Broadwater Farm riot

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The Broadwater Farm riot occurred around the Broadwater Farm area of Tottenham, North London, on 6 October 1985.

The events of the day were dominated by two deaths. The first was that of Cynthia Jarrett, an African-Caribbean woman who died the previous day due to heart failure during a police search at her home. It was one of the main triggers of the riot in a context where tension between local black youth and the largely white Metropolitan Police was already high due to a combination of local issues and the aftermath of another riot which had occurred in the Brixton area of London the previous week following the shooting of a black woman (Dorothy 'Cherry' Groce) during another police search. The second death was that of PC Keith Blakelock, the first police officer since 1833 to be killed in a riot in Britain.[1]

Death of Cynthia Jarrett[edit]

At 13:00 hrs on 5 October 1985 a young black man, Floyd Jarrett, who lived about a mile from the Farm, was arrested by police, having been stopped in a vehicle with an allegedly suspicious car tax disc.[2] He was taken to nearby Tottenham police station and charged with theft and assault (he was later acquitted of both charges). Five and a half hours later, D.C. Randle and three other officers decided to search his mother's home, also close by. Forty-nine-year-old Mrs Jarret immediately collapsed and died from a heart attack during disputed circumstances.[3] During the coroner's inquest into Mrs Jarret's death, her daughter, Patricia claimed to have seen D.C. Randle push her mother whilst conducting the search inside their house, causing her to fall. Randle denied this allegation.[4]

Cynthia Jarrett's death sparked outrage from some members of the black community against the conduct of the Metropolitan Police. There was a widespread belief that the police were institutionally racist. A black woman, Cherry Groce, had been shot by police a week earlier in Brixton. Four years earlier, the Scarman Report into the 1981 Brixton riot criticised police. In particular, the local council leader, Bernie Grant, later condemned the search and urged the local police chiefs to resign immediately as their behaviour had been "out of control".[5]

Day of disturbances[edit]

There was a demonstration the following day outside Tottenham police station by a small crowd of people (source). Violence between police and youths escalated during the day. Riot police tried to clear streets using baton charges. The youths in the conflict used bricks and molotov cocktails. The evening TV news claimed there were shots at the police, two officers, PC Stuart Patt, another unnamed officer, being treated for gunshot wounds. Three journalists (Press Association reporter Peter Woodman, BBC sound recordist Robin Green, and cameraman Keith Skinner) were also claimed to have been hit. Cars were set on fire and barricades made. The main conflict took place on the estate itself, with police officers and rioters injured and dozens of rioters arrested.

Murder of PC Blakelock[edit]

At 9.30pm Police and London Fire Brigade responded to reports of a fire on the elevated level of Tangmere House; this block consisted of a shopping level with flats and maisonettes above. The location itself was some distance away from the main body of rioting, and as such was being policed by units who were less well-equipped and -prepared in terms of disorder training. The London Fire Brigade came under attack as did the 'serial' of police, including Blakelock, who were there to assist. The rioting was too intense for police not trained in riot control and they and the firefighters withdrew, chased by rioters. Blakelock tripped, fell, and was surrounded by a mob with machetes, knives and other weapons, who killed him in an attempt to decapitate him. PC Richard Coombes suffered a serious facial injury from one of the attackers when he made efforts to rescue his colleague. The rioting tailed off during the night as rain fell and news of the death spread.


Police maintained a substantial presence on the estate for several months, arresting and questioning 400 people. The disturbances led to changes in police tactics and equipment, and efforts to re-engage with the community. Bernie Grant, then Leader of the Labour-controlled Haringey Council, later elected as Labour MP for Tottenham, was widely condemned for reportedly saying, "the police got a bloody good hiding", although the actual statement was "The youths around here believe the police were to blame for what happened on Sunday and what they got was a bloody good hiding."

Afterwards, the local council invested in the estate to improve some of the problems which were seen as factors in the rioting. Today, although there is still contention with the police, the area has improved. (source needed)


Six people (three juveniles and three adults) were charged with the murder of Blakelock. The juveniles all had their cases dismissed after the judge ruled the conditions in which they had been held were so inappropriate that their interrogation was inadmissible - conditions included being questioned naked except for a blanket, and being questioned without a guardian.[6]

Three adults, Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite, were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment despite no witnesses and no forensic evidence.[7] The Tottenham Three are Innocent Campaign and the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign pressed for a retrial. On 25 November 1991, all three defendants were cleared by the Court of Appeal when an ESDA test demonstrated police notes of interrogations (the only evidence) had been tampered with.[8] Braithwaite and Raghip were released after four years in prison. Silcott remained in prison for the separate murder of another man, Tony Smith. He was released on licence in 2003 after serving eighteen years for that crime. The officer in charge of the interrogation was cleared of perjury.

In July 2013 Nicholas Jacobs was charged with the murder of PC Blakelock. Four other men arrested at the same time were not charged.[9] On 9 April 2014, Jacobs was cleared of all charges.[10]


At the inquest into the death of Cynthia Jarrett her daughter, Patricia, alleged that her mother had been pushed over by Detective Constable Michael Randle, which he denied. The inquest found that Jarrett had died accidentally. No police officers were charged or disciplined for her death.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Newman, K. Police-Public Relations: The Pace of Change: Police Foundation Lecture 1986, The Police Foundation, 1986
  2. ^ Thompson, K. Under siege: racial violence in Britain today (1988) Penguin Books Ltd 978-0140523911
  3. ^ Brain, T. (2010) A history of policing in England and Wales from 1974: a turbulent journey. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Thompson, K. Under siege: racial violence in Britain today (1988) Penguin Books Ltd 978-0140523911
  5. ^ Parry, Gareth; Rawnsley, Andrew; Ezard, John (7 October 1985). "Policeman killed in riot". The Guardian (London). 
  6. ^ The GuardianArticle of detailing trial evidence, 18 January 2004
  7. ^ The GuardianArticle of detailing trial evidence, 18 January 2004
  8. ^ Brain, T. (2010) A history of policing in England and Wales from 1974: a turbulent journey. Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ Dodd, Vikram (23 July 2013). "PC Keith Blakelock: man charged with murder at Broadwater Farm riots". The Guardian (London). 
  10. ^ "PC Keith Blakelock: Nicholas Jacobs cleared of killing officer". BBC News. 9 April 2014.