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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Toxteth's long road to recovery
Eversley Street in Granby
Many streets still await the demolition crews
Liverpool's Toxteth area still sufferers from many of the problems which helped spark rioting 20 years ago, writes BBC News Online's Finlo Rohrer.

More than a week of rioting in 1981 left Toxteth, an already deprived Liverpool neighbourhood, looking like a war zone.

The severity of the disturbances, in which as many as 140 buildings were destroyed, sent shock waves across the country, even as far as Westminster.

Toxteth after the 1981 riots
Rioters torched many buildings
The aftermath of the riot saw the home secretary, William Whitelaw, tour the smoking ruins before Margaret Thatcher herself chose to visit.

What resulted was a three-week stay by Michael Heseltine, dubbed the "minister for Merseyside" for his efforts at regeneration. But the development money that came with him failed to win over many critics.

Lady Margaret Simey, chair of the police authority during the riots, says the funding effort was misconceived.

No bed of roses

"[In Liverpool] they spent it on a garden festival and to this day it stands derelict.

"They knocked down a great deal of housing and built new housing, in the process destroying the Caribbean community, dispersing a very close-knit and strong community.

Lady Margaret Simey
Lady Margaret Simey criticised police conduct
The 95-year-old, who cut her teeth in the suffragette movement, sees a common thread running through the riots in Toxteth and more recent disturbances in Oldham, Burnley, Leeds, Bradford and even the riots in Gothenburg.

"If you analyse all these riots they are people who feel injustice and they are damned if they are going to suffer it. The answer is invariably that we will give them some money. But money won't cure injustice. The injustice in Toxteth is still as acute as ever."

Race is still at the root of the area's woes, she says.

"It is not the unemployment people resent - Liverpool's has always been higher. It's that if you happen also to have a black face, there is no escape from the poverty."

Ghost town

Wally Brown contributed to Lord Gifford's 1988 inquiry into policing and race in Toxteth which identified a "unique and horrific" breed of racism.

He has now been principal of Liverpool Community College for a decade. But he still sees familiar problems on its rundown streets.

Rebuilt Rialto
Symbolic value: The rebuilt Rialto
"Physically, the Rialto complex [burned in the riots] has been rebuilt. But if you go down Granby Street, it is in a worse state than it was then. In terms of the road as a social centre, it is virtually non-existent."

Mr Brown is equally pessimistic about the current residents' lot. "In real terms, the young people who were involved on the street, their equivalents today are no better off than their counterparts 20 years ago."

And he has been worried by the recent spate of riots elsewhere in the northwest. "The events in Oldham just remind us of the level of overt racism that is just under the surface."

Racism continues

"So many people voting for the BNP is worrying. But there is no way they could have got any votes in L8 [the local postcode]."

Gideon Ben-Tovim was a member of the Community Relations Council at the time of the riots. He is now a leading city councillor and the chairman of the governors at a new school in the heart of Toxteth.

Gideon Ben-Tovim
City councillor Gideon Ben-Tovim is optimistic
A notice in the entrance promises: "A place where children of all races and religions will find safety and respect for themselves, their families and their traditions."

It is a small symbol of hope but it stands in a street where every house is boarded up and awaiting demolition.

Granby Street itself is still very rundown. Not all the residents are happy about the sudden influx of journalists.

There have been three shootings in as many weeks, as well as a suspicious fire at a Somali community centre, and it would be foolhardy to walk around with a camera in broad daylight.

Tensions with police ease

Mr Ben-Tovim says some progress has been made. "In the period since [the riots] I think its probably right to say that the police community relations are less tense, although that's not to say there aren't still issues.

Granby Street
Three shootings in as many weeks
"But the police harassment that was widespread and systematic has certainly diminished."

While problems remain, Liberal Democrat council leader Mike Storey is upbeat about Granby and Toxteth, speaking of "tremendous optimism".

"There has been a huge investment in the area. Unemployment has been halved. There is a multicultural school, a women's hospital."

He said the Heseltine-style "patrician" approach to development had now been replaced by something that is "bottom up".

But Toxteth was not alone, he says, there were equally deprived estates on the outskirts of what was a "poor city".

Looking forward

Rod Yeoman, of CDS Housing, based in the rebuilt Rialto complex, said there was a thriving set of housing co-operatives in Toxteth as well as bigger projects.

"We actually think that the reference point of talking about the riots is a problem. The area has moved on from that. We need to start from a new idea not keep harping back. It has problems but it has changed."

Derelict shop
Many shops stand derelict or empty
Jacquie Hardy, secretary of Granby Residents' Association, saw the riots and their aftermath at first hand. She, too, voices optimism.

"The area's beginning to look up, but you do get people saying we will never get out of this rot, that the area's too run down."

But a newer menace has added to Toxteth's problems, Ms Hardy says.

"The only thing that causes the tension now is the drugs. You see a lot of people around on crack. I've had friends who've become addicted to the stuff and we just want the drugs out of the area."

Find out more about the violence in northern England during the summer of 2001


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