Broadwater Farm Riots
During the late 1970s and into the 1980s tensions between the police and the black community increased. In April 1981 Brixton erupted into riots, and again in September 1985 , sparked by the accidental shooting of a black woman during a police raid, Brixton was again the scene of protracted violent protest and disorder. It was in this climate that a further riot occurred, this time in Tottenham, on October 6 1985.
The previous day Cynthia Jarrett, the mother of a black youth who had just been arrested by the police, died of a heart attack as four officers searched her home. It was claimed by her family that she had been pushed to the ground during the search, something denied by the police.
On October 6 what began as demonstrations outside Tottenham Police Station seemingly inevitably escalated into open conflict in the district. Police baton charges which it was hoped would end the clashes in fact worsened them. Looting broke out, and shots were fired at the police, one officer being seriously wounded. Rioters threw petrol bombs, and the fire brigade was called in to deal with various emergencies, including a fire started in a tower block. It was while he and 11 colleagues were attempting to protect the fire-fighters on the Broadwater Farm Estate that 40-year-old PC Keith Blakelock was brutally killed at about 10.15 that night. He slipped as he and his section fell back before a mob armed with knives, sticks and machetes. Thugs wearing balaclavas pounced on him, grabbed and removed his helmet, and then stabbed and slashed him repeatedly before his colleagues rushed back to aid him. The extent of his injuries – he lost fingers in defending himself, and had many wounds to his neck – and the evidence of eye-witnesses suggested the attackers had been trying to decapitate PC Blakelock.
Shamefully local council leader Bernie Grant was later quoted as saying: “What they got was a bloody good hiding.” He equivocated about condemning the rioters and tried to weasel out of the furore caused by his statement, saying it had been taken out of context.
Understandably the police reaction to the death of PC Blakelock was angry and forceful. It also proved counter-productive: three juvenile suspects were released by a judge for the way they had been treated in detention, and though three others were found guilty in 1987, they were all subsequently cleared on appeal amid major questions regarding the evidence against them. The police continue the search for PC Blakelock’s killers.
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