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Issue 36, March 1999

A chronology of injustice

Compiled by Legal Action for Women, Crossroads books, 1998.
Reviewed by Vince Dicey.

ANYONE WHO believes the police racism manifested in the Stephen Lawrence case is a recent phenomenon should read A Chronology of Injustice: The Case for Winston Silcott's Conviction to be Overturned. This explains the background to Winston Silcott's continued imprisonment, seven years after he was cleared of the murder of PC Blakelock.

The book documents both the Blakelock frame-up and Silcott's lesser-known second conviction for the murder of Anthony Smith. This, a miscarriage of justice in its own right, is a wholly distinct case revolving around self-defence. It is the formal basis on which the state is keeping Winston behind bars, although repeated statements from the Police Federation, which the authors catalogue, make clear the pressure the police are exerting for him never to be released.

From the 1960s socialists warned that the apparatus of repression the British state was building in Northern Ireland would eventually be used on mainland Britain. In 1983 this prediction was literally made flesh when Sir Kenneth Newman, Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was appointed Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

As well as bringing plastic bullets and surveillance methods in his briefcase, that year Newman made a speech to the right wing European Atlantic Group (EAG), in which he identified "two particular problems in Western societies which have the potential to affect the balance between order and freedom. The first problem is concerned with the growth of multi-ethnic communities. The second is related to indigenous terrorist movements engaging in terrorism to promote separatism or an extreme ideology".

  Sir Kenneth put his boots under the desk in the aftermath of the Brixton riots of 1981 and the ensuing report of the Scarman inquiry. Scarman made a series of recommendations to improve police-community relations - which included taking action against racist police officers! Newman acceded to the Scarman points but simultaneously implemented the philosophy he had expounded to the EAG: "the police leadership singled out four inner-city multi-racial neighbourhoods in London… where, superimposed on community policing, policing by consent, was confrontational policing, policing by force, which had conquered during the 1984-85 miners' strike".

Against the background of 'saturation policing', the immediate spark which ignited the 1985 riots was the death of a local black woman from a heart attack after police pushed her during an illegal house search. When Broadwater Farm residents tried to stage a protest march to the Tottenham police station, officers blocked-off the estate. During the disturbances this provoked, PC Blakelock was killed. Winston Silcott and two others were charged with the murder, in the midst of a hysterically racist and prejudicial media campaign which continues to damage Silcott's reputation to this day.

The book sketches the difficulties facing Winston Silcott in the period after the Blakelock conviction was quashed in 1991: "Unlike the Tottenham Three, Winston's murder conviction for the death of Anthony Smith did not seem to be political, and did not get as much publicity and support: although many people knew there was an injustice, it did not seem so great; after all, Winston had killed Anthony Smith - and Smith was black. Also, the Smith case was not seen in connection with the Blakelock case which has in fact dominated it".

  Anthony Smith was a professional boxer with a record of violence outside the ring. He was part of a gang known in Tottenham for carrying guns, whose members had made death threats to Winston because of a dispute they had with a friend of his brother. At a party in December 1984, Smith and two accomplices were all carrying knives. There were several witnesses to the fact that Smith attacked Silcott first, before Winston was given a knife and struck back in self-defence. Unfortunately, through a combination of circumstances, including police failures and pressure from his original lawyers to change his story for 'tactical' reasons, his true defence of self-defence was not run at trial. The trial also took place weeks after Blakelock died, with Winston already demonised as a 'savage police killer'.

In November the Criminal Cases Review Commission decided not to refer the Smith case to the Court of Appeal, despite the fresh evidence about the attack on Silcott which had been submitted to the Home Office in 1992. Socialists must help publicise Winston Silcott's plight, including the political reasons for his continued detention. Books like this are a vital resource to arm activists with the facts.

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