The recent disturbances in England affected me on a personal level for several different reasons. Firstly because I spent 14 years of my life living in Tottenham, secondly because I have personally been distressed by realising what the Metropolitan Police were capable of and thirdly because I was visiting Tottenham the night Mark Duggan was shot dead by police.
I arrived in Tottenham roughly 18 months after the events of October 1985. I was an inquisitive child and was always aware of significant watershed moments during my childhood. So it was no surprise when I quickly established that my new neighbourhood had achieved national notoriety due to the guilty verdicts of Winston Silcott, Mark Braithwaite and Engin Raghip, referred to as the Tottenham Three, over the murder of PC Keith Blakelock.
Four years later our school was visited by a local Police Constable with a question and answer session thrown in for good measure. This visit had coincided with the recent news that the Tottenham Three had been acquitted of Blakelock’s murder. So I queried the PC about the revelation that evidence had been fabricated, how he felt about it personally and what he thought should happen to the police officers involved. The questions were of course never answered, but I was assured that “Winston Silcott was a thoroughly nasty piece of work”.
I think it would be fair to say that this innocuous exchange had not left me with a positive impression of the Metropolitan Police. Although young, I could see what had happened. Somebody had been framed, a fact finally recognised by the legal process of this country. Yet rather than concede that mistakes had been made, I was instead being subjected to overt indoctrination in the hope I would overlook the errors which had occurred in the first place. The presumption being that since Silcott was a horrible man he deserved everything he got. This didn’t sit well with me.
Two years later Joy Gardner was killed by immigration officers attempting to deport her from the country back to Jamaica. Sadly this was another case which affected my local community. The case came to trial in May 1995 and three police officers were acquitted a month later at the Old Bailey- two weeks before the commencement of my work experience placement there.
Reading about almost 3 metres of tape gagged around her mouth doesn’t quite have the same impact as finding the photographs of Joy Gardner in the registry of the Old Bailey. They were the images you would associate with a battered wife, not the deportation of a woman by immigration officers. It was impossible for me to comprehend that the three people who did this had not only been acquitted but had also retained their careers. It was a complete contradiction of the smear campaign that had been deployed immediately after her death that she was a violent and dangerous woman.
From that day I was suspicious of the Metropolitan Police. I didn’t buy into the reforms of the Macpherson report. The case of Jean Charles De Menezes genuinely scared me and for the first time I feared for my own safety simply for having Brown eyes! So I really should have known better when I heard that somebody had been shot by police about 15 minutes from where I was. The line doing the rounds was that someone had shot at police and was killed. The indication being Mark Duggan was incredibly stupid and paid the price.
By Friday morning the story had evolved to now suggest that there had been a car chase, implying a getaway car, and that Duggan had been a drug dealer. There is no doubt in my mind that all of these snippets of information were part of an agenda to reduce interest in the story, as I am sure I was not alone when I reacted to the news with a shrug of the shoulders. All of the clues added up to a sense of inevitability, and no reason to suspect any foul play. Echoes you might recall of the initial deliberate misinformation regarding the mistaken shooting of De Menezes.
Barely 24 hours later, the story took a very different angle. There was no car chase. Duggan was in a minicab. Duggan had not fired at police. The gun which was recovered from Duggan was in a sock and unprepared for use. Duggan was a father of four and had never been convicted of a criminal offence.
We all know what transpired next and the chain of events which unfolded and spread from this corner of North London to the rest of the country. I simply do not believe that the police were unable to contain these outbreaks of disorder. We had seen them do it time and time again in more prestigious areas of London such as the Student and anti-globalization riots. Surely it cannot be a coincidence that the two most iconic images of the disturbances were of two very old buildings burning to the ground, apparently because it was too dangerous for fire crews to approach due to a fear of violence from rioters. As my cousin pointed out at the time, had the Olympics Stadium been on fire, they would have found a way to put it out, danger or otherwise.
Furthermore the Metropolitan Police have a track record of regularly policing far larger gatherings of people such as concerts, sporting events and rallies. So the idea that they were overwhelmed simply does not add up.
My theory is it was an orchestrated attempt by the Metropolitan Police, involved in a dispute against their own cuts, to provide a backdrop of chaos and loss of control to support the assertion that their budget must not be cut. It worked beautifully as politicians lined up to denounce the austerity drive against the police. How anybody could fall for it given that it was the very same police force drowning in corruption allegations only weeks earlier is even more astonishing.
I’m not a fan of the Metropolitan Police and probably never will be, but isn’t time we all start scrutinising this force a little bit more?