PC Blakelock: black people are waiting for justice too
Tottenham police officers were involved in the deaths of Cynthia Jarrett, Joy Gardner, Roger Sylvester and Mark Duggan. But no one has yet been convicted
By Stafford Scott
Tottenham's black community has been living under the cloud of PC Keith Blakelock's death for 28 years. For the vast majority of this time there has been one investigation or another into his killing, and this week Nicky Jacobs was charged with his murder. But regardless of how this case turns out, it will not heal the long-running sore that afflicts the relationship between the police and the local community.
On 5 October 1985 Cynthia Jarrett died during a police raid on her home on Tottenham's Broadwater Farm estate. Officers had stopped her son over a suspicious tax disc earlier that day. Eventually he was charged with theft of the vehicle and assault on police officers, but these charges were later dismissed in court. There was such anger about Cynthia's death, given the regular harassment local black people faced from the police, that the following day a riot broke out, during which Blakelock was stabbed to death.
In the original police investigation into the riots 369 people were arrested. More than 200 were held on matters relating directly to Blakelock's murder – the overwhelming majority without access to families or legal advice. I was one of them, and successfully sued the police for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
Six people were charged with Blakelock's murder: three juveniles and three adults – Engin Raghip, Mark Braithwaite and Winston Silcott. The Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign, of which I was a founding member, saw these as show trials and time proved us right. The juveniles were acquitted; the adults, though found guilty at the time, had their verdicts overturned in 1991 after four years in jail. An electrostatic Esda test proved conclusively that the police had fabricated evidence.
During the original trial the judge, Lord Justice Hodgson, dismissed the charges against two of the juveniles and directed the jury to find the third not guilty, describing his alleged confession as "fantastical, strange, make believe and a ritualistic account of the happenings". One of the crown's key witnesses was also found to have lied under oath and admitted, under cross-examination, that the police had provided him with accommodation, given him money and paid his bills.
At the appeal of the Tottenham Three, Roy Amlot QC, prosecuting, stated: "Unequivocally, we would not have gone against Braithwaite, against Raghip, or against any other defendants having learned of the apparent dishonesty of the officer in charge of the case."
As a result of the men's acquittal, the officer who led the investigation was charged with perjury and perverting the course of justice, and another officer with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. But in 1994 they were acquitted at the Old Bailey in an extraordinary case where Silcott, victim of the fabrication established in the appeal court, was not even called by the crown to give evidence on his own behalf.
The killing of Cynthia Jarrett, the jailing of the Tottenham Three, the demonisation of Silcott by police and media, the miscarriage of justice, and the failed prosecution of the officers have damaged police and community relations beyond repair. Each time the Met reopens the Blakelock investigation, the wounds are reopened. While the police and Blakelock's family speak about the need to see justice for the officer, we are left wondering what justice looks like: we have not seen anything resembling it.
For many of us it has become impossible not to contrast our treatment, experience and expectations with those most white people seem to take for granted. Yes, Blakelock's murder was awful and tragic, but so was the death of Cynthia Jarrett. Had she lived she would have celebrated her 76th birthday this week, yet there are no headlines recalling how she died, no media clamour for her killers to be brought to justice.
And since her death we have also witnessed the further killings of Joy Gardner in 1993, Roger Sylvester in 1999 and, most recently, Mark Duggan in 2011. In all these cases the police were involved, yet we are still to see any officers being convicted.
It is almost two years since Duggan was shot, yet we seem no closer to knowing why and how this happened: the officers involved have refused to be interviewed by the IPCC.
The police had their opportunity to find Blakelock's killers during their first investigation, but their corrupt methods and ineptitude meant that they blew it. While the force may be hoping the country has forgotten, the black community of Tottenham certainly has not. It fuels our community's mistrust of the police and judiciary, and has been passed down a generation. It is one of the reasons that Tottenham burned again in 2011. Ultimately a community that cannot expect justice will always be prone to outbreaks of outrage.