Serial 502. Keith Blakelock

Police released PC Keith Blakelock's overall in 2005 with tape marking the wounds inflicted with the knife
BBC News
Scene of the killing: Residents and children lay flowers in memory of Pc Blakelock after he was stabbed to death in Tottenham, north London, in 1985
A huge police presence following the riots
Heavy police presence following the riots
The Tangmere block on the Broadwater Farm estate.
The GuardianPhotograph: PA

Lack of forensic evidence

The investigation teams faced almost an impossible task but the media were on their backs to bring the people responsible to justice, however that was much harder than actually achieving the task. There was a severe lack of forensic evidence and residents of Broadwater Farm estate ‘saw nothing’ according to witnesses that were interviewed.

There are a few facts that are readily available: –

Between the 10th of October 1985 and May 1986, the police raided 271 houses and arrested 362 people.

Over 80% of those arrested were of African-Caribbean descent.

Those who were arrested were taken to 14 different police stations across London. Tottenham Police Station was not used as the police didn’t want the ‘suspects’ to be found.

There were 167 persons charged with various offences and another 195 released without charge.

Three men and three juveniles were charged with Murder, Riot and affray.

Another 7 people were charged with rioting offences.

Another 70 people who had been arrested were charged with affray.

20 people were charged with threatening Behaviour while another 1 was charged with manufacturing petrol bombs.

13 people were charged with various offences of theft and receiving stolen goods.

8 persons charged with possessing offensive weapons.

7 persons charged with simple theft.

4 people were charged with arson.

3 people charged with assault on the Police.

All the remainder of the charges were unrelated to the 6th October.

68 people were tried at The Old Bailey

A total of 68 people were tried at The Old Bailey and out of this number, 19 persons pleaded guilty to their charges while another 49 pleaded not guilty. Out of those who pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ 26 were acquitted, through lack of sufficient evidence. This really came as (no surprise really as 37 out of these 49 people had been charged on their confessional evidence only)  Most of them had been held incommunicado for up to five days without access to their solicitors, their family or any sort of legal advice.

In December 1985 Floyd Jarrett attended Tottenham magistrate’s court on the theft and assault charges. He pleaded not guilty and was acquitted of all charges against levelled against him; totally innocent. As well as being found not guilty the magistrates awarded him costs against the police.

Detective Superintendent Graham Melvin

Superintendent Graham Melvin led the investigation into the murder of police Constable Keith Blakelock. His first problem was there was no forensic evidence to go on. Senior Officers did not allow the estates to be sealed off immediately after the attack. This meant that the ‘crime scene’ hadn’t been secured. It also meant that the witnesses and those who had been involved in the attack were able to leave the vicinity without even having to give the police their name and address. Then there were the objects that may have contained the fingerprints had not been collected. The Police did not enter onto the estate until about 4 am, by which time much of the evidence had disappeared. Whatever there may have remained was removed during the local Council’s clean-up operation. The only way of perhaps obtaining some evidence in order to build a case to find the culprits was to arrest the suspects. This included the juvenile members of the Black Community, some of which were regarded as children and vulnerable as they attended a local school for ‘educational subnormal children (ESN School) and holding them for days without access to lawyers or family.

In total 359 people were arrested and out of this number just a total of some 94 were interviewed with a lawyer present. Many of the confessions which resulted whether about the murder or the rioting were made before the lawyers reached them to give any advice. When some of these youths did confess to say, throwing a few stones at the police, a minor role in the scheme of things, they were charged with affray, a serious offence for which many were to receive up to 8 years in prison.

Later at the Gifford Inquiry into the rioting one resident told him,

‘you would go to bed and just lay there, and you would think, are they going to come and kick your door in and hold you for hours. I would think about my children, what would happen to them? It was a horrible fear that you lived with. You knew they could come and kick your door down and hold you for hours. The police created this fear not only with me but with loads of residents here.

This created a climate of fear which witnesses were afraid to step forward. Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Melvin defended his methods in court arguing that lawyers might wittingly or unwittingly pass information that they had gleaned during their interviews to other suspects. He continued, under cross-examination that, in his view, ‘the integrity of some firms of solicitors left a lot to be desired.’   He said that he believed solicitors were being retained by people who had a big interest in learning what other suspects had said. The Crown Prosecutor, Mr Roy Amlot QC, told the murder trial that the police had one effective weapon, namely that suspects did not know who else had spoken to the police and of course, what they had said. The use of that particular weapon by the police was legitimate and very effective.

Soulless example of 1960s brutalist architecture

A few days after the 1985 riot, I was sent in to report on its aftermath in the context of the built environment. Broadwater Farm was already notorious as a particularly soulless example of 1960s brutalist architecture, and had by the 80s become a modern ghetto.

The first thing I noticed was how empty the place was. The estate had a large number of large buildings and a seriously high density of population, yet there was nobody about. I wanted to find some residents, to talk to them about what it was like living there, but there was hardly anybody outdoors. Even the estate’s general store was deserted, and the manager unwilling to speak to me, so I resolved to knock on a few doors and hope for the best.

It was then that I realised just how many pairs of eyes were following me. Coming out from the shop, at the base of the infamous Tangmere block, the view ahead was of a stack of multi-level elevated walkways with a central zigzag staircase. On each side of each of the five levels, a pair of uniformed officers stood facing me.

Russ Swan   Freelance journalist and editor

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