Mitch Mitchell is an activist with Defend the Right to Protest in Cambridge.
In the 90s, I went on several occasions with others from ANL to the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry which was held at the Elephant and Castle in London.
The outcome of that enquiry was the MacPhearson Report which identified institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police. Highlighting several points which had arisen, such as the fact that on the night of the murder, the police had received several phone calls, all identifying the same people as culprits, but they failed to follow up.
The fact that at first, the police were investigating a “drug deal gone wrong”. The fact that Stephen’s friend, Dwayne Brooks, who was also with Stephen when the attack happened, was aggressively interviewed as a suspected drug dealer. (Dwayne is now a Lib Dem councillor in Lewisham).
The policeman leading the enquiry was a former schoolmate of Clifford Norris, a notorious criminal in the area who was the father of one of the main suspects, and doubts about whether Clifford Norris put undue influence on the policeman to exonerate his son remain to this day.
The Met said the usual excuse “We have learned lessons from this and we are taking steps to ensure that these sort of failures do not happen in the future.” Ha! Weasel words!
The Lawrence case has several precedents. In 1959, Kelso Cochrane was kicked to death in Paddington by a racist gang. No one was ever charged with his murder and documents have come to light which indicate that the police at the time wanted to kick into the long grass suggestions that the killing was racially motivated. This was despite strong evidence linking the crime with the vile Colin Jordan’s “National Socialist Movement”. Interviewed at the time, Jordan said “It’s regrettable that a man died, but if he hadn’t been in this country, it would not have happened”.
On the night of January 17/18 1981, at 439 New Cross Road, 13 black teenagers attending a birthday party died as a result of a petrol bomb attack. Police said that they could find “no evidence of arson.”
On February 21, 1991, in Thamesmead which is close to Eltham where the Lawrence murder happened two years later, Nathan and Rolan Adams were surrounded by a gang of about 15 white youths chanting racist slogans. Rolan was stabbed to death and although Mark Thornbarrow was later charged and convicted of the murder, for which he received a life sentence, no one else was ever charged with involvement.
The police initially put out a story that this was an inter-gang affair and a “turf war”, which was a load of rubbish. The police eventually agreed that this was not the case, but the damage had been done and it is for this reason that the Adams family did not receive the same level of public sympathy or support as that received by the Lawrence family.
In another case which happened in 1997, 20 year old Ricky Reel in Kingston-on-Thames was involved and died. In this incident, Ricky and some friends were walking home when they were approached by two white youths who began racially abusing them. After the ensuing scuffle, Ricky disappeared and his body was later found floating in the river.
The police treated the matter as an accident. Since then, Ricky’s mother has been approached by a woman witness who named someone currently in prison for murder.
This information was passed over to the police, but they said that as the witness was too frightened to speak to the police and that she “may have learning difficulties” her testimony was unreliable. They are still insisting Ricky’s death was “an accident”.
When interviewed by BBC London, Ms Reel said that the family had “lost all confidence in the police.”
Ricky’s sister, Tish, has since trained as a lawyer and now works with Imran Khan, the Lawrence family solicitor. In a recent interview with the Independent Newspaper, she said “Even if the bottom line of this is we never know and I truly hope that is not the case… we can make sure other families were never treated the way we were. Yet that still happens now, which is what’s appalling 15 years on.”
I am not a lawyer, but I wonder whether if someone is running away from an aggressor or aggressors and in so doing they have a fatal accident, can the aggressor(s) be charged with, at least ,manslaughter?
There is no doubt that all these cases bring with them many questions about the reliability of the police to investigate racist attacks. They seem to be much keener on attacking and arresting anti-fascists and harassing innocent Muslims on suspicion of terrorism.
Add to that the police’s actions at demonstrations by students, trade unionists and others who have had to suffer quite disproportionate attacks (viz. Alfie Meadows) and we have a real problem.