Death of Colin Roach

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Colin Roach was a 21-year-old black British man who died from a gunshot wound inside the entrance of Stoke Newington police station, in the London Borough of Hackney, on 12 January 1983.[1][2] Amid allegations of a police cover-up, the case became a cause célèbre for civil rights campaigners and black community groups in the United Kingdom.[3] Prior to Roach's death, Hackney Black People's Association had been calling for a public inquiry into policing in the area, alleging that there existed a culture of police brutality, wrongful detention of black people, racial harassment, and racially motivated "stopping and searching."[4] Ernie Roberts, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said that there had been "a complete breakdown of faith and credibility in the police" in the area and the Commission for Racial Equality called for a full inquiry into both the death of Roach and the policing in Hackney generally.[4] In June 1983 a coroner's jury returned a majority verdict of suicide.[5] INQUEST, the United Kingdom pressure group founded following the death of Blair Peach at the hands of a police officer in April 1979, was highly critical of the coroner's directions to the jury, and said that he had wrongly pointed them towards a verdict of suicide.[6]


The police surgeon who was called to Colin Roach's corpse in the foyer of the police station said that the body position was inconsistent with suicide. The shotgun with which he was killed could not be fitted into the sports bag Roach had with him, not even when broken down. No fibers from the bag were found on the gun and no oil from the gun was found in the bag. When a shotgun is used for suicide the recoil damages and sometimes breaks the trigger thumb. No injury was found to Roach's hand at all. The recoiling gun will normally hit a wall or floor very hard but no marks from this were found in the police station foyer or on the gun butt.

On the other side of the argument there were no marks on Roach's mouth consistent with a gun being forced into it. The man who drove Roach to the police station saw no gun or bulge. He said that Roach was very frightened and saw him walk into the police station. Two police officers who were believed to be present at the police station claimed not to have been there, there were irregularities in the records for who was present.

Roach's death spurred protests and demands for an independent public inquiry. Such an inquiry did not take place, although police did conduct an inquest into the incident. The verdict of the inquest was that he had committed suicide.[7][8]

The Roach Family Support Committee commissioned its own Independent Committee of Inquiry, which published the book Policing In Hackney: 1945-1984 in 1989.[9]

Pop culture[edit]

In August 1983 The Special AKA reached number 60 in the charts with "Racist Friend" / "Brightlights". The latter song features lyrics that mention Roach: "I got down to London and what did I see? One thousand policemen all over the street, The people were shouting and looking at me, They say 'the Colin Roach family demand an enquiry'".[10]

The 1990 album by Sinéad O'Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, featured a track called "Black Boys on Mopeds". Although the lyrics do not mention Colin Roach directly, the entire album is essentially dedicated to his family, and contains a photograph on the inner sleeve of his sad-faced parents standing in the rain in front of a poster of their son. Below the image is the inscription: "God's place is the world; but the world is not God's place."[11] Alternative metal band Chevelle also covered O'Connor's song.

Benjamin Zephaniah composed a poem entitled "Who Killed Colin Roach?"[12] Roach's death is also mentioned in a track by the Ragga Twins entitled "The Iron Lady".[13] The lyrics to "License Fi Kill" by Linton Kwesi Johnson asks the question "You can't ask Colin Roach if he really shot himself".[13]

The Colin Roach Centre, a community centre, was set up in Hackney to commemorate the death.[14]


  1. ^ Evans, Peter (29 June 1983). "Inquiry ordered into Roach case". The Times (61571). London. p. 2.
  2. ^ McCrystal, Cal (21 November 1993). "The wrong side of the law". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2010-04-30.
  3. ^ "Youth's death used to fuel mistrust of the police". The Times (61564). London. 21 June 1983. p. 3.
  4. ^ a b Timmins, Nicholas (28 January 1983). "Why Colin Roach's death left legacy of unrest". The Times (61442). London. p. 5.
  5. ^ Timmins, Nicholas (21 June 1983). "Colin Roach shot himself, inquest jury decides by an eight to two majority". The Times (61564). London. p. 3.
  6. ^ Ryan, Mick (1996). Lobbying From Below: INQUEST in Defence of Civil Liberties. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 31–32. ISBN 978-1-85728-256-6.
  7. ^ "Causes of death: suicides; inquest into the death of Colin Roach at Stoke Newington...", The National Archives.
  8. ^ Tippa Naphtali, "Who killed Colin Roach?", Indymedia UK, 1 February 2009.
  9. ^ Policing In Hackney 1945-1984, London: Karia Press, ISBN 0 946918 74 0.
  10. ^ Song Lyrics: "Bright Lights", The Specials.
  11. ^ Ensign Records Ltd. Chrysalis Records Ltd. 1990
  12. ^ "Zephaniah Remembers Colin Roach", 4WardEver UK Newsvine, 10 January 2019.
  13. ^ a b "Deaths in custody: Songs for Colin Roach", The Radical History of Hackney, 18 May 2014.
  14. ^ Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, "Scotland Yard spied on critics of police corruption", The Guardian, 24 June 2013.

External links[edit]

  • Documentation of calls for a public inquiry into the death. [1]
  • News coverage of the subsequent demonstration. Youtube