Over thirty years on, the death of Keith Blakelock and the riot on Broadwater Farm both hold a grip on the psyche of the Metropolitan Police.
Firstly, because a colleague was killed in such a brutal fashion. Secondly, because (as said by Labour MP Bernie Grant) "...what they got was a bloody good hiding." As a result, the British public saw three men wrongly convicted for the murder, one found not guilty because the only evidence offered in court was a poem written by the accused, and two senior police officers acquitted of perjury.
Not exactly a great record for justice, is it?
Journalist David Rose's A Climate of Fear still remains the essential beginning for those interested in what happened that night. However, former Metropolitan Police officer Tony Moore has stepped in and goes into a much broader socio-political examination of why the riot occurred and who, realistically, can be blamed for creating the conditions that sparked it.
Moore begins by discussing the three Met Police officers killed in riots, before moving onto the history of Broadwater Farm, how it degenerated into a slum estate before being regenerated through local will and the (then) Labour council led by Bernie Grant. Although Moore emphasises the role of the locals, he argues that the high amount of rent arrears meant that the area was vulnerable if the council had been restructured with less sympathetic councillors. Although it's Moore showing that the potential for conflict was already there, it's maybe a somewhat obscure speculation.
We move into more substantial ground when discussing the friction between Haringey Council and the Met. Party politics meant that both sides were suspicious of each other's motivation and this clouded their working relationship, although more so on the side of the Met. As a result, the police never went to the area to discuss the issues regarding policing and so a vital opportunity was missed (despite a few invitations being extended). Predictably, both sides blame each other for the failure but Moore concludes that the real problem was allowing local residents to wield too much influence with the police and council, which became the foundation for the impending trouble.
Maybe not a point that can be disagreed on, but this validates the earlier criticism of the Met retaining a stand offish approach to Haringey Council. Therefore, the Met carry the burden of the criticism in this instance.
Here's the thing: there is no doubt that policing Broadwater Farm was an unenvious task for the uniformed officer. TV's, beer kegs and other items being hurled at patrols from the maze of walk ways made it a hostile environment to carry out law enforcement, the structure of the Farm allowed criminals to hastily retreat into the safety of their decks and the suspicion among locals meant that an everyday arrest had the potential to turn into a mass confrontation, with officers being accused of racist policing.
Circumstances meant that it was easy for both sides to claim victimhood in this regard, which would further fuel confrontation. So daily meetings would have been productive in building a bridge between the police and the community. Alas, it was not to be. And the consequences were tragic.
Moore's description of the riot is both concise and sensory, as you can smell the acetylene, see the smoke and feel those missiles landing on you. While this works wonders when describing the operation that led to the death of Blakelock, where Moore falls down is when he suggests that the rioters were organised (implying that the riots had been planned for months).
What he doesn't seem to think is that if the strategy of one side (in this case, the police) is to sit in one position, there's a high probability that the other side (the rioters) will pick up on this and, therefore, any action afterwards can be seen as evidence of 'pre-planning' (even if said action is making more petrol bombs) as your target is a sitting duck.
Thus begins an attempt to whitewash the subsequent investigation, which saw around 200 warrants being issued for murder, people held without access to solicitors or legal guardians, and highly leading questioning. Although Moore stops short of saying "come on, we did what we had to do", there is a strong air of this throughout the section. Particularly with the segment where Moore seems to agree that denying access to solicitors was a good tactical move on the police's part, due to the 'untrustworthy' nature of some lawyers (echoes of Douglas Hogg's comments on solicitors in this country abound).
Further disgraces occur when Moore talks about the Tottenham Three being acquitted of the murder, as he suggests that the 'climate' (which had seen cases like the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Judith Ward, Stefan Kiszko among others being overturned) was the real reason for the acquittal. Despite the evidence (a single, highly ambiguous interview) being shown to have been forged. Unbelievable.
He also hints, darkly, that Winston Silcott was guilty despite the overturned conviction and that he was a dangerous individual. Yet Moore doesn't take the time to inform the reader that the Met had set up around the clock surveillance on him and his family before the riot.
Why does he not mention this?
Maybe because the surveillance came up with nothing at all.
All of this is strangely reminiscent of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation, where the detectives refused to deviate from their initial perception of the case. Here, however, the lack of forensic evidence meant that the only way a conviction could be secured would be if someone admitted to it.
On that note, here's another titbit that Moore doesn't inform the reader.
The chief constable of the Met during this period was none other than Kenneth Newman. Former RUC chief constable responsible for overseeing the policy of Ulsterisation (a policy that did more to undermine the republican movement than the disinformation from Thiepval Barracks).
He was once quoted as saying that:
There are two particular problems in the Western societies which have the potential to affect the balance between order and freedom. The first problem is concerned with the growth of multi-ethnic communities. The second is related to indigenous terrorist movements engaging in terrorism to promote separatism or an extreme ideology.
That's, as David Rose has said:
...a breathtaking equation...He seemed to be saying that the challenges posed to policing and to society by areas with large black communities were analogous...to those posed by the IRA.
And it was this mindset, with it's use of phrases like 'symbolic location', that led to the Blakelock investigation going horrendously wrong.
At 296 pages, this book does a pretty good job of taking the themes explored in A Climate of Fear and expanding on them. However, his reluctance to overtly criticise the Met for their actions and his subtle playing with the facts mean that it's not one that can be fully recommended to those beginning to study the case.
Tony Moore, 2015, The Killing of Constable Keith Blakelock: The Broadwater Farm Riot. Waterside Press ISBN-13: 978-1909976207
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.