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16 August 2011
Winston Silcott - framed by the police and justice system
The recent riots, starting in Tottenham, north London, have reminded many of events there in 1985. In the aftermath of riots then, three people - Winston Silcott and two others were framed for the murder of a police officer.
Paul Couchman explains what happened.
Eight years ago, in 2003, Winston Silcott finally walked away from prison after nearly 20 years inside. Speaking to the Independent newspaper on his release, Winston was asked why he wasn't planning to move away from his home in Tottenham.
"Why should I?" he asked. Winston was the victim of one of the biggest police and justice system stitch-ups in the past 50 years.
He and his many supporters have always maintained that he had nothing to do with the killing of PC Keith Blakelock during the riots of 1985 in Tottenham and the courts finally had to clear him of that crime in 1991, only to hold him incarcerated for another 12 years over the death of another man, Anthony Smith.
Winston had already been in prison for four months (for the Blakelock killing) when his trial over the Anthony Smith case began. He had had his face on the front of every national newspaper, with headlines like 'Cop-Killer' and 'Face of a Killer'.
There was never any way that Winston would get a fair trial. He never denied killing Smith but always claimed it was in self-defence after Smith attacked him (it was Smith's knife which actually killed him).
Despite being cleared of Blakelock's murder in 1991 (along with Enghin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite who walked free after a huge public campaign led by Winston's brother George) the press and police continued to pursue him.
The photo used by most of the press to this day was taken when the police burst into his cell in the middle of the night - so he looks startled (the media said 'demonic').
Leading police spokesperson Norman Brennan said: "The name Winston Silcott is synonymous with the murder of one of our colleagues. We in the police service don't believe justice has been done.
"Many of my colleagues, including myself, are convinced that the right people were convicted at the time."
Winston lived on Broadwater Farm, the estate where he used to work as a greengrocer, ran a mobile disco and had a reputation as a joker. He still has friends living there.
He was a community activist back then, and plans on working again with young people to try to keep them from getting in trouble with the police. He is willing to speak on public platforms and do whatever he can to raise the call for justice.
27 years ago saw young people in some of the most deprived inner cities rise in anger against police harassment, racism and poverty. In Birmingham, Brixton and Tottenham there were extreme flare-ups and, at the height of the violence in Tottenham, PC Blakelock was killed.
In Broadwater Farm, tensions had been raised after the death of Cynthia Jarrett (a black mother) after police raided her house - a death for which no officer was ever charged.
The anger was so intense and the young people so angry. This was a backlash against years of harassment and neglect.
Even the future local MP, Bernie Grant, said: "What the police got was a bloody good hiding". During the fighting on Broadwater Farm, PC Blakelock was stabbed and killed.
The investigation which followed was riddled with false evidence, manipulation and forced confessions, resulting in the framing of the Tottenham Three in 1987.
Many other young people suffered at the time in a wave of revenge from the Met police. Thousands of police occupied Broadwater Farm for many months, stopping, searching and harassing everyone.
Up to a third of the doors on the estate were reported to have been kicked in. Winston Silcott had often been 'in trouble' with the local police because he was outspoken and would not accept the constant police harassment.
He was seen as a local youth leader and an outspoken black man and was therefore a target for the police's rage. Winston's mother Mary recalled that the police "blamed him for everything that went wrong in Tottenham".
As part of the crackdown, children as young as nine were held almost naked for up to three days in solitary confinement. Their "confessions" formed the basis of the police's murder case.
13 year old Jason Hill was put on trial alongside Winston. He had been held alone in a cell for 52 hours.
When his mother found him, he was "huddled under a dirty old blanket, just wearing his soiled underpants.
He smelled of vomit and was sobbing uncontrollably."
Howard Kerr was 17. He was "so tired and frightened" by the ordeal that he signed a 57-page statement implicating himself and Winston Silcott in the killing.
In fact Howard, who was illiterate and had a mental age of seven, was at a party in Windsor during the riot. He had never heard of Winston Silcott.
Investigators were eventually forced to admit that Winston did not appear in any of the more than 1,000 police photographs taken on the night of PC Blakelock's death.
Yet it took the jury just three days to bring in a guilty verdict, with the judge announcing that Silcott was a "vicious and evil man" who must serve at least 30 years in jail.
I worked closely with the Winston Silcott Defence Campaign, with Winston's brother George Silcott, and visited Winston in prison several times. I can say that Winston is a gentle, calm man who was framed and who has spent most of his adult life behind bars because of a justice system which protects the rich and powerful and demonises those who dare to stand up and fight back.
I am sure that Winston and his brother will continue to speak up against racism, injustice and police harassment and socialists must work alongside them and support them in this.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 16 August 2011 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.