontine and Mark Metcalf.

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Today in London policing history, 1983: Colin Roach dies in Stoke Newington Police Station

Who Killed Colin Roach?

Colin Roach died of a gunshot wound he received in the foyer of Stoke Newington police station on the 12th of January, 1983. The precise time of death was never established, but it was somewhere between 11:30 and midnight.

Colin Roach

On January 12th, Colin, 21, unemployed, black, asked a friend to drive him over to Stoke Newington High Street to visit his brother. His friend thought Colin seemed ‘petrified’, and on the journey he talked about someone who was going to kill him.
Colin got out of the car in the High Street and then walked into Stoke Newington police station. Concerned, Colin’s friend went to get Colin’s father, who lived in Bow. His concern was justified – as Colin walked into the front entrance of the police station, a sawn-off shotgun was pushed into his mouth and he was blown away. The police claimed that he did it himself.

His friends insisted that though he was worried about something following his release from a three month jail term a week or two before, he wasn’t suicidal nor a suicidal type. He’d spent the day normally enough visiting friends, buying parts for his car etc.

Colin’s father James arrived at the police station, looking for his son, at 12:15 pm. The front doors were taped off as a crime scene, so he was taken to the rear of the station and led to a room upstairs. Mr Roach was then questioned until 2:45 – only then did the police reveal that his son was dead. James Roach was held at the station until 4:45 am and was not permitted to see Colin’s body.

He was then taken home by the police, who then searched Colin’s bedroom. James’ wife Pamela, who had just been informed of her son’s death, was forced down into a chair by a policewoman who gripped her around the neck, when she stood up in alarm at hearing the police turning Colin’s bedroom. The officers left the Roach household, having found nothing of significance, and without offering apologies or condolences.

The Context

Colin’s death was hardly a unique incident: relations between police in Hackney and much of the local community had been close to broken down for a number of years; to the point where the natural assumption of a sizeable section of the community was to assume the police had themselves killed Colin.

‘The community hated us and we hated them. It wasn’t a black thing. It wasn’t as complex as that. If you went out in uniform or plain clothes you could feel the hatred’.
Detective Constable Declan Costello.

‘The officers involved in these atrocities can do this because they are not accountable to anybody. They cover up their crimes by picking on the weak – unemployed and uneducated people who do not have any knowledge of the law. There are no rights for black people, and if you are poor it’s worse; as far as the law is concerned you have no place in society. You are a dog; when they kick you, you move’.
Hugh Prince, victim of Hackney police.

Police had been accused of targeting black people locally for several years.

The informally named “sus law” allowed police to stop and arrest anyone they thought was acting suspiciously. Many in the black community felt they were being unfairly targeted. Wrongful arrests, unlawful use of force, racial abuse, raids on people’s homes and use of stop and search. Sus was targeted at young Black people overwhelmingly by police, mainly white, who took little trouble to conceal an often racist hostility to the local Black population.

Just a few examples:
In May 1971, Aseta Simms died in Stoke Newington Police Station in suspicious circumstances.

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

This incident led to the setting up of Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation.

On 24th April 1979 Hackney resident Blair Peach was killed by police, hit over the head during a protest against the National Front in Southall. Peach was killed by an officer from the notorious Special Patrol Group. The SPG’s lockers were searched as part of the investigation into the death, uncovering non-police issue truncheons, knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3ft wooden stave and a lead-weighted leather cosh. One officer was found in possession of a collection of Nazi regalia. The failure of the police to properly investigate the murder of Blair Peach – and their general harassment of youth, led Hackney Teachers’ Association to adopt a policy of non-cooperation with the police.

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

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

In response, Black youth became hostile to police and began to resist racist violence, physically if necessary. Although incidents were common, resistance reached a high point locally with three days of rioting in Dalston, Stoke Newington and Hackney during the 1981 anti-police uprisings.

In November 1982, Hackney Black People’s Association demanded an independent public enquiry into the conduct of the police in Hackney. Their concerns were specifically about corruption, and violence against black people.

The Colin Roach Campaign

The morning after Colin’s death, the newspapers were filled with the suicide of a black man in Stoke Newington police station. The police had issued a press release was issued at 1:30 am – while James Roach was being questioned and an hour before he had even been informed of his son’s death. The family, accompanied by a Tower Hamlets councillor who they knew, went to the police station to try to find out more about Colin’s death – and were treated with suspicion and hostility.

In response Colin’s friends organised a demonstration for 14th January. About 90 black and white youths gathered outside the police station with placards and asked for an explanation from the police superintendent. This was refused. Some of the demonstrators then blocked the traffic on Stoke Newington High Street: as a result, 50 police officers poured out of the station and attacked them, arresting eight people.

Hackney Committee for Racial Equality called for a public enquiry into the incident, Hackney Black People’s Association called for one into local policing. Local councillors and leftish MP Ernie Roberts started making noises about Colin’s death.

A meeting of ‘community leaders’ was called the next day. Police gave their account of the incident, including a post-mortem report which supported their argument that Colin had shot himself. Local police commander Bill Taylor said the police had called the meeting to be ‘as open and helpful as we can’, to ‘allay misunderstandings’. He was challenged by community activists and leaders, though local MP Clinton Davies tried to quieten down the questions, insisting all contentious issues should be left to the inquest.

The community leaders left asserting that ‘several questions still needed answers’. Somewhat unimpressed by police statements and by what passed for community ‘leadership’, local youth staged another demonstration outside the police station on January 17th. Police eventually launched a baton charge, making 19 arrests. The crowd dispersed but remained in the area in small groups for some hours. The same night a public meeting at Hackney Black People’s Association, attended by 150 people, formed a Support Committee for the Roach family. The meeting demanded an independent public enquiry into Colin Roach’s death.

A march from the town hall to the police station was arranged for the following Saturday. The march attracted 500 people who observed a two minute silence outside the police station. The stewards’ calls for a peaceful demonstration were ignored by a part of the crowd. ‘Scuffles’ broke out as the demonstration dispersed. Perhaps coincidentally a jeweller’s shop window was smashed nearby and several thousand pounds worth of stock taken. A large group of youths ran down Stoke Newington High Street breaking windows. In the subsequent fighting two police were injured and 22 people arrested.

The Roach Family Support Committee organised further demonstrations over the next few months, which were also met with severe police reactions and arrests. Eighty people in total were arrested outside Stoke Newington police station during the six protests, including an elected councillor and Colin’s father, James. Three hundred people attended Colin Roach’s funeral.

The campaign’s demand for an independent public enquiry was fobbed off by William Whitelaw, the Home Secretary, who initially said that the coroner’s inquest into the death would perform the same function, but then later admitted that its scope was much narrower.

In May 1983, the inquest jury agreed 8-2 that Colin Roach had committed suicide. However, the jury also criticised the conduct of the police, especially in their dealings with the Roach family. Police relations with the family were referred to the Police Complaints Board (since replaced several equally ineffective brandings, all just as fucking useless) who ruled that no officers would face any disciplinary action.

The Roach Family Support Committee in response set up its own Independent Committee of Inquiry, examining the death of Colin Roach and the wider issue of policing in Hackney. In 1988, it published a 313-page book, ‘Policing in Hackney 1945-1984’.

The Independent Committee of Inquiry’s report included:

– Testimony from witnesses (surrounding Colin’s death,the subsequent demonstrations and policing generally)
– Challenges to the inquest process and its findings
– Accounts and criticism of police action
– Details of the community response to the police
– Criticism of the accounts in the media of Colin – Roach apparently having mental health problems and this contributing to his death
– Rebuttals of suggestions in the media that the justice
campaign was ‘extremist’
– The history of policing in Hackney from 1945-1984
including policing anti-fascism, previous police racism, etc.
– An examination of the wider issue of police accountability

The Independent Committee of Inquiry concluded that the inquest’s verdict of suicide was not actually proven, and that there was evidence to suggest other explanations. For example, the weapon was never forensically linked to Colin Roach. He was not wearing gloves, but the gun did not have his fingerprints on, nor could it have been concealed in his bag. Two different police officers claimed to be the first to discover gun cartridges in Colin’s pockets (which again had no fingerprints on them).

The report also called for organisations in Hackney to ‘break links’ with the police until a proper inquiry was held and the issues around Colin’s death and wider police racism and abuse were resolved.

Aftermath

The death of Colin Roach and the response to it overshadowed the community and the police throughout the rest of the century.

An annual demonstration took place every January to remember Colin and other victims of local police racism and violence continued for several years through the 1980s and early 1990s, the ‘We Remember’ march (a tradition continued now more widely by the United Friends and Families Campaign’s annual march every October).

Policing remained a central concern for Black people locally. Colin’s death sparked a campaign for breaking contact with and defunding of the police, which came close to becoming longterm council policy.

In July 1982, Hackney Council set up a Police Committee. A Support Unit was also established which monitored crime and policing and published reports critical of police powers.

Hackney Council then resolved to withhold its statutory annual contribution of £4 million to the Metropolitan Police. Which predictably generated more outrage in the press. A month later it was determined that this was not legal and so the contribution was actually paid.

In 1984, Keith Newman, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, criticised Hackney as an area in which ‘extreme activists seek to represent practically any police intervention as harassment’, singling out the campaign for an independent public inquiry into the death of Colin Roach as an example of this. Anthony Kendall, the Leader of Hackney Council, attacked Newman for his ‘irrelevant and irresponsible political views’ which demonstrated ‘just how dangerously unaware he is of the real facts of life in areas like Hackney’.

Obviously, as the 1980s went on, left labour Councils gradually became more and more moderate, and Hackney was no exception; anti-police rhetoric gradually got toned down until it vanished altogether under New Labour…

Meanwhile, Hackney Teachers Association (a branch of the National Union of Teachers) began discussions about non-cooperation; this had started during the Justice For Blair Peach Campaign, but came to the fore after the death of Colin Roach. One third of Hackney schools ended up excluding the police from their premises in the 1980s. The Police Out of School Policy became widely supported by teachers, parents and kids.

Police violence and community resistance continued; with incidents like the arrest and beating of Trevor Monerville in 1987, which left him with brain damage; and the death in custody of Tunay Hassan in Dalston police copshop a few months later.

Mounting anger again came to a head, and Hackney Community Defence Association (HCDA) was formed to providing the victims of police crime with a campaigning voice – a self-help group for the victims of police crime. HCDA investigated allegations against the police, provided mutual support for victims and campaigned against police injustice. HCD went on to name many officers involved in racism, violence, and drug-dealing and corruption. (A post for another day)

Along with Hackney Trade Union Support Unit and other local activists, HCDA launched the Colin Roach Centre on 12 January 1993 (the tenth anniversary of Colin’s death) as a local action & resource centre.

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Much of this was cheekily nicked from other places. including reports from the time, and from the excellent Radical history of Hackney blog and their article for Datacide

Three days of rioting kick off in Dalston and Stoke Newington, 1981

“Blood! Blood! Spilled by police tactics. They batter them, batter them in a tha head.”

Rioting swept many parts if Britain’s cities in the summer of 1981. If the first Brixton riots in April kicked it off, tension across many communities built to a climactic series of eruptions in the first week of July.

3 July saw aggro in Southall as skinheads arriving for a gig provoked angry resistance and fighting in Liverpool between police and young black folk. Over the following days uprisings broke out all over the country: in Liverpool, Manchester, again in Brixton, Bristol, Southampton, Leicester, Luton, Nottingham, Derby, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Halifax, Leeds, Huddersfield, Blackburn, Bolton, Preston and Teesside, and across London from Acton to Walthamstow, from Haringey to Clapham… The whole country seemed on fire.

In Hackney, East London, trouble had been building for weeks: some of it turned against the police, some of it aimed at shops, and some turned (sometimes anti-socially) on anyone…

Police vs Black people in Hackney pre-1981

“The community hated us and we hated them…” (Hackney police officer)

In the early 1980s local policing in the Hackney area was violent and racist, almost in outright war against local black community. Complaints or racist attacks taken to the police received indifference, contempt and abuse. As in other inner city areas, SUS was used to harass black people and falsely accuse them of crimes.

Police had been accused of targeting black people locally for several years.
Just a few examples: In May 1971, Aseta Simms died in Stoke Newington Police Station in suspicious circumstances
In December 1978, Black teenager Michael Ferreira was stabbed during a fight with white teenagers in Stoke Newington. His friends took him to the nearby police station, where the cops seemed more interested in questioning them than assisting Michael, who died of his wounds before reaching hospital.

This incident led to the setting up of Hackney Black People’s Defence Organisation.

On 24th April 1979 Hackney resident Blair Peach was killed by police, hit over the head during a protest against the National Front in Southall. Peach was killed by an officer from the notorious Special Patrol Group. The SPG’s lockers were searched as part of the investigation into the death, uncovering non-police issue truncheons, knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3ft wooden stave and a lead-weighted leather cosh. One officer was found in possession of a collection of Nazi regalia. The failure of the police to properly investigate the murder of Blair Peach – and their general harassment of youth, led Hackney Teachers’ Association to adopt a policy of non-cooperation with the police.

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

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

1981

Events in the weeks leading up to what later became called ‘Riot Week’ (3-15 July 1981) indicated a ratchetting up of tension towards what seemed inevitable eruption.

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, an 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.

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.

As rioting spread elsewhere, on Wednesday, 8 July, two officers on patrol in Stoke Newington were attacked with stones, and towards midnight four police cars were damaged by missiles. The next evening, (July 9th) police were out in force, on foot, around Dalston, skirmishing with a couple of hundred youths on the move. Five shop windows were smashed and one policeman injured by missiles.

Police presence in the area was increased dramatically throughout the week.

On 10 July, fighting increased:

“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.” (Hackney Peoples Press)

The junction of Sandringham Road and Kingsland High Street became a focus; unsurprisingly. Sandringham Road led down into what was then the heart of the most populous Afro-Caribbean area in Hackney. It was sometimes called Dalston’s ‘frontline’.

Johnsons Cafe, early 1980s

At the top of the road, the Argos showroom windows gleamed with consumer   products. On the right, Johnson’s cafe, a haunt favoured by black youth. Police targetted Johnson’s constantly, accusing young people gathering there of being involved in crime; there were frequent drug busts and raids in pursuit of ‘dips’ (pickpockets), accused of gathering there after escaping from their favourite hunting-ground, nearby Ridley Road Market.

Days of fighting elsewhere had ben splashed across the news… The mood of insurrection was emerging from the constant tension.
The trouble on 10th July began around 5 p.m. when a group of youths robbed a jewellers’ shop in Kingsland High Street.

“Trouble became inevitable when the police tried to prevent people going down Sandringham Road, to gather outside Johnson’s…”
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 youth 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.”

Hackney copper, snapped shortly before whacking a Hackney People’s Press reporter

There were at least two baton charges by police to clear Sandringham Road. Police lashed out wildly with truncheons – 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.

“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.”

Compared to the riot the same day in Brixton, and the week’s events in Liverpool 8 and Moss Side, the events in Hackney were said to be relatively minor, 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.”

The Hackney People’s Press reporter injured by police truncheons described the scene in Hackney Hospital:

“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.”

Just up the road in Stoke Newington, the same night saw repeated use of violent police tactics to clear the streets of people, mostly against bystanders and spectators. 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.” (Hackney People’s Press)

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.”

But less trouble than expected in fact panned out…  There were further disturbances during the afternoon, particularly in the Sandringham Road area. Police moved in a pincer movement to try and clear the streets – this just led to the fighting spreading into gardens (St. Mark’s Rise residents reported groups of police chasing youths through their gardens through the afternoon).

At some point, Johnson’s cafe in Sandringham Road had its window smashed in – seemingly by the cops.

“All the glass wall and glass door at the front of the shop was kicked in, kicked in by the police – bash! and smash!”  “Police came into the cafe using truncheons, slashing them in… a them head…”

Journalist Paul Harrison described the atmosphere on the Saturday:

“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.’ “

 At 6 p.m. the police decided to clear the streets, moving on the group gathered at 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.’

… The police closed in to forestall the brick-throwers, there were scuffles, one policeman was injured, and five arrests were made.”

The expected explosion did not occur…How come a “full-blooded riot” didn’t really get going In Hackney, as deprived and angry as Brixton?
Partly Hackney had no single centre like Brixton, and its heart, Railton Road, The numbers required to start a large-scale disturbance never came together.
Also, the police had learned tactics, from 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.”

The main motivation of rioters was, quite simply and straightforwardly, hatred of the police among the young and the desire to hit back at them for humiliations received. A spot of looting never does any harm either…

By the Sunday, the situation was a lot calmer, but there was still a massive police presence on the streets. Coachloads of cops were permanently parked in Sandringham Road, and Transit vans, with iron grids over the windscreen to prevent them being smashed, lined up 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 to call the events off –  there was no trouble at all.

Over 100 people were arrested over the few days of fighting: magistrates sent a fair few to prison. The Hackney Legal Defence Committee (HDLC) was set up to assist those arrested.

After ‘81

Anger at collective reaction against racism and police violence didn’t dissipate after July 1981 – it was in fact to peak in the area two years later.

In December 1981 Hackney Police arrested and assaulted a black mother and two daughters — the Knight family. This was one of many such incidents in Hackney. Others include the wrongful arrest and assault on the White family who got over £50,000 compensation and the wrongful arrest of Newton Rose for murder.

By 1982 there was demand for an enquiry into policing locally, coming from the community.

Colin Roach family campaign demo, 1983

In January 1983, Colin Roach, a local black 15 year old, died from gunshot wounds in the foyer of Stoke Newington Police Station. Police said he shot himself, but there were highly dubious circumstances, and signs of a police cover-up. Colin’s family was treated very badly. The death, and the way the Roach family were dealt with, provoked a huge local upsurge of anger; mass pickets of the Police Station ended with arrests and a mini-riot. Numerous protests and community organising followed; the mass response to this death sparked collective activity that lasted several years.

Eventually an inquest verdict of suicide was brought in on Colin, but it was critical of the police response. Many community organisations ended up in effect refusing to co-operate with the cops at all. A campaign to defund the police was initially backed by Hackney Council (though it was eventually ruled illegal).

Police brutality continued into the mid-80s, with the vicious beating of Trevor Monerville, the death of Tunay Hassan in custody in Dalston Police Station, and other cases. The community campaigns that formed from these cases eventually came together with the founding of Hackney Community Defence Campaign (HCDA).

HCDA stepped up the pressure on the police locally, setting up a database of violent, racist and corrupt police and those involved in harassment and deaths etc, following up cases, going to court, running campaigns, uncovering police corruption and drug-dealing. Eventually they forced the transfer of eight officers, another committed suicide, others jailed for nicking money from victims and dealing…

In return they experienced harassment, were followed by unmarked cars, received threats… Special Branch’s Special Demonstration Squad sent undercover police to infiltrate the Campaign at the Colin Roach Centre. Mind you, this was in keeping with police traditions – SDS officers had also previously spied on a number of local groups and campaigns, including Schoolkids Against the Nazis.

Sandringham Road E8 1983

Some amateur and unique footage of black youths hanging out on “The Frontline”.

Part one includes some police-community relations including an arrest at 6:40 and a cop getting lumped at 7:05 – after which his helmet is used as football.

Part two is a bit more relaxed and includes a visit at 5:58 from reggae royalty Dennis Brown (of “Money In My Pocket” fame).

More context about the policing and community of Sandringham Road available in Hackney Community Defence Association’s “Fighting The Lawmen”.

There’s an audio guide to Sandringham Road as part of A Hackney Autobiography.
https://www.ahackneyautobiography.org.uk/trails/food-and-frontline/9

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Mush of the above was shamelessly lifted from the Radical History of Hackney, many thanks to them, go check their excellent blog.

Common Land and Squatting in London Fields, Hackney: A Historical Wander

Hidden Histories: Common Land and Squatting in Hackney

Intro
This walk was made on 17 July 2011 by about 40 people, some of whom had personal experience of squatting in the London Fields and Mare Street area of Hackney, London, from the 1970s to the present. It was researched and organised by Melissa Bliss with contributions from others including Past Tense.

This seemed like a good time to highlight the squatting history of the area: the government had recently signalled its intention to criminalise squatting; the Olympics, only 12 months away then, had led to a massive increase in property speculation; and the London Fields area was experiencing rapid social and structural change.

We selected 8 sites on the walk which showed different aspects of squatting in different decades. There were many other squatted sites we could have chosen so this walk is not comprehensive.

This account is not comprehensive and we are always looking for more information about this area.

Two more radical history walks were done around the same time in other parts of Hackney, (one from Dalston to Stoke Newington, and another around Stoke Newington), put together by some of the people involved in this walk: we are working on re-constructing them, and will post them up on this blog at some point.

A brief history of squatting in the London Fields area

Squatting in London Fields goes back decades. The earliest references we found were in the late 1960s but it is likely there was individual and organised squatting before then.

London Fields has experienced a high level of squatting for several reasons:

•  Housing need caused by poor housing and rising rents which priced people out of private rented accommodation

•  Loss of housing through bombing and neglect

•  Intensive top down planning intervention – wartime requisitioning, slum clearance and compulsory purchase – leaving whole areas to become run down and left empty

•  Deindustrialisation as businesses moved further out of London leaving empty industrial buildings such as factories, workshops and warehouses

•  Organisation among squatters which led to large scale squatting and, for some, licensing

By the end of the Second World War Hackney had lost about 5,000 homes and 7,000 people were on the housing waiting list. The London County Council (LCC) accelerated its slum clearance programme, buying up properties and moving people out of London. The Metropolitan Borough of Hackney used compulsory purchase powers to buy up properties which had been requisitioned during the War: 1,767 properties, containing 3.317 homes, including around the west side of Mare Street .

Hackney’s population has declined since the 1910s until 1981. Between 1931 to 1961 it declined by about a third. Despite this there was also considerable homelessness due to poor housing stock and rising rents. Organised squatting increased in the 1960s.

During the 1970s there were continual struggles around housing centred on homelessness, slum clearance and redevelopment plans. Rapidly rising house prices in the early 1970s led to a shortage of cheaper private rented housing and speculators leaving properties empty.

The Greater London Council (GLC) and London Borough of Hackney (LBH) had plans to develop the Broadway Market and London Fields east side areas respectively to preserve local employment. But they proceeded so slowly that the areas were blighted and many properties were left empty. Squatters moved in.

Organised and individual squatting increased. Public sector landlords and property owners responded in a variety of way: smashing up properties, licensing squatters or encouraging squatters to regularise themselves in housing co-ops or housing associations.

Smaller changes like the removal of caretakers from housing estates by the early 1970s allowed squatters to move into flats undetected.

From the mid 1970s the GLC took some moves to regularise squatters by getting them to form housing coops.

In 1977 the Conservatives regained control of the GLC and started selling their housing to individuals through the policy of homesteading and housing associations. They also gave squatters an amnesty and offered them tenancies in hard to let properties.

In the 1980s LBH suffered a number of crises including severe funding cuts from central government and, perhaps most crucially, when GLC was abolished, being forced to take on the GLC housing stock, much of which was in poor repair. This doubled LBH’s housing. Cuts in funding from central government and internal council crises meant the council was unable to deal with its housing. In 1981 Hackney had 2,300 empty properties.

During the 1990s the Council was able to regain more control over its property. Many homes had been lost to right to buy and funds were coming through from central government and the European Union to redevelop the area.

In the 2000s squatting continued in the area but in a less organised way and more commonly in industrial buildings. As the area became gentrified, land values increase and less properties were available for squatting. There were also occupations in protest at the ways in which regeneration was being brought about, in particular with the sale of Council properties to property developers and speculators.

Squatting continues in the area but mostly in building awaiting redevelopment, often from industrial to residential uses.

LONDON FIELDS LIDO

1998 – 2003 

The Lido was built 1932 by the LCC, partly as compensation to Hackney for military use of Hackney Marshes during the First World War. Like many other lidos in London it lasted well till the late 1970s when it was transferred by thy GLC to LBH. It then began to be run down by the Council, closing finally in 1988 amid plans to turn it into a car park.

In 1990 Tower Hamlets managed to bulldoze Victoria Park lido and replace it a car park. This spurred local people on to continue to fight to save London Fields Lido, even standing in front of a bulldozer in 1990 to prevent demolition. Local people led campaigns to reopen the Lido and cleared away vegetation. The children’s paddling pool which was closed in 1999, was reopened by local people for summer seasons.

In 1998 the Lido was squatted for housing, a café and communal events. London Reclaim the Streets held their weekly meetings here for a while. In August 1988 there was the Carnival of the Dispossessed, a benefit for Reclaim The Streets. The Lido was squatted for a second time 2002-2005. Here’s a nice story of that time from Ms Marmite Lover.

[Your past tense typist remembers the time well. Especially the benefit for RTS mentioned. Which might have been much less pleasant… A couple of days before, the deep end of the empty pool reflooded up to a depth of several feet, as the drain leading from the lido had become blocked. Since the deep end was the prospective stage for the upcoming gig, this was bit of a problem, unless a floating stage was an option…  Your friendly neighbourhood squat plumber/radical historian was woken from his sleep in a far off part of south London, grabbed his drain rods and was rushed to the spot, and after some expert rodding the somewhat skanky watter drained away, in time for the pool to dry out and the gig to take place.]

LBH, rather late in the day discovered an enthusiasm for the Lido it was eventually evicted, and finally reopened it in 2006. it is now a source of pride for the Council which uses it frequently to promote the borough. But it would not be here now except for the concerted campaigns by local people and squatters.

Walk through London Fields and Trederwen Avenue to Brougham Road

BROUGHAM ROAD

1970s – ?1987 Housing

Dave Morris spoke about Brougham Road, using this text he wrote in 2008

“Well I was squatting in 64 Brougham Rd from 1974-1980. I was a postman in Islington. The house was very run down, with an old outside toilet and a sink for a kitchen. But we decorated the inside with posters, murals, press cuttings and inspiring slogans etc.

I shared the place with Alan, a really decent and quiet young bloke who became an alcoholic in the late 1970s. Alan once got nicked when drunk at a train station wearing my post office jacket and wheeling about a post office trolley with bags of letters on it. This led to a raid on the house and some laughable police hysteria about him and me being in an anarchist train robbers gang… I testified in court that I had known nothing about it (and that probably nor did Alan), but he still got 6 months suspended (Mentioned in Albert Meltzer’s autobiography, I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels). After I left I think he went downhill, and last I heard he tragically got run over by a bus.

The other bloke we shared with was Des Kelly from Ireland who I recall was writing a book… I have a mad photo of him trying to ride his bike UP our staircase. I did bump into him in Hackney 15 years later but can’t remember what he was doing them.

Spanish Elizabeth was next door I think. Zoundz folks moved into my place or next door after I left. I vaguely recall a guy (Bruce?) living at No 66 who did animation and who told me he was working on an amazing path-breaking new film called ‘Star Wars’.. it didn’t sound to me like it would get anywhere with a crap name like that…

There was a very strong Broadway Market Squatters Association (with maybe 50+ homes in it from the area) which met regularly for mutual solidarity and campaigning. I remember we decided to boycott an amnesty offered by the GLC (London Authority) to squatters if we would accept licenses… the Association saw it as a sell out and divide and rule – we were all pretty militant and independent. But eventually many did accept licenses and then formed housing co-ops in order to keep together and survive.

There were lots of radical feminists in the area, many squatting – I admired them a lot.”

There’s a link to a great article on the 1970s London Fields women’s squat scene, written by a participant.

“Some were involved in the Women In Manual Trades group. Former German urban guerrilla Astrid Proll did apparently spend some time in the area and many people in the area helped form the Friends of Astrid Proll to campaign for her after she was arrested.
Astrid’s sojourn there inspired a song by Nik Turner of Hawkwind fame

I think a building which had been squatted at the south end of the street sometime in the early 70s became a collectively run playcentre..

There was a revolutionary socialist guy who was a tenant in the tower block at that end of the street and had had some run ins with NF fascists.. I vaguely remember getting involved in anti-fascist stuff in the area, painting out nazi slogans etc…

There was a good community, with squatters, tenants, feminists, anarchists and all age groups and nationalities all mixing and getting along pretty well.

There was famous graffiti on a wall at the end of the street by the market which survived for over 10 years: Broadway Market is not a sinking ship – its a submarine.’ It has been restored in recent years, but unfortunately gentrified a lot. It was amazing to go back there last year after decades away and visit Tony’s cafe which had been there when I was there I think, been evicted in order to be ponced up, and then re-occupied as a high profile squatted political centre opposing gentrification in the area (by some anarchists and ‘Hackney Independent’ activists.. see the Hackney Independent website for full info on this).”
Dave Morris

More about Brougham Road

At some point the streets west of London Fields passed into the hands of the GLC – possibly after the Second World War. The GLC had plans to redevelop the wider Broadway Market area to encourage employment but left properties empty for a long time.

The east side of Brougham Road was squatted from at least the early 1970s. Some became licensed through Patchwork Housing.

A building was occupied and run as a nursery by a black group, becoming the Market Nursery, whose patron was Benjamin Zephaniah. The Market Nursery is still going in Wilde Close.

Behind Brougham Road was the old Dalston Bus Garage (on the site of a military barracks) which closed in 1981 and was replaced by Ash Grove bus garage. The bus garage was occupied by travellers in 1981-82. This may have been “uber hippy travellers the Ukrainian Mountain Troupe, who had occupied an abandoned bus garage near Brougham Road in Hackney” according to Alistair of Kill Your Pet Puppy…

This area was later redeveloped as housing by LBH: Suffolk Estate (1960s-1971) and the Regents Estate (1980-88), Grand Union Crescent & Dublin Avenue (1980s).

LBH approved the GLC’s development plans for the Broadway Market Area in 1975 but not much happened other than the building of Ash Grove bus station on Mare Street and Ada Street Workshops (1992).

Walk along Brougham Road and Benjamin Close to Broadway Market. No. 34 is straight ahead, No. 71 is to the left.

BROADWAY MARKET

1970s – 2000s

Main speaker: Jim Paton

Broadway Market used to be a thriving shopping street and market. This declined until the 1970s when many of the shops were closed and the properties shuttered with corrugated iron. Some of the properties were owned by the GLC and LBH but some were privately owned (for example, in 1983 Prudential Insurance owned no. 53-61). The GLC’s plans to develop the area stopped other development happening.

Flats in the blocks around Broadway Market were also left empty, rented under the hard to let scheme and squatted including Warburton House and Jackman House.

The Council has various schemes to revive the area but little came of them. The GLC built Ash Grove bus station on Mare Street and the Ada Street workshops in the early 1980s.

In the early 2000s LBH was determined to revive the area by selling of the shops and flats above. Some leaseholders were able to buy their properties but many were sold at auction to overseas investment companies at less than market prices. Two sales were particularly contentious.

No.34, Francesca’s Café, was run by Tony Platia for over 30 years. He asked the Council if he could buy the property several times but was turned down. In 2004 the building was bought by Dr Roger Wratten along with the properties on either side of the café and other properties and land in the local area (including 2, 4, 6, 30, 32 Broadway Market; land to the rear of numbers 26-36 Broadway Market; 27 Marlborough Avenue). It seems that Wratten grew up in No. 36 next door.

Tony was evicted at the end of 2005 and the property was occupied to prevent the building’s demolition and as a protest against the wholesale sell-offs. The café was finally evicted in February 2006.

Tony now runs a juice stall in the market (which started in 2004). No. 34 still stands derelict.

No. 71, Nutritious Food Gallery, was run by Spirit who lived above with his family from 1993. When he starting renting it from LBH, the building was semi-derelict and he spent his own money doing it up and running a successful food shop. As leaseholder Spirit should have been given the first option to buy the property. But in 2002 when he went to the auctioneers and left a cheque he believed he had bought he building. But it was later sold at the auction to an offshore investment company for less money than he had offered. This company then raised his rent by 1200% with the clear intention of getting him out. Spirit attempted to pay this rent but ran into arrears and was finally evicted in October 2006.

No 71 is now the FIn and Flounder, a posh fish shop
[At this point on the 2011 walk, ‘some words’ were exchanged with the hipster fish shop owners who had bought Spirit’s old shop. Some people on the walk knew Spirit and took the piss out of the fishy folk. But are such middle class who buy into gentrification just tiddlers, just prawns in a larger game? Cod knows…]

Walk through Broadway Market & London Fields to the Warburton Estate garden

WARBURTON HOUSE & DARCY HOUSE

1970s – 2000s

Darcy House was the LCC’s first block in Hackney (1904), on the site of Dr Carbureting’s Asylum (1830s-1850s) and Pacifico’s alms houses for Sephardic Jews (about 1851). Warburton House was built slum clearance in 1935-38.

The Warburton Estate is typical of several estates in the local area (like Goldsmiths Row and the Haggerston Estate). Under the GLC it became run down and flats emptied. Some were squatted and some were let under the Hard To Let scheme.

2011: It rained heavily.

Walk through Mentmore Terrace, Sidworth Street to junction with Lamb Lane

LONDON FIELDS EAST:
Mentmore Terrace, Sidworth Street, Lamb Lane, Gransden Avenue

Sidworth Street was the site of a V2 bomb during the war and in the 1960s and 1970s industrial units built. In 2010 one block (13018) was squatted as Urban HapHazard Squat. Some building around Sidworth Street and Mentmore Terrace were squatted, around 2011, some with the knowledge/permission of the property owners.

Properties round here bought by the local council after WW2 (bomb damage & slum clearance) and in the 1970s. During this time there were several traveller sites on Lamb Lane, Gransden Avenue and   Mentmore Terrace. In the 1980s a site on Gransden Avenue/London Lane was being considered as a permanent local authority traveller site.

Walk down Lamb Lane (note Elizabeth Fry Way) & Mare Street

195 MARE STREET: NEW LANSDOWNE CLUB

2009 (September) – 2010 (August) Communal / social centre

This building was built in about 1697, probably for a wealthy merchant, Abraham Dolins. It is the second oldest house and third oldest building in Hackney (after St Augustine’s Tower and Sutton House). For the first 160 years (1697-1860), it was a merchant’s family home. For the next fifty-odd years (1860-1913), like many big houses around this area, it was turned over to institutional use. It became the Elizabeth Fry Refuge for Reformation of Women Prisoners. It housed women released from jail where they learnt the skills to go into domestic service. For ninety years (1913-2004), it became a liberal/radical social club – the New Lansdowne Club. During this time a new building was built out the back with a bar and a stage. After a long period of decline it finally closed in 2004.

In 2005 it was bought for a Vietnamese community and cultural centre but stood empty since then.

In 2009 the building was squatted as a very active social centre. Events included London Free School, benefits, skills sharing and film nights.

In May 2010 this company went bust and ownership passed to the Dunbar Bank which finally evicted the centre in August 2010. Currently (July 2011) on sale   for £1 million.

“Opened at the end of 2009, it got evicted in August 2010. In the meanwhile, it hosted a considerable amount of weekly workshops and skill-sharing, but also theatre plays, gigs, movies, benefit parties, meetings, art exhibitions and performances, gardening and even a pantomime! The building is one of the oldest house in Hackney, its front part is the oldest (grade II listed) and there is a more recent back part that includes a stage. At the time squatters moved in, it was owned by some developers company who simply wanted to demolish part of it and build flats. But the developers got bankrupt and their bank, Dunbar Bank, took over. They evicted the squatters, redone the facade and nothing else, and are now selling it out…”

NAUTEANESS – 197 Mare Street

2011

This was then squatted and open on Sundays – we dropped in to get dry, drink tea & play music. An ex-diving shop, it was owned by property developers. [Not sure what happened after this- Ed]

Some people went on to Well Furnished11 Terrace Rd, opposite Well Street

Well Furnished was unfortunately evicted not long after (26th of August 2011). It was “located in Well street, Homerton, a vibrant area where locals seem to have established strong links with each other. The St John Hackney Joint Charities Trust owns a lot of properties on this street and have decided to increase the rents by up to 300%, forcing people to leave their buildings. The WellFurnished collective occupied some of these buildings in early summer 2011, and organised lots of events: benefit cafes/dinners/gigs, exhibitions, painting/dancing/yoga workshops, meetings etc.”

Walk down Mare Street to London Lane / Belling Road

LONDON LANE/ELLINGFORT ROAD

1980s – 1994

The Victorian terraced housing in this area was not built to a very high standard. After the Second World War the Council compulsorily purchased some buildings in the area.

In the mid 1970s LBH planned to create an Industrial Improvement Area between Mare Street and London Fields in an attempt to stem the loss of employment. The Council compulsory purchased more buildings and got rid of existing residents and businesses. It was not keen to hand housing over for short life in case it slowed down development.

Squatters moved into the empty buildings and travellers into the yards (the earliest reference we found was to 1979 but may have been earlier). Artists organisations Acme and Space persuaded the Council to hand over some buildings for studios and living but many of the other properties were squatted. Space leased a building in Martello Street since 1971 and Acme had buildings on Martello Street and Mentmore Terrace.

In 1985 the Council proposed demolishing all the buildings in Ellingfort Road, London Lane and Mentmore Terrace. Between 1885 and 1992 some of the short life housing co-ops left and more houses were squatted.

In 1995 the Council announced its intention to create a fenced off industrial area between Mare Street and the railway, taking in London Lane, Ellingfort Road and Mentmore Terrace. In 1997 the Council got EU funds for this scheme but it was bitterly opposed by local people who wanted a mixture of housing and small scale workspaces.

Some of the squatters had by now acquired ownership of their properties.

Some of the people living in the two streets, both squatters and people in housing co-ops, got together to form a housing coop to take on the redevelopment. In the end eight houses were handed back to the Council for development for live/work units and the rest remained as a co-op.

A former resident said “21 Ellingfort Road was the home of two Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Belladonna and Mother Mandragora. Sometimes they hung out on the street in full habit and no one batted an eyelid and came home on the 55 bus in full habit too. We once went to the ‘pub with no name’ next to the hackney empire in full habit to a gig”.

Walk up Mare Street to the Town Hall

Past:
282 Richmond Road, squatted in 2002 as a community art space

Great Eastern Buildings on Reading Lane built for railway workers) deteriorated, run as a hostel, squatted ?around 2005.

270 Mare Street – former Methodist Hall

1988 and 1995–1996

Spikey Thing with Curves

no 270 was possibly originally the Mothers’ Hospital of the Salvation Army 1884-1913, then a Mission Methodist Hall.

In March 1988 it was occupied after the mass eviction of many squats on the Stamford Hill estate.

In 1995 and1996 it was squatted as a social space, Spikey Thing With Curves. A large mural was painted on the outside and parties were holed there.

HACKNEY TOWN HALL

The Town Hall was the site of many demonstrations against Council policies. In the 1980s squatters were many and organised, and about 90% of squats in council properties so there was regular conflict:

  • 1987: “Hackney Squatters Army””disrupted every monthly council meeting
  • 1988: Stamford Hill Estate evicted, Town Hall & Methodist Hall opposite occupied by evicted squatters.
  • May 1989:The Town Hall was occupied after squatted centre Lee House eviction was resisted.
  • In 1993-94 Council started cracking down on squatting, offering short life & tenancies to some, evictions to others.
  • A 1994 protest against the Criminal Justice Act here ended in arrests and heavy charges.

Some info handed out on the walk:

Totally Independent (Newsletter of Haringey Solidarity Group) Issue 20 Summer 2011

Leaflets from Hackney Housing History project

Links

The Radical History of Hackney blog

Kill Your Pet Puppy: many interesting pages, this one on Brougham Road

Lost Boys of the Lido | Ms Marmite Lover:

Hackney Society: New Lansdowne Club

The New Lansdowne Club in 3D

Today in London policing history: cops shoot Harry Stanley dead, Hackney, 1999

Harry Stanley was a 46-year-old Scottish painter and decorator, who lived in Hackney, East London. In September 1999 he was recovering from a successful cancer operation.

On September 22nd Harry left home, went to visit his brother, who had been fixing a table leg after it had been damaged earlier in the year. On his return home he went for a drink in a local pub.

Another punter in the pub, mistaking Mr Stanley’s accent for Irish rather than Scottish and noticing that he was carrying ‘something long in a bag’, telephoned the police to say that a man with an Irish accent was leaving the pub with a sawn-off shot gun in a plastic bag.

Within a few minutes PC Fagan and Inspector Sharman, an armed response unit from the Metropolitan Police service specialist firearms unit SO 19, arrived in the area. The officers approached Mr Stanley from behind. They shouted, “Stop, armed police!” Mr Stanley (who had no reason to imagine that the police wanted him or having any idea that they were police officers) did not stop at that command.

The police say that they shouted again, to which Mr Stanley responded by turning around. The police officers opened fire, killing him. One shot hit Harry Stanley in his head, the other hitting him in his left hand.

In the bag he was carrying was the repaired two-foot table leg, which he had collected from his brother.

Surrey Police carried out a criminal investigation under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority (which was replaced in April 2004 by the IPCC).

In June 2002, after the CPS decided the officers should not face criminal charges, an inquest was held. HM Coroner for Inner North London Dr Stephen Chan refused to allow the jury at the inquest into the shooting by Metropolitan Police officers of Harry Stanley to consider Unlawful Killing as a verdict, they returned instead a unanimous “Open” verdict rather the only alternative left to them of “Lawful Killing”.

This verdict was, however, quashed by the High Court and a second inquest was held in October 2004. The second inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing, but this was also later quashed by the High Court.

However, the officers were arrested by Surrey Police in June 2005, after new forensic evidence emerged. The damage caused to the rear of the left shoulder of Harry Stanley’s jacket indicated that the fatal shot DID come from behind him before entering the left side of his head, above his ear.

When Surrey Police and the officers obtained expert opinions about the new forensic evidence a reasonable doubt was nevertheless raised that the officers and Harry Stanley both had time to perceive a threat to each other before the fatal shot was fired. Therefore, in October 2005, the CPS announced that they had advised Surrey that there was insufficient evidence to charge the officers with any criminal offence, including perjury. Both officers had claimed Harry Stanley had pointed the table leg at PC Fagan in a threatening manner – neither inquest jury accepted this, and neither did the IPCC.

Harry Stanley’s widow Irene and other friends and family organised as the Justice for Harry Stanley campaign. The campaign succeeded in getting the initial inquest’s “open verdict” overturned. In November 2004 a new jury returned a verdict of “unlawful killing”.

The two officers who shot Harry Stanley were then suspended from duty. This resulted in a protest from fellow armed Metropolitan Police officers, 120 of whom handed in their gun permits. Since the stare really can’t afford to piss of its own armed wings, this lead to a “a review of procedures for suspending officers” concluding that the two officers could return to work, although on for “non-operational duties”.

In May 2005 the verdict of “unlawful killing” was itself overturned in the High Court, reinstating the original “open verdict”.

The two officers were arrested and interviewed, but in October 2005 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press charges because there was insufficient evidence to contradict the officers’ claims that they were acting in self-defence.

Evidence, like a chairleg, perhaps?

The investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission also recommended that no further disciplinary action be taken against the two officers, but was critical of the way that they had conferred in the process of making their notes about the shooting. Indeed the IPCC recommended that police officers should give video recorded statements immediately after events rather than making their own notes in collaboration with others.

How many more?

Mainly taken from Inquest’s briefing on Harry Stanley

You can read the very lovely self-justification of the cops who shot him. You really couldn’t make this up…

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An entry in the
2016 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London squatting history: Vortex jazz club squatted, Stoke Newington, 2007

“On Sat 6th Jan a group of local people, along with others, occupied 139-141 Church Street with the intention of opening it up as a social centre. Previously the home of the famous Vortex jazz club the building is set to be demolished by notorious landlord Richard Midda to make way for a Starbucks on the ground floor with luxury apartments above.”

A new squatted social centre opened up in January 2007, in Stoke Newington, North London, in the empty building formerly used by the Vortex jazz club. The new space featured a daily cafe, radical cinema, club nights, talks, workshops and meeting space for various groups (the club proving especially popular). The centre garnered some support from some local folk, particularly as plans for the vacant building mainly featured demolition and redevelopment for the (oh yes of course) obligatory luxury flats and a branch of Starbucks. Thousands signed a petition to keep the building reserved for community use…

“The Vortex Jazz Club had had its origins in an art gallery set up in 1984, which became a secondhand record and bookshop and then started outing on live jazz. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s Vortex established itself as an essential destination for contemporary music in London, noted for its community atmosphere and groundbreaking performances, with music every night of the week. David programmed all the music himself, with the exception of nights run by musicians or friends of Vortex. In the early 1990s saxophonist Elton Dean (1954-2006) started Rumours, a weekly Avant-garde music night. At around the same time, Jazz Umbrella also started as another regular night to help promote young musicians, fostering talent such as Christine Tobin and Julian Siegel.

Programming at Vortex also diversified in the early ‘90s with the arrival of Pirate Jenny, a weekly night of opera, cabaret and song, featuring the works of composers such as Gilbert & Sullivan and Kurt Wile. When it came to programming music, David said the best nights would come from musicians who had projects they were really excited about. “These great musicians would come to me with ideas and I’d let them do anything they liked, and it was always brilliant . . . I’d tell them there was no money in it, but they’d say that was fine.” In 1996 Derek Drescher, who then worked as a producer at the BBC, began to record sessions at Vortex for the program Impressions on Radio 3.

However, by 2000 there was trouble on the horizon. The lease for the building on Church Street was approaching expiry, and given the burgeoning competition for property in the increasingly fashionable area, it became apparent that Vortex might need to move to a new location. A large-scale new development, Ocean, was in the planning stages nearby at 270 Mare Street. The Ocean project proposed to build a vast new arts centre housing three live music venues, however the developers lacked the local community networks required by Arts Council funding application criteria. A marriage of Ocean and Vortex seemed like an ideal solution to secure a future for both organisations. In the discussions that followed Vortex was offered full-time usage of one of the three venue spaces and with the help of Vortex team the Ocean project managed to secure funding from the Arts Council. But differences between the two organisations led them to part ways and for the time being Vortex remained on Church Street.

The Vortex Jazz Foundation was set up in November 2001 to protect the Church Street venue, and the initial plan was to raise funds to purchase the building. Efforts included a comedy fundraiser in 2002, which included performances by prominent comedians like Jenny Eclair and Johnny Vegas. The fundraiser was held for free at the Union Chapel in nearby Islington. However, in the end the building was purchased by another buyer in what was perhaps a blessing in disguise, for in 2003 Vortex began discussions with Hackney Co-Operative Developments, who were seeking tenants for their new Dalston Culture House development.

The club took a one year hiatus while the Dalston location was being completed and in 2005 Vortex moved into its current location in Gillett Square where it has been at the heart of Dalston community and culture through the Gillett Square partnership.”

Meanwhile, the prospect of the now abandoned building being replaced by the dreaded Starbucks had not only outraged Stoke Newington’s keenly localist middle classes; also woke up the slumbering local squatting scene, a long standing feature of the area. Admittedly by that time squatting was seriously dwindling as the well-to-do had long bought up all the old run-down victorian houses and were well underway with turning Church Street into the sheeshy and hideously expensive boutique/coffee bar heavy tedium it is today (with a couple of exceptions).

With the support of locals, they managed to repel an eviction attempt by private goons on Jan 26th (photos and video at indymedia.org.uk)… 

Despite several attempted (unlawful) repossession attempts being seen off, the Vortex was of course evicted:

“The Vortex social centre in Stoke Newington, London, was evicted earlier this week. First thing in the morning high court bailiffs and police moved in and turfed everyone out, eventually removing the one enterprising soul who’d hid in the attic and begrudgingly allowing most of the equipment inside to be removed.”

Around 40 people protested later that week on Church Street in solidarity with the ex-Vortex Social Centre. Many of the ex-residents and local supporters were present, as leaflets were handed out to the community explaining the reasons for the occupation and the plans for the future. Church Street was closed to traffic for at least five minutes (maybe 10) whilst those present took to the road to walk from the meeting point to outside the (now well and truly) ex-Vortex.

The chant of “What do we want … free space” was the call of the day and discussions were rife about plans for the future.

The Vortex occupation in some marked what to date seems like a possible final hurrah for the Stoke Newington squatting community – once a massive part of the area’s culture, a reflection of a collision of a long dissident ethos and lots of run-down housing…

For many centuries an area populated by religious non-conformists, due to being outside City parishes and jurisdiction, Stokey developed a dissident ethos. From defeated republicans and rebels after the English Civil War, radicals and Unitarians…

The area’s religious dissidence lasted into the nineteenth century; hence Abney Park cemetery, where large numbers of non-Anglicans were buried, including Chartist socialist Bronterre O’Brien… (On the other hand, also interred here are the repulsive William Booth and his family, founders of those vultures on the vulnerable, the Salvation Army).

Run-down houses and council near-collapse in housing, led to mass squatting here from the late 1960s. Hundreds of houses were occupied, and many larger buildings used as social centres, music venues, artspaces, and much more. Squatting not only offered people cheap places to live when times were hard, but lots of the local culture, music, creativity was built on squatting.

Another development also characterised Stokey: a growing afro-Caribbean community, which faced battles with racism, especially from the police. Stoke Newington police became notorious for racially motivated arrests, beatings, and killings, and later for fitting people up for drug-dealing, either planting substances, or dealing themselves through protected sources. The local community resisted in many ways – there were riots in 1981, and the organised resistance against racist murders, police harassment…

Local poverty, police attacks and resistance, hand in hand with an alternative and counter-cultural vibe, persisted into the 1990s. But in common with many other areas of London, this has been changing, for decades now.

The process generally labeled gentrification covers a number of different, if linked, processes. In Stokey, the area’s bohemian ethos attracted middle class dropouts, some of who in turn helped change the area into the kind of place they wanted to live in. Gradually this attracted less boho middle class people, and so on in turn. If middle class people had broadly wanted to leave the city for decades, from the 70s on this went into reverse; by 2007 much of the area was virtually unrecognisable.

So in recent decades, the neighbourhood has slowly filled up with media types and green petty-bourgeois social workers with pinched, locally-sourced eating-disorder faces. And Church Street with artisan bakers, extortionate kids clothes boutiques and chain-store wholefood porn like ‘fresh and wild’. Which is neither fresh nor wild, but has fooled the muesli belt into imagining themselves radical alternative and right-on.

Mind you, the rest of Hackney, which until recently had remained largely working class, is now facing an invasion of the bistro snatchers; hipsters, artists and rising rents are spreading like piss in a pool, while older communities face gradual eviction and dispersal under new benefit rules.

Interestingly in Dalston’s Gillett Square, where the original Vortex moved to, regeneration is broadly substantially more genuinely based in the local black community than much of what usually passes for cultural regeneration projects, which can often often be mere window dressing for gentrification; and the square does have some independent character, though how long that will remain as the area is being rapidly colonised by new developments for young trendy white things…

After the Vortex squat eviction – did the building’s owner. parasitic property developer Richard Midda keep his promise to locals to that any new tenant in the property would reflect the character of Church Street, a busy shopping area made up almost entirely of independent traders?

Er, no. As a local commentator pointed out:

“To be fair the writing was on the wall after he tore down the building to rebuild it, without planning and breaking his other promise to keep the original facade of the place in tact.

And now, to howls of outrage from the genteel residents, battery chicken peddlars Nandos have opened up.

…one blogger repeatedly lied about the social centre, needlessly and repeatedly called the old bill and generally made a tit out of herself.  Strangely enough the very same blogger then went on to whinge about Nandos moving in, when she was so helpful to Midda whilst the building was occupied.  Seems some people want it both ways.

But that’s by the bye, you can read about the whole ex-Vortex saga here.

Back to Nandos, a local campaign established to oppose the corporate take over of Church Street.  Nevertheless Richard Midda ran roughshod over local sentiment in the name of making a quick buck.

Now the plight of Hackney’s middle classes is hard to get too upset over, the latte slurpers took over that part of Stoke Newington a long time ago and even the Angry Brigade couldn’t save it now.

But it does offer a timely warning to the ciabatta munching chinless ones.  The final stage of gentrification is that the big corporations move in and that lovely little deli becomes a Tescos and the simply wonderful Thai restaurant turns into Pizza Express.

That’s capitalism folks.”

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London’s parklife: 1000s destroy enclosure fences, Hackney Downs, 1875

On December 11th 1875, a crowd of several thousand people assembled on Hackney Downs, East London, to take part in the destruction of fences newly built around enclosures on what was traditionally regarded as common land.

By the early nineteenth century Hackney Downs had long been established is custom as lammas land, which gave locals rights to pasture their animals from Lammas Day, August 1st (though this may have dated from August 12th locally), for a number of months – usually until April 6th the next year. The ability to graze livestock on common land was long a vital part of subsistence for hundreds of thousands of the labouring classes in rural society, and its gradual (and later, on a large scale) restriction by enclosure of agricultural land had a huge impact, increasing poverty and hardship, and contributing to mass migration into cities over centuries.

Even in the vicinity of the growing industrial cities of England, well into the 19th century, grazing of the one or two animals a family might have could supplement wages to make a substantial difference to meagre incomes.

Hackney, on London’s northeastern edge as late as the mid-19th century, contained large amounts of common land, stretching from Hackney marshes to Well Street and Stoke Newington. But such suburbs were under threat of development, with London spreading out in all directions. In the 1850s and 1860s, campaigns to preserve what remained of open space in the London area, and to form new parks for leisure and entertainment, led to much agitation and protest over building. Although commons grazing and lammas rights were becoming less vital economically, the customs and traditions that had been established over centuries also had a powerful emotional call, where landowners had not been successful in enclosing land and depriving the lower orders of access. In the late 19th century this feeling that access to common lands was a right was also being seasoned with both radical ideas – that the land should belong to all who worked it, not the rich – and (among more respectable elements) that open spaces should be maintained, controlled and brought into some form of public ownership to ensure it could be used for leisure. The latter was not entirely from public-spirited feelings: while many of the well-to-do were genuinely disinterested and wholeheartedly believed in green space for all, there were elements who felt that working class people needed morally improving, and that properly landscaped parks and genteel pastimes would help to uplift them. Also many workers were unhealthy and you can’t carry on with a sick and pasty workforce/potential army cannon fodder.

Attempts to enclose or restrict access to parts of Hackney’s lammas land had led to disputes, direct action and rioting in the past. In 1837, a Mr Adamson was renting 20 acres of the downs and was growing a corn crop. and issued a notice calling on parishioners not to send cattle onto the downs until the corn was cleared. Angry Hackney locals resented this notice and on Lammas Day, cattle were turned onto the downs prior to the crop being harvested and some of the corn itself was seized. Adamson turned the cattle back out of the fields and two parishioners, Mr Neale and Mr Ambrose, were arrested, but the case was left undecided. The enclosure struggle led to a general attack on Adamson and his property.

The word spread that the downs were indeed now open and that the crop still growing there had passed into the common ownership of the parish at large. Adamson attempted in vain to stop a crowd invading his land:

‘He was knocked down…Crowds of persons collected from all parts of the town, consisting of parishioners, and some of the lowest characters, who committed a simultaneous robbery of the property.

However, subsequently, a judge ruled that Adamson’s notice for parishioners not to use the lammas lands after August 12 was legally unenforceable, and the established custom for the downs to be turned over for pasture at that date. Rioters got off with relatively light punishment as a result.

This battle, and the unruly memory of it, shows a strong and stroppy sense of ownership of the common lands at Hackney Downs, which resurfaced four decades later.

During the 1870s Hackney was once again a focus for direct action and fence breaking. The District Board had organised a petition for the enclosure of 180 acres of common at HackneyDowns under the Metropolitan Common Acts (1866) and it was vested in the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1872. The lands were Clapton common Stoke Newington common and South Mill fields, Hackney Downs, Hackney or Well Street common, London Fields and strips of waste in Dalston Lane and Grove Street (later Lauriston Road).

Some of these areas were still operating as traditional lammas lands, but others, notably London Fields and Hackney Downs, were increasingly used for recreation, which was blamed for damage to ‘herbage’ there. London Fields in particular was no longer suitable for pasture, and had became infamous as a haunt of “roughs… the scene of the most dissolute practices imaginable… itinerant preachers, not the ordinary itinerant preachers, but people who get up discussions.” (well I never…?!) As well as “vagrants, gypsies and prostitutes.” As elsewhere, the disorderly nature of open space was often used as a public focus point for calls to enclose, landscape and sell off common spaces. Through the 1860s, respectable Hackney citizens had been demanding a clean-up of the areas open spaces.

But there was a division of powers over the common land: the Metropolitan Board Of Works only in fact had jurisdiction over the footpaths and rights of way over Hackney’s open space. The Hackney and Shoreditch parish councils hoped to turn London Fields into a park, so it could be landscaped, made respectable, in order to attract “a more respectable class of society”. (As had been done, for instance, in the 1850s at Kennington, where the old common had been landscaped and fenced to prevent repeats of the vast 1848 Chartist demonstration… or at Camberwell Green, to aid in repression of the annual fair, a notorious gathering of the rowdy lower classes… to name but two examples.) But the Vestries could not get their inhabitants to agree about how the building of the prospective park should be paid for, and what body should run it… Proposals to rent parts of the land to raise money for the costs were vocally resisted by many locals. The vestry boards hoped the Metropolitan Board of works would add the commons to their growing London responsibilities, and also expected the Lord of the Manor, William Amhurst Tyssen Amherst, to cheerfully hand over the land without charge… A view supported by local anti-enclosure campaigners, who denounced the idea of paying any compensation to landlords and relied on the defence of traditional common rights as a bulwark against any development of the land.

Arguments about how Hackney’s common land should be regulated continued for several years, with Vestry councilors undecided as to whether to take on the land, sell some for development… the situation was complicated by the individuals and institutions who held part of the land as freeholders or copyholders for the remainder of the year outside the lammas grazing months… who also demanded compensation for loss of the revenue from their holdings. The web of lammas rights and of these other rights made this a much more complex prospect for takeover than other opens spaces the Metropolitan Board of Works had yet taken on. And William Amherst also refused to consent to any scheme, standing on his claim to all the rights to exploit the soil, gravel, clay sand and other minerals, or to grant licenses for it – a hugely lucrative holding.

In 1872, the Metropolitan Board took over the management of much of Hackney’s common land. Many residents and those with interests in the common held their fire to see how this would affect them, But the lord of the manor saw the Board’s plans as threatening his interests, and demanded that they buy him out. Specific bylaws the Board planned to pass did restrict the right of the lord to carry out what he regarded as his rights on his own property (though the Commons Preservation Society and other campaigners felt, after much study, that much of this was merely customary and would not necessarily stand up as legal rights).

Amherst determined to provoke the Board, probably to force their hand into paying him large amount of dosh to relinquish his ‘rights’. But the Board’s scheme for the commons in the area specifically barred them from buying him out. So works, such as digging for gravel and other exploitable minerals, were ordered, in defiance of the Board’s bylaws, and the Board wasn’t sure how to respond. This enraged locals set on keeping the parks of residents to use, and sparked protest meetings in 1874, with speakers denouncing both Amherst (‘The Downs are in the Hands of the Spoiler!’), and the Board for not keeping the lord of the manor in line (Although the Board had in fact acted to issue a writ against the digging in April ’74). Amherst’s solicitor admitted that the digging had been intended to prod the Board into buying the rights out

In the Autumn, parts of the Downs were fenced off and angry protest again followed.

In summer 1875, digging of gravel and sand on the Downs near Downs Park Road sparked protests, coagulating by November into public meetings on the Downs, called by the Commons Protection League, a working class based group, dedicated to defending open space, led by John De Morgan, an Irish socialist and secularist agitator, heavily involved in the ‘land question’ by the mid-1870s.. While more moderate elements in the local branch of the Commons Preservation Society launched a lawsuit in Chancery against the lord of the manor, de Morgan’s public meetings were attracting 3000 people by 21 November, and resolutions were passed to use every means necessary to preserve the Downs as open land.

On December 11th 1875 a large crowd assembled on the Downs, at the latest of five weekly demos. de Morgan addressed the crowd, ‘described enclosures which had recently been made, and which he asserted were wholly illegal, at the same time adding that their removal would be a perfectly legal act… The fences which they saw before them had been erected in defiance of popular feeling, and rights of way were being stopped which had existed from time immemorial. In these circumstances the only remedy that remained for the people – the only means of getting back their rights was to remove the fences without delay’.

Some 3000 had gathered; led by four or five ‘working men’, the crowd demolished fences hat had been erected around diggings.

“The people advanced to the iron railings where they were first obstructed by about thirty constables [. . .] and seemed as if they were about to protect the enclosure. The superintendent, however, said a few words to them. The staves were put up and the crowd allowed to proceed with the work of demolition.”

All traces of the fences were destroyed, and set on fire. The next day another large crowd assembled to celebrate.

Reports of the breaking down of the fences at Hackney Down were widely reported but vary little in their accounts.

‘A Lord of the Manor had stolen some portion of a metropolitan common known as Hackney Downs. On December 11th, 1875 upwards of 50,000 people assembled on Hackney Downs to witness the destruction of the fences. The police numbered in force and seemed prepared to resist the Commoners. Mr De Morgan warned them that their lives were in danger if they opposed and wisely did the police withdraw. The fences were then destroyed and burnt. the fire lasting until four o’clock in the morning’.

The event was also satirised in Punch magazine, for some reason written in early modern spelling:

‘A FYTTE OF ITACKNEY DOWNS.

It was open walking where Hackney Downs
Lies green beneath the skies.
From a time whereto man’s memory
Runneth not contrariwise.

The Lord of the Manor hath made essaye.
To enclose and build thereon.
And a blessing upon the Board of Works.
That to law with him have gone!

He planted postes and set up rayles.
And hedged hym yn the grounde.
The churl mote have waited at least until
Ile law on hys side had founde.

For the Lord, the Hackney Commoners said.
To collar our common land.
Never sticking so much as to ask our leave.
Ytt Ys more than we will stand!

What right hath he that land to cribb?
And a curse upon his crown!
No more to set fences and palings up.
Than we have to pull them down. ‘

‘So fourth to those iron rayles they went.
To tear them from the land;
When they were’ ware of thirty stout knaves,
of Bobbies blue a band!

The Bobbies. they drew their good ash staves,
for to guard the railings fain,
But a word their Superintendent spake,
And they putt them up agayne.

Then went the commoners to their work.
With many an hundred mo.
They seized the fences on Hackney Downs,
And laid the enclosures low’.

In the aftermath of the ‘riot’, William Amherst’s lawyers threatened to pursue identifiable ‘leaders’ of the events, and De Morgan was charged with inciting the action; moderate preservationists dissociated from his tactics.

But the demos, torchlight processions (with bands!) and public meetings continued, and by February 1876 the digging on the common had halted.

The fallout from the ‘riot’ also included more of the interminable wrangling that had characterised discussions over the Down and other Hackney common lands. De Morgan and his supporters, meanwhile, attempted to widen the struggle out, calling attention to other enclosures (eg at Lea Bridge on Hackney Marshes), and supported legal cases. For instance: in 1877 a group of local inhabitants charged with grazing cattle on Stoke Newington Common were defended by a solicitor associated with de Morgan, and a number of elderly residents gave evidence that the practice was traditional and longstanding. The magistrate declared this didn’t come under his jurisdiction, and the claim was abandoned.

Notices put up by the Grocers’ Company restricting entry to lands they owned on the Downs were also torn down in 1877.

But despite the stout resistance, the court of Chancery upheld the lord of the manor against the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1879. As a result his rights in the Hackney lands were purchased by the Metropolitan Board of Works, under an Act of 1881 and those of other freeholders under a further Act of 1884. It is debatable in the end whether the riot of 1875 did in fact ‘save’ Hackney Downs, although the agitation did raise the faltering profile of the issue.

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The 1870s were a high point of anti-enclosure struggles in the London area, following on from a decade of (mostly, though not exclusively) peaceful campaigns to prevent large open spaces being developed in the 1860s. Wanstead Flats in 1871, Chiselhurst Common in 1876, Eelbrook Common (Fulham) in 1878, all saw direct action against fences, as part of long-running resistance against the theft of common land.

John de Morgan himself would be jailed after leading probably the decade’s most spectacular enclosure battle, which emerged into mass rioting and the destruction of large scale fencing around land at Plumstead Common, in July 1876.

Many of these struggles were characterised by the large-scale involvement of radical movements, as London radicals, secularists and elements who would later help to form socialist groups made open space and working class access to it a major part of their political focus. Radical land agitation, notably through the Land and Labour League, was beginning to revive the question of access to land as a social question, and within cities this manifested as both battles to defend green space, and propaganda around the theft of the land from the labouring classes.

In contrast to the mainly legalistic approach of bodies like the Commons Preservation Society, the working-class protests organised by figures like De Morgan retained a strongly radical character and employed “direct action” tactics that brought them into open confrontation with the police and civil authorities. “They were also characterised by a vigorous use of language, knowledge of the lore relating to the appropriation of land during the Norman Conquest, and hostility to the police, that served to set them apart from the activities of their middle-class counterparts. Most of these features are displayed in accounts of opposition to the enclosure of Hackney Downs.”

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There is an interesting element to Hackney Downs and hackney common lands as a whole: one which we might want to think about, in our own times , as funding for the public open spaces we love and often take for granted is pinched and pressures to find ways to pay for their upkeep is leading to a drift towards commercial exploitation.

In the 1870s at Hackney, a large official body (the Metropolitan Board of Works) was taking over management of the lands, and to what extent it could live up to the expectations of the local residents. The pressure from many Hackney inhabitants was for an opening up of the land to more use for leisure, and this was clearly in conflict with the intention of the lord of the manor to exploit or grant rights to extract minerals, and of many of the freeholders or copyholders to fully profit from the rights they had purchased. But the Metropolitan Board was also up to a point at odds with both interests. They were suspicious of the campaigners, not only the ‘radicals’ like de Morgan, but also the more moderate and legalistic Commons Preservation Society. Their bylaws not only infuriated Amherst by restricting his profits; they also severally curtailed the more autonomous and unruly uses of the commons, and were in some ways closer to accommodation with the smaller holders’ interests than a broader sentiment that the land should be open for all. This disconnect remained even after the rights in the lands were bought from the lord of the manor; conflict over use and management of open space are still legion.

Centuries of hard fought battles saved many beloved places from disappearing, and laws currently protect parks, greens and commons. But times change… Pressures change. Space in London is profitable like never before. For housing mainly, but also there are sharks ever-present looking to exploit space for ‘leisure’. And with the current onslaught on public spending in the name of balancing the books (ie cutting as much as possible in the interests of the wealthy), public money spent on public space is severely threatened.

Many are the pressures on open green spaces – the costs of upkeep, cleaning, maintenance,
improvement, looking after facilities… Local  councils, who mainly look after open space, are struggling. Some local authorities are proposing to make cuts of 50 or 60 % to budgets for parks. As a result, there are the beginnings of changes, developments that look few and far between now, but could be the thin end of the wedge.

So you have councils looking to renting green space to businesses, charities, selling off bits, shutting off parks or parts of them for festivals and  corporate events six times a year… Large parts of Hyde Park and Finsbury Park are regularly fenced off for paying festivals already; this could increase. Small developments now, but maybe signs of things to come. Now is the time to be on guard, if we want to preserve our free access to the green places that matter to us.

Already space in the city is being handed to business – London’s Canary Wharf, the Olympic Park and the Broadgate development in the City are public places governed by the rules of the corporations that own them.

It may seem like parks, and other green spaces are givens; things that can’t be taken away. But what seem like certainties can be lost before we realize. Look at way social housing have been dismantled over the past 30 years. In the 1960s council housing was taken for granted as a right by millions: it has been reduced to a last resort. Or the way the NHS is being parcelled up into private providers… there are many who see green space as a luxury and something that can be got rid of or at least shunted off into the hands of some quango… Whatever gains we have, whatever we win,
whatever rights we enjoy, came from long generations of battling – the moment we stop, rest on our laurels, powerful forces start pushing back against everything we have won.

The main thing to take from the numberless historical struggles to preserve open space is that people won because they considered the places they were defending to be theirs, to belong to them, even when that sometimes stood in opposition to what might have been judged legal ‘reality’… Although sometimes relying on traditions and common rights as the basis for legal argument didn’t work, often when it acted as a grounding, a shared belief forming a backbone for direct action and a collective campaigning approach, this sense of the commons being ‘ours’ could overcome all the power of law, profit and parliament.  The difficulty with entrusting our green space to public bodies is that they do not necessarily share our view of how they should used, and with councillors and leading officers in many councils hand in glove with developers all over London, co-operating over the selloff of social housing, the risk is that open space may also be up for grabs. And up for sale, or increasingly at least, for fencing off for profit.

This is a lesson worth taking when we think about how we view open space: although we can take many inspirations from our history, reliance on the past can not be a defence, we need to be re-forging a sense that the resources of the world are for all of us, for people’s enjoyment, not for the profit of a few.

We need to be redefining what is ours, collectively, in opposition and defiance of the laws and fences built to exclude us; and not just when it comes to green or urban space, but for the whole world. In the midst of 21st century London, a whirlwind of global profit, backed by a government with a
determined ruling class agenda, is uprooting  communities, altering the landscape, destroying or severely hamstringing any right to social housing, welfare, health, education, for increasing numbers of us.
What are we going to do in response?

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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For more of past tense writings on enclosures, open space and resistance, check out:

  • Down With the Fences: Battles for the Commons in South London.
  • The Battle for Hyde Park: Radicals, Ruffians and Ravers 1855-1994.
  • Rights of Common: The Fight against the Theft of Sydenham Common and One Tree Hill
  • William Covell and the Troubles at Enfield in 1659.
  • Kennington Park: Birthplace of People’s Democracy

 • Symond Newell & Kett’s Rebellion: Norfolk’s Great Revolt against Enclosures, 1549.

Most of the above are available to buy in pamphlet form from our website

Today in London anti-fascist history: anti-semitic nazi march opposed, Clapton, 2015

On Saturday 18th April 2015, more than 100 local residents and anti-fascists turned out at short notice to bar the progress of a short march by a tiny but toxic group of hard core Nazis in Clapton, East London, a demo which included former 1970s/80s National Front leader Martin Webster.

The Nazi march was organised by Eddie Stampton, a longtime face of the skinhead far right, since the late 70s at least, (though it has been suggested that he also keeps the security services and journalists informed on some of his fash mates… he doesn’t seem very popular even in nazi circles these days…)

Nice Mr Stampton had invited a collection of individuals from an assortment of fascist and racist groups: Britain First, the British National Party, the National Front, the English Defence League and others. But altogether the turnout numbered just 22, carrying banners reading “Rights for Whites” and denouncing “Jewish power”.

They claimed to be marching in protest at the local Jewish community in Stamford Hill being allowed their own “police force” – in fact a private security outfit hired to protect the mainly hassidic community from anti-Semitic attacks, from the friends and associates of Messrs Stampton and Webster, and increasingly from right-wing migrants from Eastern Europe living in nearby areas of North London.

Stampton had wanted his rally in a park in Stamford Hill right in the middle of the local Jewish community but police redirected their march from Clapton station in the opposite direction to a corner beside the Lea Bridge Roundabout.

The walk was only a couple of hundred metres but it was long and slow as energetic and noisy young anti-fascists blocked the way and had to be forced back inch by inch by police while the Nazis were surrounded by scores of police to protect them from angry local residents.

Martin Webster launched a vitriolic attack on Jewish community defence organisations (while standing almost on the spot where, in the 1960s, a synagogue was destroyed by arson perpetrated by members of the Greater Britain Movement – of which Martin Webster and his then colleague John Tyndall, later NF and BNP leader, were members at the time).

A group of six Polish fascists invited by Stampton arrived just as the Nazi meeting was finishing.

Radical Jewish group Jewdas took part in the counter-demonstration. Alongside other activists and local community members, Jewdas claim that they were kept in a police containment area whilst the group were escorted down towards a local mosque at Lea Bridge roundabout; they accused the police of ‘facilitating’ the nazi march. Which is not the first time thats been suggested…

While Webster and his mates have been poncing around on the lunatic fringe for decades, failing to launch a thousand-year reich, but inspiring racist attacks when they could, the more recent influx of Polish racists has jacked up the fash level in North London a fraction. A few months before this (admittedly piss-poor) march, Polish nazi skins attacked a local music festival in South Tottenham, a couple of miles north of Clapton. About 20 Polish far-right nationalists attacked Jewish members of the audience at Music Day, held in Tottenham’s Markfield Park, rushing the stage, assaulted several members of the crowd and events team, and left one man in hospital with stab wounds. The crowd managed to push the skinheads back into a small corner of the park, before four riot vans turned up to shut down the melee and arrest several people for breaching the peace.

Footage shows festivalgoers and the far right exchanging missiles, including flares. Another video shows a man getting arrested wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan, “Wielka Polska”, meaning “Great Poland”. The attackers were from a group of far-right Polish immigrants known as Zjednoczeni Emigranci Londyn (Emigrants United London), a relatively small but hardcore group”, made up of ultra-nationalist Polish immigrants, who had some 350 members on Facebook, sharing ultra-nationalist iconography, racism and links to videos and stories about Polish football hooliganism. Lovely.

The brief hegemony of the British National party as the largest far-right party in the UK, achieving a near-respectability in electoral terms, was followed by chaos and near-collapse as UKIP nicked the ball and ran off swivel-eyed but less overtly violent, to achieve even greater heights of xenophobia and nationalist bollockery. (Though as usual the Tories act as the parliamentary arm of the racist backwater whenever they feel they can get away with it, so UKIP may now flounder).

As ever the BNP’s stumble was followed by a veritable smorgasbord of loony right splinters. Though the violent activity of many of these groups is supposedly denounced by others including UKIP, truth is there is more of a spectrum, with individuals and groups merging, arguing, moving from one to another, and reinforcing each other. Brexit, Trump, Alt-right developments can only help to reinforce such movements, and while they may be seen as a minor problem compared to more corporate forces, these are encouraging times for nazi fuckwits. Support/get involved in your local anti-fascist group…

https://antifascistnetwork.org/

https://www.facebook.com/londonantifascists/

https://northlondonantifa.wordpress.com/

http://jewdas.org/

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s squatting history: Hackney Social Centre squat opens, Lower Clapton, 2008.

The Hackney Social Centre grew out of meetings through the Northeast Squatters Network, which was working to strengthen solidarity and skill-sharing locally between the squats in north-east London. The decided to occupy the former Chimes nightclub at 231 Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, to create a non-commercial social space, planning activities such as free language lessons, a donations-only cafe, a free shop, meetings of local groups, skill-share sessions and a bike workshop – “a place to imagine and build alternative futures for our neighbourhood. This building is a small step, but we make the road by walking.”

After squatting the building, the group faced three weeks of violent attacks and attempted illegal evictions – twice by the owner of the property, and once by the police – before the Hackney Social Centre opened on February 14th 2008.

“We’ve opened in spite of early challenges because we’re tired of yuppie maisonettes forcing up to housing prices, while buildings are empty and affordable housing is eaten away. We’ve opened because we’re set to resist and oppose the threats posed by gentrification, capitalism and the upcoming Olympic Games. We’ve opened because Hackney needs free spaces – spaces to escape the divisions of capitalism and the profit-hungry rat-race… After four weeks in the building we were shocked by two sets of violent attacks – first by purported representatives of Howun Estates Ltd (the company the owns the property) and then by the Hackney Metropolitan Police! The attacks of last week (on the 22nd and 23rd of January) definitely shook the building and its occupants, but have only left us more convicted and committed. Within 11minutes of the first attack nearly 30 members of the local activist community had arrived on the premises. Our network is strong, and we look forward to many many days exploring the potential and possibilities of Hackney’s newest autonomous zone.”

Meetings, a feminist gathering, discussions, film showings, regular meals and benefits, graffiti workshops, open mike nights, practical workshops on many topics, self-defence classes, were just a few of the numerous events the centre hosted in its few months of existence…

The Social Centre’s scheduled eviction was successfully resisted on Monday 21 April by over 60 people – both inside and outside the building.

The Hackney Social Centre was eventually evicted on May 16, 2008, after two unsuccessful eviction attempts in April. Many of the people living at the Social Centre have since returned to their countries, others are still in London, involved in different projects. The Social Centre was a brief but valuable experiment in active resistance and active defence of a large autonomous space in Hackney.

Read more

The centre has since re-opened as the White Hart pub…

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.