Friday, October 6, 2017

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A Climate of Fear

Christopher Owens with another in a series of excellent reviews reflects on:

A Climate of Fear: The Murder of PC Blakelock and the Case of the Tottenham Three -
David Rose



First published in 1992, this tale of institutionalised racism, police corruption and a miscarriage of justice has not gathered the long lasting notoriety often bestowed upon the cases of the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six.

There are undoubtedly a number of reasons for this, mainly to do with how English society views the forces of law and order, class and race. Plus the appalling case of Stephen Lawrence (and subsequent Macpherson Report) have somewhat superseded it by going even further in what we already knew about the police, but few people in the media (beforehand) were prepared to discuss.

Former Observer journalist David Rose has fallen out of favour in a number of circles, due to his questionable articles on climate change and his initial belief of a link between Al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. But there can be no denying of his sterling work in highlighting the troublesome nature of this case.

He places the Broadwater Farm riot (and subsequent murder of Keith Blakelock) as the logical conclusion of a series of confused policing policies from the Metropolitan Police that frustrated both the local community (specifically the black community) and the ordinary officers who patrolled the area daily.

When interviewing Winston Silcott (jailed for being the ringleader of the Blakelock murder but had his conviction quashed), it's heartbreaking to read about the impact that racism in English society had on him and his friends. Broadwater Farm resident Stafford Scott's tale of being put in a class of lesser ability (despite his academic flourishes) and being denied a place in the RAF because of a 'sus' arrest over nothing is genuinely enraging.

The infamous 'sus' (search under suspicion) laws gave way to "special techniques" when it came to policing what the then Chief Constable of the Met Kenneth Newman had described as "symbolic locations." Drawing on his experience in the RUC, Newman effectively believed that policing areas with a heavy black population (most of them youngsters born in England) was the same as policing an Irish nationalist area.

Leaving aside the obvious cultural and political differences, the fact that a Chief Constable honestly believed that English citizens and IRA volunteers were not dissimilar is a highly disturbing point of view.

However, by throwing community policing into the mix as well, this led to (in the eyes of officers across the board) compromises with local criminals in an attempt to avoid confrontation. But the black community were still describing (at best) insensitive policing. It's clear this was only going to end in disaster, and the death of Cynthia Jarrett was the trigger.

Naturally, both sides disagree with the details. But it cannot be overlooked that the police (without a search warrant) entered a premises with a set of keys taken from a suspect (who turned out to be innocent) and without announcing themselves. Rose questions why the police officers involved weren't suspended and questions how much the police had downplayed their treatment of Mrs. Jarrett.

Rose is a concise and direct storyteller. He places events in the proper context (discussing the trial and the initial appeals in what he calls the "pre Guildford Four" climate), is able to detail the horror of what happened to Winston Silcott, Mark Braithwaite and Engin Raghip while also making sure readers bear in mind the horror of what happened to Keith Blakelock (the depiction of the immediate aftermath is so stark that the horror is even more pronounced).

Rose points the blame at all aspects of English society: the local councils for allowing Broadwater Farm to become a "sink" estate, the police for their heavy handedness (among other things), the press for whipping up racist sentiments (and for gross contempt of court) and the judiciary for their unwavering belief in the concept of police infallibility.

His depiction of the subsequent investigation, where children as young as thirteen were detained without access to parents or solicitors and pressurised into signing statements implicating certain people fills the sensible reader with utter anger and dread. Although it's quite commonplace in 2017 mainstream thinking to distrust the police, reminders like this take the breath away at the sheer audacity of their systematic abuse.

Long overdue an update and a repress, A Climate of Fear serves as a warning for future generations to never let such outrages happen again. As Derek Hodgson (who prosecuted the Tottenham Three) says in regards to the right to silence: "You must keep it. The innocent in our system have a lot to fear."


David Rose 1992 A Climate of Fear: The Murder of PC Blakelock and the Case of the Tottenham Three Bloomsbury Publishing ISBN-13: 978-0747511847.


Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.

2 comments :

Christy Walsh said...

"Drawing on his experience in the RUC, Newman effectively believed that policing areas with a heavy black population (most of them youngsters born in England) was the same as policing an Irish nationalist area.

Leaving aside the obvious cultural and political differences, the fact that a Chief Constable honestly believed that English citizens and IRA volunteers were not dissimilar is a highly disturbing point of view."

Whoah!! The author appears to make the incorrect assumption that everyone in an Irish Nationalist community was an IRA Volunteer and thus these Irish (IRA) residents could never be compared with law abiding English citizens. I imagine the comparison Newman was probably trying to make is in policing a deprived marginalised neighbourhood where there was a lot of distrust and hostility between both the community and the police.

Christopher Owens said...

That was certainly not what I was saying.

I was pointing out that Newman saw that his enemies were both IRA volunteers and English citizens. Therefore he felt that there was no difference between policing an Irish nationalist area and an area with a heavy black population because they were all potential criminals in Newman's eyes.