Hillsborough and Orgreave - Questions of state power

Hillsborough and Orgreave

The final verdict of the Hillsborough inquest jury on 26 April 2016 has now established police responsibility for the 96 deaths in 1989. It took 27 years for the victims to get justice. The striking miners who were charged with riot at Orgreave in June 1984 are still waiting for an independent inquiry into police conduct. The Hillsborough verdict has reopened the issue of Orgreave, not least because the same police force was involved. Carol Brickley argues that these events are more than a question of police incompetence and corruption. What lies behind this contemptuous treatment of working class people are questions of state power.

Hillsborough – ‘a tanked-up mob’?

The scene of the Hillsborough disaster was the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in Sheffield in April 1989. When two central pens in the Liverpool stands became overcrowded and fans were already being crushed, police opened the stadium gates, adding to the lethal pressure. Liverpool supporters were already dying, but the police delayed the opening of escape routes on to the pitch and allowed only one ambulance into the ground, telling emergency crews that there was fighting inside. The dead and the injured had to be taken to the stadium’s gym where relatives were treated with cold contempt.

The cover-up of police responsibility began immediately. Lies were spread about drunken, ticketless, violent Liverpool fans. The Sunnewspaper and other media reported that the fans had robbed the dead and urinated on the police who were helping the injured. The sources for this slander were high-ranking officers in the South Yorkshire Police and the local Tory MP. The police ran criminal record checks on the dead in order to smear them. Working class football fans were the latest section of the population to be labelled ‘undeserving’ and ‘the enemy within’, just as black British youth had been vilified by police, media and the political elite following the uprisings of the 1980s and since.

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Protest against Close Supervision Centres

KT protest

A secret world exists within the high security prison estate in England, known as the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system. The dehumanisation of CSC prisoners begins at a very early stage, in the official justification for the creation of the CSC system, which focuses on the need to contain a new breed of unmanageable and unpredictable risks. It continues with the creation of classificatory categories of ‘dangerousness’ which objectify prisoners and make more of the category and less of the human in them, and it is reinforced by the tightly controlled and highly regulated routines.

In addition to isolation and extremely restricted movements, prisoners’ in-cell belongings are carefully regulated and subjected to relentless scrutiny and inspection. Prisoners remain in CSC units for years, decades even, made frustrated, angry and bored by their experiences with few avenues to vent their anger and with almost no opportunities to advance through the system. All perceived acts of disobedience or non-compliance by CSC prisoners, even of the most petty kind, are responded to brutally by gangs of prison officers clad in full riot gear who show no mercy when demonstrating their authority and power, sanctioned by Prison Service management at the highest levels. Rather than controlling violence, as it officially aims to do, this hyper-controlled environment breeds it.

Having now spent six years subject to the unofficial punishment of allocation to the CSC myself, it is clear that without real pressure to force the required change nothing but more negative and oppressive measures will be added.

Please lend your support for the abolition of the CSC system by attending the protest demonstration:

21 July between 12.30pm and 2.30pm outside the offices of the Prison Ombudsman and Independent Monitoring Board,  Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge, London SE1 9HS.

Kevan Thakrar A4907AE

Close Supervision Centre, HMP Wakefield, 5 Love Lane, Wakefield WF2 9AG



Joint enterprise – a racist dragnet

On 18 February 2016 the Supreme Court and Privy Council issued an important judgment in relation to convictions on the basis of ‘joint enterprise’. Prison landings were immediately buzzing with excitement, as prisoners convicted of murder or other serious crimes of which they were not the actual perpetrator saw the possibility of an end to their ordeal. Unfortunately the reality is more complex but this is still a very positive step and a credit to the campaign group JENGbA* and others who have fought to get this ruling. Nicki Jameson reports.

Since 1984 the law has been that if someone took part in any criminal activity along with another person or persons, and they foresaw even the slimmest possibility that their co-perpetrators would go on to commit a more serious crime, they would by extension be guilty of the greater offence, even though they played no active part in it. This principle (referred to in the courts as ‘parasitic accessorial liability’) goes way beyond the original idea of ‘joint enterprise’ in which two or more people agree to do something, even though only one of them actually carries it out.

This has been used, with devastating effect, to achieve mass convictions for ‘gang-related’ crimes. In 2001 a fatal stabbing at a So Solid Crew gig in Luton resulted in six murder convictions, including that of one person who had left the scene and was several streets away by the time of the stabbing. In 2012, 20 people were charged in relation to another fatal stabbing which occurred in Victoria station, although ultimately most were not convicted of murder. In both these and many similar cases the accused are almost without exception young black men and the process has been quite rightly described by campaigners as a racist ‘dragnet’.

Similarly, in the north of Ireland in the early 1990s, in scenes reminiscent of the mass internment of the 1970s, groups of teenagers alleged to have participated in attacks on British soldiers were rounded up and imprisoned on little or no evidence, with the joint enterprise doctrine just one of a whole number of legal ways used to criminalise community resistance to occupation.

The Privy Council – legacy of colonialism

The judgment issued on 18 February concerned two separate but similar cases; that of Ameen Jogee, decided by the Supreme Court on appeal from courts in England, and that of Shirley Ruddock, who was convicted in Jamaica in 2010, and who appealed to the Jamaican appeal court and from there to the Privy Council in London.

The Privy Council of the United Kingdom – which dates back to Norman times – is a body of senior politicians who advise the queen on matters of state. (Remember the fuss over whether Jeremy Corbyn would swear allegiance to the queen in order to become a member.) The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council acts as the highest court for certain obscure domestic matters and as the final court of appeal for people convicted in former British colonies which have not yet passed legislation untangling their legal frameworks from that of their old imperialist master. These include Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas, and Antigua and Barbuda, all of which have the death penalty.

Similarly, the 1984 case which the current the judgment describes as ‘taking a wrong turn’ in the law arose from an appeal in Hong Kong in 1980 by Tse Wai-Ming against his joint conviction for murder with two other men. (The case is referred to by the name of the first defendant, Chan Wing-Siu.) At the time Hong Kong was still a British dependent territory which – unlike Britain itself – had retained the death penalty, to which the three men were sentenced.

Liberal British lawyers and law students do lots of pro bono work for appellants to the Privy Council in the same way that they go to the US to work on death row. It is not a bad thing that they do this work in itself; however many of them – including former Director of Public Prosecutions and now Labour MP Keir Starmer – accompany their advocacy with a ‘white man’s burden’ defence of the colonial structure, opposing the delinking of these countries’ legal systems from Britain’s. Aside from the obvious paternalism involved in appeals from any former colony continuing to go to a British court, the reality is that the Privy Council does not always rule in favour of the appellants. The ‘wrong turn’ in the case of Chan, Wong and Tse in 1984 meant that the death penalty against them was upheld. The Privy Council’s continuance means that, despite the abolition of the death penalty in Britain, courts here can still order state executions – these are in essence racist decisions, made by white judges in Britain about the lives of black and Asian people elsewhere.

How to appeal against a joint enterprise conviction

The judgment in the cases of Jogee and Ruddock reverses the courts’ earlier adoption of ‘parasitic accessorial liability’ so that evidence of foresight in such cases returns to being just that – evidence, which the jury can attach whatever weight to it thinks is appropriate, as opposed to its constituting automatic authorisation of the crime and hence equal guilt.

In these two specific cases, the men’s murder convictions have been quashed and lawyers will be making further submissions as to whether they should be convicted of manslaughter or retried. For anyone else who has been convicted in similar circumstances, nothing will happen automatically. You will need to approach the Court of Appeal, possibly out of time, or apply to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

If you need advice on whether you have a case for appeal and do not already have a criminal solicitor advising on this, you can contact the Centre for Criminal Appeals, Room 29, 2-10 Princeton Street, London WC1R 4BH; telephone: 020 7040 0019.

*JENGbA stands for Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association. You can contact JENGbA at Office A, Norland House, Queensdale Crescent, London W11 4TL; tel 07709 115 793; website: www.jointenterprise.com

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 250 April/May 2016

Cameron and Gove’s ‘prison reform’ plans

The current prison population of England and Wales stands at 85,930, exceeding the Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA) limit, – the number of prisoners who can be held in decent and safe accommodation – of 77,272. This means that 8,658 men and women are being held above safe capacity, with at least five prisons operating at over 150% of CNA.

It is well known that prisons are not fit for purpose and offer very little in terms of rehabilitation or care for some of the most vulnerable people in society, with 59% reoffending post-release after a sentence of 12 months or less. Despite this, successive governments, both Labour and Tory, have endlessly repeated the mantra that ‘prison works’ and that the way forward is through yet more incarceration.

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Birmingham Six - Free! At last!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 100 - April/May 1991

'I don't think the people in there have got the intelligence to spell the word justice, never mind dispense it. They're rotten!'

Paddy Hill outside the Old Bailey, 14 March 1990

On his release Paddy Hill summed up the character of the British judicial system — rotten to the core. The collapse of the case against the Birmingham 6 exposed the enormity of the cover up over which 11 judges had presided. Without them the intricate web of lies and deception woven by prison officers and 25 police officers, including former Police Superintendent George Reade, could not have withstood the repeated challenges of the Birmingham 6 and their solicitors. LORNA REID examines the biggest political, judicial and police conspiracy in the annals of 'British justice'.

Before the final appeal the Director of Public Prosecutions announced he no longer relied on forensic evidence, or on the evidence of the police officers involved, to support the convictions.

It has been argued by the British establishment and media that the convictions were unsafe because of the discovery of new evidence. If this were true it would exonerate the judges. In fact, the evidence which forced the High Court to release the Six had been put to the court in 1975: the confessions were fabricated and the forensic evidence was unreliable.

Mr Justice Bridge (now Lord Bridge) did not allow the 1975 jury to look at the transcripts of the confessions: the jury would have spotted that they were not worth the paper they were written on.

Bridge rubbished the evidence of Dr Black who testified that the tests carried out by Dr Skuse would have given a positive reading from hands which had been in contact with playing cards or tobacco. Skuse, who was '99 per cent' sure the men had been in contact with explosives, was retired in 1985 on grounds of 'limited efficiency'.

Bridge summed up the trial by saying if the defendants were telling the truth, this was: The greatest conspiracy in the annals of criminal history.' A great conspiracy is exactly what the case against the Birmingham 6 amounted to.


On a further five occasions the Birmingham 6 went through the judicial system to prove their innocence and each time their pleas were rejected.

  • In March 1976 Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, Lord Lawton and Mr Justice Thompson dismissed their appeal. Lord Widgery concluded there was no evidence that they had been beaten 'beyond the ordinary'.
  • In June 1976 Judge Swanwick acquitted 14 prison officers of assaulting the Six at Winson Green prison. He claimed the men had made 'lying accusations against the police at Lancaster [the venue for the 1975 trial] in order to try and wriggle out of their true confessions.' He did not say who beat the men, although it was accepted they had been beaten.
  • In November 1977 the Six sued for injuries inflicted by the police at Morecambe and New Street, Birmingham. In January 1980 Lord Denning upheld a police appeal for the action to be struck out as an abuse of process. Justifying his decision he said: 'If the six men win, it will mean that the police were guilty of perjury, that they were guilty of violence and threats, and the convictions were erroneous ... This is such an appalling vista that every per-son in the land would say: "It cannot be right that these actions should go any further" . '
  • In January 1987 Douglas Hurd, the Home Secretary, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal and ordered a new inquiry by the Devon and Cornwall police after Granada TV's World in Action questioned the reliability of the forensic evidence.

In January 1988 the appeal was dismissed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, who said: 'The longer this hearing has gone on the more convinced this court has become that the verdict of the jury [in the 1975 case] was correct.'

  • In April 1988 the Six were refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords. Lord Denning said: 'It is better that some innocent men remain in gaol than the integrity of the English judicial system should be impugned.'

At every stage of the Birmingham 6 case, the state has concerned itself with keeping the lid on its box of lies. Each time new evidence came forward to discredit the original judgement the source and/or the witness were ridiculed and defamed.

Dr Black was scorned by Lord Bridge. Tom Clarke, an ex-police officer who came forward in 1986 to say the Six were subjected to intimidation and violence at the police station, was branded a liar. Likewise Joyce Lines, an ex-police officer who, despite being threatened, testified at the men's appeal in 1987/1988 that they had indeed been beaten up by police officers was considered by Lords Lane, O'Connor and Brown as 'a witness who was not worthy of belief.'

Dr Janet Drayton who assisted Dr Skuse in carrying out the forensic tests gave evidence at the 1987/88 appeal and contradicted Skuse on more than one occasion. She said she discovered 'possible' nitroglycerine present on one of Paddy Hill's hands. Lord Lane, in his summing up, wilfully turned this `possible' into a 'definite' and found her testimony was 'fatal' to the appeal of the Six.

Graham Boal, counsel for the Prosecution at the latest appeal, made a last attempt at proving the six men's 'guilt': he suggested that the judges might consider the convictions could be unsatisfactory, but still safe! And, seeing that the court was unimpressed by this desperate logic, he accused John Walker of being 'if not a brigadier, a quarter-master' in the IRA!

In 1990 Lord Denning was involved in a row with The Spectator over an interview in which he suggested that the community would not have worried had the Birmingham 6 hanged. After the DPP made it clear that the men's convictions could not be regarded as safe and satisfactory, Denning made a pathetic attempt to make amends: As I look back, I am very sorry because I always thought that our police were splendid and first class and I am sorry that in this case it appears to be the contrary.'

The British judiciary is as unrepentant today as it was in 1975. If it thought it could get away with it, the Birmingham 6 would still be in gaol. It has been forced to release the men because of an ever growing public lobby.


The British state has only been able to pursue the frame-up of the Birmingham 6 to such an extent because for years precious little political opposition was mounted outside the forces mustered by the men's families and a few political organisations.

In particular, the Labour Party has gone along with the conspiracy. This is hardly surprising given it was a Labour Government which oversaw the men's arrests and trial.

On the day the Six were released Roy Hattersley, Shadow Home Secretary said he felt 'relief that so grotesque a miscarriage of justice has at last been righted . . . anger that it had ever happened at all, and that it was allowed to continue for so long.'

This hypocrisy stinks. The day after the bombings in November 1974 the Labour Government rushed through Parliament the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary, said the Government's opposition to the IRA would mean 'substantial but necessary limitations in personal freedom.'

The deployment of British troops on the streets of the North of Ireland, the building of the H-blocks, the denial of political status to Irish prisoners of war - all carried out under a Labour administration - not to mention the thousands of arrests and detentions of Irish people under the PTA, demonstrate how far the Labour Party has gone to 'limit' the freedom of the Irish.

The Labour Party went along with the conspiracy and did nothing to secure the release of the Birmingham 6. In a speech in March 1983 during the Parliamentary debate to renew the PTA, MP Kevin McNamara (now Labour spokesperson on Northern Ireland) said: . . . ordinary decent coppers using ordinary decent police methods apprehended those responsible for the Birmingham outrages.'

In December 1987 Gerald Kaufman MP, Shadow Home Secretary, refused to sign a declaration calling for the immediate release of the Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 on the grounds that it would undermine his position.

As late as 1988 the Labour Party NEC (National Executive Committee) refused to add its support to claims that the Guildford 4 were innocent.

It was not until after the DPP's announcement not to contest the new appeal that Neil Kinnock called for the release of the Birmingham 6.

The case of the Birmingham 6 holds valuable lessons. Roy Jenkins' denial of democratic rights in his rush to introduce the PTA in 1975 was echoed by Margaret Thatcher when she introduced the broadcasting ban in 1988: `To beat off your enemy in a war you have to suspend some of your civil liberties for a time.' The concept of an enemy within, for that is how the Irish com-munity in Britain is regarded, has since been extended to include the black communities who resisted police harassment in 1981 and 1985, the striking miners of 1984/85 and, more recently, anti-Poll Tax protesters.

For as long as the British state, its judges and police, remain unchallenged in their war against the Irish people the British working class cannot successfully execute its own struggle for democratic rights.

On their release the Birmingham 6 called for the release of Judith Ward, the Tottenham 3 and the Bridgewater 4 and other innocent prisoners. Who will work for their release? Not the Royal Commission whose agenda will be quite different. Not the police, the judges or the politicians who imprisoned them in the first place. It is the task of the working class to ensure that the ruling class conspiracy to gaol our people, to take away our hard won civil liberties, is exposed. The Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 are free. Now free Judith Ward, the Tottenham 3, Bridgewater 4 and all framed prisoners.



Lord Bridge 1975

'You have been convicted on the clearest and most overwhelming evidence I have ever heard in a case of murder.' am entirely satisfied, and the jury by their verdicts have shown that they are satisfied that all the investigations were carried out with scrupulous propriety.'


Lord Lane 1988

'The longer this hearing has gone on the more convinced this court has become that the verdict of the jury was correct.'


Det. Supt. George Reade

Responsible for the police 'investigation': brutality, intimidation, false confessions


Click here for an interview with John Walker (one of the Birmingham 6) conducted by political prisoner John Bowden.