Broadwater Farm riot
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. In July 2014 the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, apologised "unreservedly" for the shooting and the time it had taken to say sorry" following an inquest into the death of Dorothy "Cherry" Groce, whose shooting by the Metropolitan Police triggered the riots. The jury inquest blamed the Metropolitan Police for failures that contributed to Groce's death. The second death was that of PC Keith Blakelock, the first police officer since 1833 to be killed in a riot in Britain.
Death of Cynthia Jarrett
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. 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. 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.
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".
Day of disturbances
There was a demonstration the following day outside Tottenham police station by a small crowd of people. 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
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 youth think they gave the police 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.
The riot prompted the Metropolitan Police to devise the Gold-silver-bronze command structure for responding to sudden major incidents. Among the difficulties with the police response was that orders had to be communicated through numerous ranks, and it was never clear who was in operational charge.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
Broadwater Farm memo controversy 1985
In 1985 Oliver Letwin and Hartley Booth co-authored a memo as members of then-Prime Minister Thatcher's policy unit in response to Broadwater Farm in London urging "Thatcher to ignore reports that rioting in mainly black urban areas was the result of social deprivation and racism." Broadwater Farm riot was part of a series of riots sparked by the shooting of the mother of Michael Groce — both Afro-Caribbean in a mainly Afro-Caribbean neighbourhood — by the Metropolitan Police on September 28, 1985 in the mainly Afro-Caribbean Lambeth neighbourhood, sparked a second riot in Brixton. Over the next weeks and months riots broke out in Peckham, Toxteth and at the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, North London. In 1985 Letwin was then considered to be a "young star" of the Conservative Party. The memo scorned suggestions by senior cabinet ministers to set up a £10m communities programme to tackle inner-city problems by helping blacks start businesses as suggested by David Young's, refurbishing public housing council blocks as suggested by Kenneth Baker and "establishing training programs for low-income youth." Letwin claimed it would not ameliorate the situation but would do little more than "subsidise Rastafarian arts and crafts workshops" stating that black "entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade".
When the 1985 paper was released under the 30 years rule into the public record through the National Archives on 30 December 2015, a chastened Letwin apologised on the same day for "the offence caused". The memo argued that the riots were caused by bad behaviour not social conditions:
"Lower-class, unemployed white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale; in the midst of the depression, people in Brixton went out, leaving their grocery money in a bag at the front door, and expecting to see groceries there when they got back...Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve the inner cities will founder."— Oliver Letwin, Hartley Booth Policy Broadwater Farm memo to Prime Minister Thatcher 1985 (released to the public domain on 30 December 2015)
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