Fearless Afrikan Democrats

Making Social History in Britain

Forty Years of Struggles and  Fundamental Changes 

The Mangrove 9 Trial and its Social Implications

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By Vince Hines

The 1971 Mangrove Nine Trial at the London Old Bailey’s Central Criminal Court was an historic event which signposted the beginning of a new Social History in Britain, spearheaded significantly by people of Afrikan heritage.

As a Freelance Journalist, BBC Radio Reporter and Contributor to the Guardian, the major underground news papers at the time, including International Times (IT), Ink, Friends, Flambeau and West Indian World, etc., I can recollect the Mangrove Nine Trial and some of the major incidents which led to that historic landmark in Britain’s legal, community and race relations history. The young White defence lawyer, Ian McDonald and presiding White Judge Clarke, at the Trial, also became part of that history.

I was a front line Eye Witness, of that Trial and acquainted, in a professional capacity, with all nine of the Mangrove Defendants – Anthony Carlisle Innis, Rothwell Kentish, Rhodan Gordon, Frank Critchlow, Rupert Glasgow Boyce, Radford Howe, Althea Jones-Lecointe, Barbara Beese and Godfrey Mullet. 

They faced police charges ranging from Riot, Affray, Grievous bodily harm of policeman and Offensive weapons. Major charges. Each defendant had an average of four charges placed on him/her. Everyone was charged with Riot and Affray, if convicted could land them heavy jail sentences.

All were young Black people, that is, of African heritage. All were British citizens and all, except for one, were born in the Caribbean – Trinidad, Jamaica and Grenada.

The average age of the defendants was about 27 years old, and among them were community activist, seamstress, students, mechanic, restaurant owner, teacher, public transport worker, labourer and community worker.

Radford [Darcus] Howe, Barbara Beese, Godfrey Millet, Frank Critchlow and Rothwell Kentish were acquitted of all charges.

Anthony Carlisle Innis was acquitted of all charges except for actual bodily harm of policeman. He was sentenced to 9 months, suspended for two years.

Rhodan Gordon was found not guilty for riot and guilty of affray and sentenced to 15 months suspended for 2 years.

Rupert Glasgow Boyce was acquitted of all charges, except for actual bodily harm on a police constable and possession of offensive weapon. He was sentenced to 9 months for each count, running concurrently, suspended for 2 years.

Althea Jones-Lecointe was found not guilty for riot, actual bodily hard of police constable and offensive weapon; but found guilty for affray, and two counts of actual bodily harm of police constables. She was sentenced to 15 months for each count, running concurrently, which was suspended for two years.

 I covered the story at the London Marylebone Magistrates and the Old Bailey Courts, during 1971. In fact, at the Magistrates Court, I was threatened to be removed from the Press Gallery by the sitting Stipendiary Magistrate because he thought I should not have been in the Press Gallery.

Trained Black journalists, holding National Union of Journalists (NUJ) press credentials were not heard of at the time, in the UK, certainly not covering stories in the field.  I was only allowed to remain to listen to the Mangrove Nine preliminary hearing after I showed my NUJ Press Card and got support from my Fleet Street colleagues, including Derrick Humphrey, a Sunday Times Reporter, who were also in the Press Gallery.  The Mangrove Nine case attracted a great deal of interest nationally.

Being a Black field journalist was hazardous to my health and my liberty at the time, particularly from the police. It seemed to members of the Black Community that their grassroots leadership was being destroyed or being made impotent.

I was the ‘Black Journalist’ who alerted my Fleet Street colleagues to the incident when the Police from the nearby Harrow Road Station, attempted to smashed their way in  a packed Metro Youth Club with Black members, one evening, during the summer. The Youth Club was registered  and supported by the authorities, and situated  at the corner of Tavistock Road/St. Lukes Road, London W11, in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

It was a standoff, by the Police and Club members. And it went on long enough for a swarm of Fleet Street journalists to get to the Club, and stood on the sidelines, observing the confrontation between the many members of the local police and  Black youth, those who were in the Club and those arriving from the local community. And, as a back drop, loud, thumping reggae Caribbean music, bellowing from the barricaded club in defiance. 

The Police said they came to the club because it was reported that a Black youth committed street robbery and ran into the club. Members of the police did not see the robbery and no one was brought to identify the alleged street robber. It was asked, ‘how could such a person be identified among eighty or more club members, nearly all of whom were Black youth?’

It was getting late and the youth in the club had to make their way home and eventually the  doors were opened from the inside. Members of the police rushed in. There was a fight between the police and club members. Many of the youth were arrested, and charged with assaults, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm and affray. These were typical charges placed on Black youth during the 1970s, in relations to their confrontations with members of the police. The Metro Club was subsequently demolished to make way for social housing.

Black youth confrontations were usually with members the police and not with ordinary citizens, except occasional skirmishes with Skinhead gangs, (White youth sub-culture) in self-defence.  Black youth did not fear the Police.

Many, but not all, Black and White youth were in competition, as is the case with youth the world over. In addition, White youth resented   the newcomers and thought they were intruders, because White youth were not adequately educated about the British Empire, Commonwealth Citizenships and the Mother Country Doctrine, all of which gave entitlement to the immigrants to enter, live and work in Britain without hindrances, at the time.

A White Skinhead was typically from the White working class.  The dilemma with which White skinheads had to grapple was that they loved reggae and soul music, the product and love of the Black Community. Black youth were good fighters and skinheads avoided them as they got to know their fighting capabilities. Confrontations between the Skinheads and Black youth gradually faded and disappeared altogether - ‘unity through music’.

Consistently, confrontations were between Black youth and members of the Police. The 1824 Vagrancy Act, Section 4 – ‘the suss laws’, contributed to creating tensions and ill feelings between the Police and members of the Black Community.

Some members of the Mangrove Nine also participated in organising the yearly Notting Hill Carnival, based in the same area as the Metro Youth Club and the Mangrove Restaurant. Some Black people perceptions were that the Police wanted to stop the carnival. The organisers and many of the carnival revellers   during the 1970s, resented the  "excessive police presence" at the carnival.

That resentfulness exploded in 1976 when it was aired on national TV, showing the police making quick retreats from chasing Black youth, to the extent that members of the police reached for dustbin lids to defend themselves from stones and bottles being thrown at them, by angry carnival goers. White youth also joined in the chasing and throwing  of stones and bottles at members of  the police.

There were significant racial tensions in the air, as it were, from the start of the 70s decade. It was a time of great social changes for both Black and White young people. People were talking about 'people' and 'flower' power. Authorities were being challenged and the qualities of British societal liberal democracy were being tested. There was a melting down of 'class barriers'. New artistic expressions were in the ascendency, including pop culture, pop music, reggae, soul and routine uses of drugs for recreational purposes. The young - Black and White - were believing in a type of 'freedom', which their parents had not experienced.

There was a targeted and fundamental challenge to authority which discriminated and oppressed. Members of the Black Community were in the frontline in seeking real changes. Particularly those who came  from the Caribbean with 500 years of a strong tradition of protests and resistance, since the period of chattel slavery and colonisation.

 Suing for changes, not only for members of the Black Community, but also for others, as history showed. That, based on the strong stance by members of the Black Community on equality matters, today in the 21 century we have race, gender, sexuality, disability and age equality laws.

None of which was present before the larger numbers of Black people arrived in the UK. The Jews, Irish, Travellers, Women, Homosexuals, the Disabled and the Aged were in Britain long before Black people arrived in post war Britain.

They did not call for, or made, these changes before the Afrikan people arrived, who felt dissatisfaction with the status quo of Britain’s social order, and set about demanding changes and introducing practical alternatives for the good of all.

The calling of the 'mangrove march' against "police brutality and repression," was consistent with the general mode for social change at the time. That call was made by members of the Black community, including customers of the Mangrove, a Community Restaurant, based at 8 All Saints Road, London W11. That was founded in 1969, and ran by Frank Critchlow, Trinidadian born.

The demonstration was partly motivated by the Metro Youth Club incident and the local police consistent heavy handed approach to community policing, and their unreasonable behaviour towards Black residents, particularly young Black people, who complained that they were regularly assaulted by members of the Police across the country. Many complained to no avail. Many Black youth were sent to youth detention facilities. The Mangrove Restaurant was raided by the police regularly, six times in one year.  The marchers targeted Harrow Road Police Station,  London W9, including  the other two local police stations: the Notting Hill station on Ladbroke Road and Sirdar Road in Notting Dale. The March was to finish at Harrow Road.

I was an Eye Witness during the start and end of the protest march on 9 August 1970. I was there when the March started from All Saints Road, heard short speeches by the organisers – Radford Howe (also known as Darcus) and Althea Jones-Lecointe. Both Black and White demonstrators were on the March, the majority of whom were members of the Black Community.

 I noted  the police attempts  to divert and block the demonstrators' along Portnall Road, London W9, two hours during the March, which resulted in a major street fight between the police and the very large number of angry Black youth marching against racism and police malpractices.

“Police helmets went flying, police officers were hit with bricks, bottles and sticks. The fighting lasted for fifteen minutes. The melee was spontaneous. It was an occasion when everyone for his and her self. It seemed impossible for the Senior  Police Officer in charge to control the situation. The March organisers also lost control.

Independent witness, Portall Road resident, retired postman, Mr. Harris, stated in court “I saw policemen and black demonstrators lying on the ground.”

Resulting from the demonstration, 17 people were arrested, the majority of whom were dealt with at the lower courts. It was suspected that the Mangrove Nine were selected for special treatment by the authorities ‘to be made an example of’.

I was in the Court when  not guilty and guilty verdicts were handed down to,  what came to be known as the ‘Mangrove Nine’,  on 16th December 1971. The trial lasted for 11 weeks and cost £50,000 of tax payers’ money. Statement issued by the Mangrove Nine at the time said:  “The streets are our only platform. We are going to use them to demonstrate our feelings about the social ills in this affluent Britain.”

One of the lessons learnt, from the 9 August  1970 demonstration  as C.L.R. James,  (1901-1989) said at the Metro Youth Club,  on 4 January 1971: “By that demonstration, you have written an important page of history, and it is the beginning of future pages.”

I documented a great deal of contemporary history, including preserving the Mangrove Nine story. The Mangrove Trial was one of many trials at the time, involving members of the protesting Black Community. Many members of the Black Community felt that they were under heavy attacks from members of the Police and pervasive racism nationally, in spite of the Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968.

Rt Hon. Enoch Powell (1912-1998), British Parliamentarian, then Conservative member for Wolverhampton South West, made his famous ‘River Tiber flowing with Blood’, speech on 20 April 1968, deliberately targeting immigration from the New Commonwealth – the Caribbean, Asia and Afrika. Mr Powel was dismissed from the Conservative Party for that outburst.

In addition, the Labour Government introduction of stringent immigration proposals in early 1971, which would reduce the flow of Black people coming to the UK, members of the immigrant communities were alarmed by the proposals.

Ironically, the Labour Party lost unexpectedly to the Conservative Party, and a Conservative Government used the Labour Government’s immigration proposals as  the basis for the 1971 Immigration Act, which was hardly discussed in Parliament.  The Act, as with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, and that of 1968, restricted immigration, especially primary immigration into the UK.

Unemployment and homelessness were high among Black youth. The Black Conscious Movement was in its ascendency, partly fuelled by the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, with the assassinations in 1965 of Malcolm X  (1925–1965) also known as Malcolm Little and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), in 1968

‘Black immigration and black power’ were emotive terms used by politicians, journalists and others to put irrational fears in the minds of White working class, during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Politicians gained votes and won elections by deploying these terms. In the 21st Century, these terms still hold potency. The term ‘Islamic Jihadist’ is now added to that list. A lethal combination of the terms – implicit and explicit - might be ‘immigrant, black power, jihadist’.

The Mangrove Nine, other Black activists and community advocates  were viewed by some members of the British Police and others, at that time, as ‘immigrant black power agitators’, rather than anti-racist activists, seeking to create a better Britain. Today, forty years later, right wing, intolerant politics and other elements seem to be on the ascendancy in Europe, which has a consistent historical record as an incubator for fascism. Should not the wise among us – irrespective of ethnicity and skin colour, be prepared and vigilant to work in partnership together, in countering potential and actual negative and imbalanced forces likely to challenge our Nation?

Black people of Afrikan heritage significant contributions to Britain’s Social History, during the past forty years and more, were made possible with the co-operation and support of many members of other British communities, like the Irish, the Jews, the English, the Scots, the Welch, the Asians, including the Indians, Pakistani, Chinese and Bangladeshis. Nevertheless, what was also clear in post-war Britain, from the Black Community’s perspective - self-help, direct actions and sacrifices were necessary to achieve success. We are our own saviours. Waiting for others to save us, is likely to retard our development.

Up-date on the Mangrove Restaurant

Civil rights leader Frank Critchlow, who established the Mangrove restaurant, Notting Hill, London, England in 1969, accepted a settlement of 50,000 pounds sterling in 12 October 1994, after police raided the premises by 48 officers in crash helmets and riot gear and planted drugs on him in 1988, the court was told.  He was well-known as a local community leader who set up anti-drug projects. In 1970 he co-organised a protest march after six raids in one year. His cafe became an advice and help centre. After the 1982 Scarman report,  he liaised between young blacks and authority. After the incident in 1988, Mr. Critchlow was held in custody and subsequently gave bail conditions which  banned him from going anywhere near his business for about a year. The business took a nose dive. The premises where the Mangrove stood is passed to new owners and no longer used for civil rights matters.

Afrikan Contributions to Britain's Social History Series

This is part of an extensive series of essays by Dr Vince Hines, looking at Afrikan contributions to Britain’s social history 1950-2000. Next instalment will discuss ‘ Black Power’, during the two decades of the 1960s-1970s, the  British Black Conscious  Movement, which was welcome mostly by the influx of immigrants into Britain from the Caribbean -  ‘Black Power’ Leadership and community gains.

 

©Vince Hines 2010. Zulu Publications British Social History Series.  Picture by Horace Ové 1970.

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