The vengeance of the state - eyewitness report from Highbury Magistrates Court, London - 18 Aug 2011

A week after the rebellion which swept across inner city areas of London, Birmingham and Manchester, the vengeance of the state is in full swing. So far over 2,770 people have been arrested. In London alone over 1,000 have been charged, with the Metropolitan police saying it has a target of 3,000 convictions. Courts are sitting through the night and the prisons are gaining an extra 100 occupants every day. London FRFI comrades report from Highbury Magistrates Court:

We sat in the crowded visitors’ gallery of the court, where 25 people were crammed into seating for 18, with relatives, friends and supporters, who were seeing the defendants for the first time after a week in custody. The defendants, young men aged 16 to 21 years, appeared in groups in the dock – they were not connected with each other – did not know each other and had been arrested in different areas on separate charges. Each had a solicitor, but it was clear that lawyers had minimum information about their clients. No pleas of guilty or not guilty were taken but the court’s presumption of guilt was very clear. Everyone with a previous conviction, anyone the judge considered a threat, and anyone who was said to have run away from the police, whether carrying stolen goods or not, was remanded in custody. They will return to court in early September.

There is a youth court at Highbury but it was decided that the juveniles be treated as adults. These young people were dealt with four at a time, with some implication that they were associated and therefore a ‘group’ – but relatives told us that they had never met one another. In future hearings younger prisoners will give evidence via video link instead of being brought to court. Youth prisoners even seem to have been remanded in adult prisons, which in some circumstances is unlawful. One young boy of 16 was told that as he had been fined during the custody period, the judge had no hesitation in sending him to an adult prison.

Britain has witnessed previous waves of inner city uprising over recent decades. The history of the events at Broadwater Farm, Tottenham in 1985 are particularly instructive. Following the death of Cynthia Jarrett during a police raid on her home, the community fought the police and PC Blakelock was killed. The subsequent framing of the men who became known as the Tottenham Three - Engin Raghip, Mark Braithwaite and Winston Silcott* – was just the tip of the iceberg of the repression that followed. Many young people in the area were becoming political, critical of the systems that kept them and their parents in relative poverty, impatient with the crass racism of the institutions that determined their lives. The police were under instructions to crack down hard on this community – and so they did. They broke into homes on the pretence of searching for stolen goods, arresting, detaining and insulting young and old, made multiple arrests and attempted to stage show trials. The policing regime was so repressive that eventually Amnesty International reported on the Broadwater Farm events and Observer journalist David Rose wrote a book about the events called, Climate of Fear.*

Today we are seeing a repeat of this climate of fear as the police and courts rampage over the rights of working class people. We are again witnessing the full power of the state’s vengeance against the working class – brought about by outrage that, if only for a short time, the expropriators have been expropriated. It is absolutely vital that those going through the courts and into the prisons are defended and supported. FRFI will be continuing to attend court hearings and will work with any organisation providing legal or political defence and support to the defendants and prisoners.

*Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! campaigned against police brutality and racism. See


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