Pc Keith Blakelock: Murder on Farm's darkest night
PUBLISHED August 18, 2012
On that dark Sunday in October 1985, the Broadwater Farm estate was a tinderbox waiting to ignite. The first years of the 1980s had been marred by repeated civil disorder, the likes of which had not been seen for decades.
There were inner-city riots in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Leeds in summer 1981.
In response, Margaret Thatcher's government commissioned the Scarman report to try to resolve the problems of race inequality and deprivation perceived by many to be at the root of the violence.
But by September 1985, riots had returned to Brixton in protest at the police shooting of Dorothy "Cherry" Groce, during a police raid on her home. She was paralysed from the waist down by a bullet in her spine.
A week later, another confrontation between the ethnic minority community and the largely white Metropolitan Police led to Broadwater Farm going up in flames, and to unspeakable savagery by a machete-wielding mob.
On Saturday October 5, Cynthia Jarrett, a Jamaican-born mother of five, collapsed and died at her home in Thorpe Road, Tottenham, during a raid by Met officers looking for stolen goods. It was later established that she died of natural causes, but in the hours after her death there were rumours of police brutality.
Some local residents, living in straitened circumstances in one of London's poorest areas, regarded Mrs Jarrett's death as a legitimate reason for riot.
There was a demonstration outside Tottenham police station at Sunday lunchtime, and later an officer responding to an incident on Broadwater Farm was injured by a missile thrown at his car.
By 6pm, a conciliation meeting held by community leaders, including Bernie Grant, the hard-Left leader of Haringey council, failed to lower the temperature, and the first petrol bombs began to fly.
Hundreds went on the rampage, and barricades of burning cars were set up around the estate, which at the time housed 5,000 people, of whom 70 per cent were on benefits. Scotland Yard called in reinforcements.
Among them was Pc Keith Blakelock, a 40-year-old father of three. He was a beat bobby in nearby Muswell Hill with five years' experience, and knew many of the local criminals.
That night, he was part of a group of officers detailed to protect firemen working on Broadwater Farm at the height of the riot.
Under fire from missiles and petrol bombs, the firemen and police tried to retreat, but Pc Blakelock stumbled and was surrounded by a mob armed with machetes, serrated knives and sharpened tools. "Kill the pig," they screamed.
Pc Blakelock suffered more than 40 stab wounds, including some that the pathologist determined came from a machete or an axe.
As he was dragged off by colleagues who bravely returned to help him, a 6in kitchen knife was still embedded to the hilt in his neck. He died later at North Middlesex Hospital.
In all, 250 officers were injured, but despite the murder, Mr Grant - later the area's Labour MP - refused to condemn the rioters, reportedly saying: "What the police got was a bloody good hiding."
A number of suspects were arrested. Among them was Winston Silcott, then aged 26, whose police mugshot became a defining image of the Broadwater Farm riot and its bloody aftermath.
At 6ft 2in and heavily built, Silcott had a reputation for violence and residents of the north London estate were well aware of it.
He lived in the Martlesham block of "The Farm", just 200 yards from the ziggurat-shaped Tangmere building where Pc Blakelock was attacked, and on the night of the killing he was already on bail for a murder that took place the previous year.
He was arrested on Oct 12, six days after the riot. The courts later heard that he was refused access to a solicitor and interviewed by detectives repeatedly in 24 hours.
Police suspected Silcott, nicknamed "Sticks", was a ringleader of the riot and played a key role in the mob attack on Pc Blakelock.
The first four interviews largely consisted of denials or refusals to comment but the detectives' records showed a marked change in the fifth, and final, interview.
Silcott was told by Det Ch Supt Graham Melvin, who headed the inquiry, that more than one source had "fingered" him as a key figure.
The interview notes described him as standing and moving to the window, before returning with tears in his eyes, saying: "Jesus, Jesus."
He then said, according to the notes: "You ain't got enough evidence. Those kids will never go to court. You wait and see. Nobody else will talk to you. You can't keep me away from them."
Silcott was convicted of Pc Blakelock's murder at the Old Bailey in 1987 - along with Mark Braithwaite and Engin Raghip - and jailed for a minimum of 30 years.
But the convictions were only the start of a tortuous legal process that has spanned four decades - a process that will soon begin yet another chapter with the first new charges in the case for 26 years.
Silcott, Braithwaite and Raghip were dubbed the "Tottenham Three" by supporters who believed they had been "fitted up" by police.
In 1991, their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal on the grounds of "apparent misbehaviour" by officers involved in the case, and Mr Braithwaite and Mr Raghip were freed.
Silcott remains a convicted murderer, however. Between his arrest and conviction for the murder of Pc Blakelock, he was jailed for life for murdering Tony Smith, a boxer. He remained inside to serve his time.
In 1999 Silcott was paid more than £50,000 compensation in an out-of-court settlement by the Met for malicious prosecution. He was finally released in 2003.
The quashing of the Blakelock convictions led to another court case, with two senior detectives prosecuted for conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
Det Ch Supt Melvin, and his assistant, Det Insp Maxwell Dingle, went on trial at the Old Bailey in 1994. Handwritten notes of the interview had undergone a range of forensic examinations that suggested they had been fabricated, the court heard.
But both detectives were acquitted of all charges after a jury unanimously rejected the allegation.