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Broadwater Farm Inquiry

A serious indictment of policing strategy before, during and after the Tottenham riot in October 1985 was presented by an independent inquiry in July 1986, which also located the cause of the riot within this 'real and bitter history of racist policing'.

The Broadwater Farm Inquiry, a six-member panel chaired by Lord Gifford QC, was set up by Haringey Council in February 1986 to provide an 'independent and fair assessment' of the serious disorder on the estate following the death of Cynthia Jarrett. The Inquiry gathered evidence from over 100 organisations, and through 22 public hearings, involving 77 witnesses, 80 recorded interviews and visits to 178 homes on the estate.

The report was very critical of both senior police leadership and many junior officers, the former showing 'a frightening lack of understanding and sensitivity' to black people and organisations. The report said that this leadership blocked the possibility of constructive working relationships with community organisations and the Council in the few years prior to the riot. The report referred to the numerous occasions when the local Broadwater Farm Youth Association (BWYA) sought 'to build a co-operative relationship with patrolling officers' but the latter 'were not allowed to meet with community groups' and hence 'began to regard local people as the enemy'.

The Inquiry was extremely critical of the report of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richards which contained several 'grossly misleading' allegations (some of them later withdrawn) concerning 'lakes of petrol'.  It also strongly criticised Commissioner Sir Kenneth Newman for making 'highly irresponsible' statements reducing the riot to an ultra-left wing conspiracy and for portraying the Farm and its residents as a criminal community through his previous description of 'symbolic locations' where police are not wanted. The press very quickly took up such themes and presented the Farm as 'a hellish place of criminal activity and racial hatred' and, the report said, vilified local council leader Bernie Grant in a crude and racist manner.

The Inquiry also investigated the policing situation on the estate after the riot and discovered a 'serious over reaction to the October 6 disturbances which continued for an excessive time'. An 'amazing' 9,165 officers were operating on the estate or held in reserve from 10 to 14 October. Incidents of what the report called 'racist and oppressive policing' were mentioned, including the smashing down of 18 front doors to homes with sledgehammers. It asked, were the police 'acting in this way simply to intimidate not just the occupants of the particular flats, but the estate as a whole?' The report also raised serious questions about the civil liberties of those who were subsequently detained, arrested, charged and tried.

The report concluded with a series of wide-ranging proposals concerning Haringey. It proposed genuine 'co-operative policing' with community organisations across all levels of the police force and based on mutual respect. It recommended that the senior police leadership adopt a strong commitment to eradicate oppressive and racist policing, enforce proper training of all officers about multi-racial communities and engage in effective consultation with the Council and community.

The Inquiry proposed an extensive job creation scheme for and within the estate. It asked for greater central and local government and private resources, a continued development of community facilities and better and committed anti-racist education. Finally, it appealed to the media to stop its 'gross distortion' of the life of the estate and its people.

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