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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 12:30 GMT
Winston Silcott: Not free yet
By Kurt Barling
Presenter, Who Killed Pc Blakelock?

Winston Silcott is still getting used to life outside prison. But 19 years after the death of Pc Keith Blakelock, the legacy of the Broadwater Farm riots hasn't gone away.

Anyone who has lost a loved one through murder needs two questions to be answered: who did it and why? For almost two decades there have been no satisfactory answers for the family of Pc Keith Blakelock.

The sequence of events on 6 October 1985 that ended with the murder of Pc Blakelock was sparked by the death from a heart-attack of a middle-aged black woman, Cynthia Jarrett, during a police raid on her home. Police said they were looking for stolen property; they found none, but Mrs Jarrett's death sent shockwaves through Tottenham's West Indian community.

At the heart of the tragic story are two names which have become inseparable, part of the mythology of one of the most traumatic episodes of civil unrest in modern British history. Keith Blakelock and Winston Silcott.

By a quirk of fate I had been at Broadwater Farm at the start of that night of mayhem, having dropped my brother-in-law at his girlfriend's flat, yards from where the worst violence would take place. Within an hour came frantic phone calls for me to return to get him out of the flat. Blazing vehicles and petrol bombs had filled the flat with bitter smoke. But he couldn't get out until the following day because of a police cordon.

Conviction overturned

There was once an answer to both questions: who and why?

Keith Blakelock
Keith Blakelock, 40 when he died, was father of three children
In July 1987 a jury convicted three men, Winston Silcott, Mark Braithwaite and Engin Raghip of murder. The jury had heard Silcott was the ringleader. The judge branded him "a very vicious and evil man". The press, not just the tabloids, created a monster to stalk the nightmares of Middle England - in Silcott's own words, the image was of a "big black man to be fearful of".

He was released on a life licence last October for the killing - he claims in self-defence - of another man, Anthony Smith. But it was in 1991 that the Court of Appeal made an unprecedented apology to the three men convicted of Pc Blakelock's murder and overturned their convictions.

Ever since there have been constant insinuations that just because there wasn't enough evidence to convict does not mean Silcott is innocent.

When I first met Silcott, he struck me as a melancholic but mellow man of my own age, 43. He still had the remnants of a huge beard he had grown all the time he was in prison - ironically, it had broken off under its own weight when he was on day release.

So where was Silcott on that night, and what was he doing? He freely acknowledges he was on the Broadwater Farm, trying - he says - to protect his greengrocer shop in the notorious Tangmere house. That was where Pc Blakelock and his colleagues were attacked as they went to put out a fire.

As the riot took hold, Silcott says he was offered a place to lie low - as a man on bail for murder, he didn't need to be involved in any violence.

Tottenham estate was deemed fit for visit from Princess Diana in February 1985
Just eight months later the riot happened, after Cynthia Jarrett's death
250 police officers injured on the night
But he says: "In my heart I wanted to be there. I grew up with some of the Jarretts but because of the position I was in, I knew it was totally impossible."

Silcott was arrested. No forensic, photographic or reliable witness evidence linking him with the murder was ever found. He was convicted on the basis of police interview notes only.

After four interviews where he remained silent the police record says he was asked if he attacked Pc Blakelock with a machete and forced others to make their own cuts. "Who told you that?" their transcript noted. "They're only kids. No-one's going to believe them... you ain't got enough evidence. Those kids will never go to court. No one else will talk to you. You can't keep me away from them... they won't give evidence against me."

Silcott maintains that the words were not his. "I had nothing to do with [the killing]," he says, "and the evidence at the time proved it because they had a thousand and odd photographs, no forensic evidence, what allegedly led to my conviction was a so-called verbal confession which I didn't say."

In writing

Four years after the interviews took place, a new scientific technique convinced the Court of Appeal judges that the fifth interview could not be relied on.

This has sometimes been represented as a trivial technicality. Flawed evidence may be technical, but it is certainly not trivial. It was the only evidence of Silcott's alleged guilt presented to the court at the original trial; it was not a confession.

Yet he didn't go into the witness box to defend himself, believing that if he called the police liars, his own character - and criminal record - would be used against him by the prosecution.

"For me to go in the dock and say to the members of the jury and the judge and the whole court room that the evidence against me was fabricated, the police are telling lies and it's all rubbish, obviously how the courts work they refer to your criminal convictions and they bring your criminal convictions out.

"So imagine the scenario if they brought my criminal convictions out, that I am already serving a life sentence to the jury, right, the jury would have no qualms [in thinking]: 'Well he is already in there.' That is obviously going to taint their mind straight away."

I don't think anybody looks at me as a big black bogeyman and that's the truth - it's just a picture painted by the media
Winston Silcott

The story of what happened during and after the riots at Broadwater Farm remains a milestone in the life of Black Britain and has become iconic of the 80s. Beyond that it was the moment when the political establishment, white and black, finally had to face up to the aspirations and demands of a younger British born generation for respect.

But why rake over old ground now? Firstly, the killers have never been caught. People with blood on their hands have not been convicted of that terrible crime - the Metropolitan Police launched a new investigation in December 2003

But there is another reason. In the late 90s a British-born generation of Muslims have discovered their own tensions in relations with the host society. Some of this resentment has been radicalised.

Policing has always been more of an art than a science and policing our ethnically diverse urban communities requires increasing levels of artistry. Lessons from contemporary history are valuable.

Does Silcott feel sympathy for the Blakelock family? "Of course I do. I feel total sympathy for Mrs Blakelock," he says, a touch offended that he could be asked the question.

But as for his future, he says: "I'd like to get on with my life, overturn this conviction [for the murder of Anthony Smith] and just lead a quiet life. But the media keeps linking my name and Pc Blakelock's because it sells papers."

The tragic irony is that finding those responsible may well be the only way he and Keith Blakelock's family can finally get closure on a tragedy that still haunts all of those it touched.

Who killed Pc Blakelock? is broadcast in the UK on BBC Two on Tuesday 2 March at 2100 GMT

Anyone with information about the events surrounding the murder of Pc Blakelock and the attempted murder of Pc Richard Coombes on 6 October 1985 at Broadwater Farm can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.



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