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Wednesday 10 February 2010

Rough Justice

Tucked away on the Beeb website today is the news that an arrest has been made in connection with the brutal murder 25 years ago of PC Keith Blakelock, hacked to death at the height of rioting on Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm estate. Blakelock was a beat bobby in Muswell Hill, but had been drafted in to provide cover for the London Fire Brigade, who had been called out to tackle a fire on the estate. As the rioting intensified, the firefighters withdrew, followed by the police. Blakelock tripped and fell, and was overtaken by a large mob.

A generation ago, the behaviour of the police, and the methods they employed, were rather different to today: put simply, under pressure to solve the murder of one of their own, the Met fitted up three men for the crime: Mark Braithwaite, Engin Raghip and most notoriously Winston Silcott, who was already on bail for murder. Silcott was effectively convicted on the basis of an unsigned confession, given in the absence of a solicitor.

But what was equally memorable about the trial of the men who became known as the “Tottenham Three” was the behaviour of the tabloid press, most notoriously the Murdoch Sun (then edited by the serially unapologetic Kelvin McKenzie) and the Rothermere Daily Mail, then under the editorship of David English. Both papers have reported the latest arrest, but equally have glossed over their disgraceful demonisation of Silcott during his trial.

The portrayal of Silcott by both Mail and Sun was straightforwardly racist: he was big, and he was black. Therefore he was guilty. No further discussion entered. Neither paper significantly modified its stance when Silcott and his two co-accused were cleared of the murder on appeal four years later: indeed, when Silcott received compensation from the Met, the vilification returned.

But today’s Mail and Sun merely tell that Silcott had been wrongly convicted of the Blakelock murder. Being a leading tabloid means never having to say you’re sorry.

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