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Last Updated: Monday, 20 October, 2003, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
Winston Silcott: An infamous past
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Winston Silcott
Winston Silcott: 17 years in prison
For the past 17 years Winston Silcott has been an infamous figure in the media - still linked to a murder the courts now say he did not commit.

Twice convicted of murder, and cleared of one of the killings on appeal, he has long been a symbolic figure for campaigners who believe his jailing had more to do with prejudice than justice.

Silcott, 43, was released from prison on Monday.

But to this day he remains infamous for the murder he was wrongly convicted of (a white policeman), rather than the one for which he has served almost 18 years in jail (a black nightclub bouncer).

His conviction for the murder of PC Keith Blakelock was ultimately overturned by the Court of Appeal but he remained in jail for the earlier murder of Anthony Smith, an incident which he claims was self defence.

Broadwater Farm riots

Silcott came to public attention in the aftermath of the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots in Tottenham, north London.

PC Blakelock
PC Keith Blakelock: Hacked to death
He and two other men were convicted of hacking PC Blakelock to death in an attack described as one of extraordinary violence.

Mr Justice Hodgson said Silcott was a "vicious and evil" man who should serve at least 30 years.

Despite having been cleared of the killing in 1991 (along with the other men), Silcott's supporters say he remains a popular focus of hate because of a seemingly racist targeting by a section of the media who, like some police officers, remain convinced he did it and got off on a technicality.

Stop and search allegations

Silcott was born in 1959 to parents Bill and Mary, who had arrived in England from Montserrat during the Commonwealth immigration of the 1950s.

Broadwater Farm: 1985 riots
The Silcotts were members of the local Seventh Day Adventists church, and Winston was reportedly a regular member of the congregation during this teens.

But Silcott's supporters say he began to suffer seemingly regular stop-and-searches by the police, incidents which hardened his attitude and made him increasingly unco-operative whenever they happened.

His mother says the first time he was stopped was for not having any lights on his bicycle when he was 14-years-old.

By the time he had reached 20, he had a complete distrust of the police - and every time he was stopped they became more and more suspicious of him in return, not least because he displayed an aggressive and, to say the least, unco-operative attitude.

In 1984 Silcott attended a blues party where he became involved in a fight with bouncer and boxer Anthony Smith. The circumstances were messy with claim and counter-claim.

Silcott insisted that he had been rushed by more than one man and had acted in self-defence. The jury convicted him of murder.

This was not his first conviction for a violent offence as he had received a six months sentence in 1979 after a night club brawl.

But it was the Blakelock conviction which came immediately afterwards which transformed him into a national figure.

Today, miscarriage of justice campaigners say the years of articles portraying Silcott as a police-killing monster have made his case for self-defence in the Smith conviction virtually impossible to hear.

Images of fear

Milena Buyum, vice-chair of pressure group the National Assembly Against Racism, said Silcott will find it difficult to shake off his media character, no matter what happens in his campaign against the Smith conviction.

"Just as he was being released the media are showing the picture of Winston Silcott that makes him appear as someone who should be feared," she said.

"This is an image that's been built up over the years and I think there is a belief among police officers that he is guilty of the Blakelock killing, even though he was cleared in a court of law."

Ms Buyum said the "M25 Three", was a classic example of how those who had been wrongly convicted found it difficult to shake off the taint of imprisonment.

Raphael Rowe, Michael Davis and Randolph Johnson were cleared by the Court of Appeal in 2000.

But, said Ms Buyum, their 10 years in jail meant there were many who refused to believe they were not guilty of the crimes they had been cleared of.

So what happens now to Winston Silcott? Freed from jail under licence he may never be free of media interest. His chances of a quiet return to Tottenham are probably slim.

He has made it clear that he will fight to clear his name of the Smith murder. But in doing so, he will remain a public figure - and to many a notorious one at that.




SEE ALSO:
Silcott freed from jail
20 Oct 03  |  London
Silcott to be freed from jail
15 Oct 03  |  London
Silcott moved to open prison
21 Jun 02  |  England


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