New Cross massacre: Police, press and Parliament cover up

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 9 - March/April 1981

On 18 January 1981 a fire deliberately started at a birthday party at 439 New Cross Road, South London, resulted in the cold blooded murder of 13 black children. Mrs Amza Ruddock, who held the birthday party for her 16 year old daughter, Yvonne, lost two children — Yvonne and Paul. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! extends its deepest sympathy and solidarity to the relatives and friends of the dead and injured. Those who died are Lillian Henry (16) Lloyd Hall (20) Patricia Johnstone (15) Jerry Francis (16) Steve Collins (17) Andrew Gooding (14) Humphrey Brown (18) Peter Campbell (18) Patrick Cummings (16) Owen Thompson (16) Glen Powell (16) Yvonne Ruddock (16) and Paul Ruddock (22). 29 other children were injured, some very severely.

There is a long history of racist and fascist attacks on black people in South London. Within one mile radius of 439 New Cross Road, 4 places have been burned down in the last few years, and shortly before the massacre black people's cars in the area were burnt out by racists. Black people are therefore rightly convinced that the New Cross Massacre was another such murderous and deadly attack. Obscene letters have been received by relatives of the dead and injured gloating over the attack and stating that this is the first of many. One of the letters, received by Mrs Haynes, mother of one of the injured stated 'What a great day it was last Sunday when I heard about the fire and all those niggers going up in flames ...' The response of the black community to the massacre has therefore been a massive anger, shown by meetings of up to 1000 people.

After one meeting at the Moonshot club in Deptford of 1000 people, youth demonstrating in the road outside 439 New Cross Road caused the police to divert the traffic for one and a half hours. Large and angry meetings have been held not only in London but up and down the country in support of the Black People's Day of Action called on 2 March by the New Cross Massacre Action Committee. This activity culminated in the 15,000 strong demonstration on 2 March which showed the militancy, anger and determination of black people. To date £10,000 has been raised for the New Cross Fire Fund, coming mostly from working class black men, women and children and including £82 from Wormwood Scrubs C Wing. Black people's response to the racist murders has been anger and the need to organise. But what has been the response of the police, the press and parliament?

Police and press collude in cover-up

The police and press have colluded in every way to twist and distort the facts of the massacre. The police maintain against all odds that there is 'no evidence' that this was yet another racist attack. Police 'theories' about the fire have been widely publicised by the press. This publicity has included distortions and outright lies. Police have suggested that there was trouble at the party and that the fire was caused by gate-crashers in revenge for not being allowed in. On the contrary Mrs Ruddock has stated that on 3 occasions gatecrashers were turned away peacefully and that there was no trouble. Other theories advanced by the police are that the fire was caused by cannabis smokers or by the presence of large quantities of alcohol on the premises. Both these 'theories' have been dismissed outright by Mrs Ruddock.

The evidence of Carl Wright, a youth who attended the party has been twisted by the police and press for their own ends — that is to 'prove' that the fire was not started by racists. Carl, who left the party at 5.45am was walking towards New Cross station when he turned round to see if his brother was following. At that moment he saw a man making a throwing action and simultaneously he heard the sound of breaking glass at 439 New Cross Road. This person then got into a white Austin Princess car and drove off. By the time Carl had run back to the house the entire ground level was ablaze. Carl told the police that he could not see whether the person was a black or white man. And yet it was reported in the press that a black man had been seen driving away from the fire! The police are doing everything in their power to rule out what should be the main line of enquiry—that of a racist attack. On 25 February they detained several black youths for 'questioning' in an attempt to sow confusion prior to the Day of Action. This attempt was actively collaborated in by the Daily Mail. On 25 February a story written by Peter Burden, Chief Crime Correspondent of the Daily Mail appeared under the headlines: 'Killer Blaze Charge Soon'. The report stated that black youths were being questioned and held with a view to charging them with the murders. Radio and TV stations picked up the story and used it. Yet there was not one grain of truth in it. Scotland Yard said that the story was completely untrue. Yet no doubt they, in cahoots with the Daily Mail, planted the story. Once again we see British journalists actively assist the British state. A number of journalists got their come-uppance at the 2 March Day of Action — when they were given a taste of rough justice. It was nothing more than they deserved. The reason for the cover up is easy to guess. The police are terrified that black people will take matters into their own hands and the authorities will tell any lie under the sun to prevent that.

Parliament and MPs silent

The police and press are not the only ones engaged in the cover up. Despite the fact that the New Cross Massacre is the worst atrocity suffered by black people in this country, yet it took the Day of Action to force MPs to raise it in Parliament. Local Labour MP John Silkin, whose Labour party office is but a few doors away from the scene of the fire, has said not one word in the House of Commons, and, up to 3 weeks after the massacre, had not sent any message to the relatives. As an angry black woman stated at a press conference — if the fire had taken place in a dog's home and killed 12 dogs, there would have been more response. While there had been no mention of New Cross in parliament William Whitelaw made a big point of announcing a special committee of enquiry into racist attacks on black people, only 2 weeks after the massacre. And yet who is to give evidence to this committee? The racist British police!

Ruling class encourages racists and fascists

Far from exposing racists and fascists, the ruling class covers up for them, finding them a useful unofficial auxiliary to the major racist institutions of the British state — the police, the courts, the prisons. The ruling class is well aware that murders and atrocities have been carried out against black people for years and are increasing. British Movement members recently found guilty of possessing whole arsenals of weapons have been given sentences of only a few years, while black youth picked up on SUS are given long sentences for nothing, just on the word of a policeman. Jill Knight MP has recently been coming out with racist abuse about West Indian parties, attacking them as a source of nuisance and demanding that they be controlled. This provocation came after harassment carried out by police against black youth holding a party in Ladywood Birmingham to raise funds for recreational facilities denied to them by the Labour council. Jill Knight's racist and provocative abuse was followed by an NF march in Birmingham against West Indian parties. Shortly after that, the New Cross Massacre took place. In this way, the ruling class paved the way for the racist attack which killed 13 black children.

While the racist police and the British imperialist state carry out attacks against black people, they attempt to cover up those who carried out the New Cross Massacre. They must be stopped.

What you can do

Money is urgently needed. FRFI has raised £175 for the New Cross Fire Fund. 

Send messages of sympathy and solidarity to: New Cross Massacre Action Committee c/o 74 Shakespeare Road London SE24

Raise a motion in your trade union branch condemning the massacre and send money to the fund


Olivia Adamson South London FRFI



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