THE sergeant in charge of murdered Pc Keith Blakelock’s unit has described the “absolutely terrifying” moment they came under attack by a mob with iron bars and a machete.
David Pengelly led his team of 10 officers to protect firefighters tackling a blaze at a supermarket on an upper deck of Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm estate.
Mr Pengelly gave his “nightmare” account of the night of October 6 1985 at the trial of Nicky Jacobs, 45, who is accused of the murder of Pc Blakelock.
The brave Pc’s widow, Elizabeth Johnson, who lives in West Boldon, is at the Old Bailey for the trial.
Mr Pengelly told the court how his team, serial 502, were not “shield trained” at the time, but nevertheless kitted themselves out in fire protective boiler suits, visors and long and round shields before going to the scene.
When they arrived, he said: “It was a scene of considerable disorder. There were lines of officers with shields. There were missiles being thrown. It was a scene of considerable rioting.”
As the team went with firefighters to the blaze, it was Pc Blakelock who suggested someone should stay by the stairwell to protect their exit, which he and another officer then did.
At first there was no sign of trouble on the upper deck but before long youths began gathering.
Mr Pengelly said: “I saw a group of youths. My eye was drawn to youths who were running underneath us.
“A group appeared at the far side of the level we were on from an entrance of some sort.”
One rioter he noticed had muslin covering his face, with eye holes cut into it, he said.
Mr Pengelly raised his visor to shout at the crowd that they were just there to “protect the firemen”.
He went on: “There was something perhaps of a dramatic pause. I do not know the reason. Then another group appeared slightly to the right from an unknown point to me.
“There was no time to reflect as the second group immediately starting throwing items at us - bottles, bricks, I believe mainly.”
Some of the youths then started to run around to “effectively out flank us and cut off our retreat”, so Mr Pengelly gave the order to retreat down the stairs to the ground level.
“Obviously at this point, the rioters were right with us, hammering on the shields. It was an absolutely terrifying scenario.
“As we retreated down the stairway there were people with iron bars and at least one with a machete, effectively trying to chop the shields to bits. The retreat to ground level was just a continuing nightmare.”
At the mid point, Mr Pengelly said he checked to see if the officers he had left behind were still there - but he could not see them.
“We continued retreating down the stairway all the time. People throwing themselves, hammering the shields.
“It was my belief if we did not go down that stairway that’s where we would be trapped, remembering I had dozens of people running below us towards the area where the bottom of the stairs were.”
Mr Pengelly said it was dark below on ground level and he almost immediately “lost track” of where the other officers were.
Mr Pengelly said he saw a group of people in a “cluster or circle” at the grass verge on the ground level, facing inwards and attacking someone.
He told the court that at first he thought it was one of the firefighters.
“I ran across shouting and once I reached the group that was still facing inwards, I was trying to hit somebody across the head with my truncheon on the left hand side, then I lashed out and hit somebody else on my right hand side and at that time the group sort of broke up and dissolved.”
He then realised that the man who had been surrounded was one of his officers, he told the court.
“At this time we were fighting for our lives really. There was no time to do anything else, having scattered that group, than to turn and fend off other people from the main direction from which they had been running,” he said.
Mr Pengelly said he did try to make his way towards where the attack was taking place, but could not do it on his own.
“Very quickly I was joined by two other officers so I was able to try and fend off other rioters whilst they dragged my colleague away.”
Explaining how he had then lost his footing, Mr Pengelly said: “I was going backwards, trying to fight people off but there were possibly hundreds running around.
“I had already seen someone with a machete and I knew that if I didn’t get up quickly, I wouldn’t be getting up again.”
He was then hit by a brick on the visor of his helmet and was left stunned for a couple of seconds before another confrontation broke out when someone ran up and grabbed his truncheon.
Under cross examination, Mr Pengelly was questioned on his perception of the fast-paced events as he feared for his life in the dark, smoky ground floor.
Defending, Courtenay Griffiths QC said: “For the most part they appeared as shadowy figures?”
He replied: “It was dark, I cannot disagree with that,” adding, “There was a lot of running.”
Mr Griffiths asked if it was right there were around 100 people on the scene, to which the witness replied: “There were enough people to considerably concern me.”
Asked if his perception was affected by his fear for his life, he said: “Terrified, I think, was the correct description.”
Mr Griffiths questioned the witness on his descriptions of rioters.
In evidence he said the crowd was made up of young men, whereas in his original statement, descriptions of individuals he saw close up were of black men in their 20s upwards, Mr Griffiths said.
Mr Pengelly agreed he had made those descriptions in his statement. Mr Griffiths later pressed the witness repeatedly on whether he disagreed with the decision of his commanding officer to send in the team, without back-up or riot training.
But Mr Pengelly said it was not for him to comment.
Another officer caught up in the violence, Pc Stephen Martin, explained that Mr Pengelly had stood in front of the mob in an “almost passive, appealing stance” as they tried to protect the firefighters.
“He explained we were here to put the fire out or to help the fire officers put the fire out and once it was we would withdraw,” Pc Martin told the court.
This caused a “short pause”, but then the group of around 30 rioters started throwing missiles including bricks, bottles and petrol bombs, and Mr Pengelly ordered a retreat, Pc Martin said.
The mob had their faces covered by scarves, the officer said, with one “distinctive individual” wearing an ice hockey mask.
As the officers made their way down the stairwell the situation became “quite claustrophobic and stressful”.
They were confronted by a crowd of about 100 to 150 people as they tried to make their way out.
“By this time I realised that we were in trouble,” Pc Martin said. “At this particular time we were still quite together as a unit at the bottom of the stairs.
“I think it was at this time we began to split up and fight our way through the crowd out to the grass area.”
Out on the ground level, Pc Martin saw a group of seven or eight people attacking Pc Richard Coombes, who he said was underneath a long shield.
“I ran towards this crowd - most of them had their back to me at that stage - and I just ran at them as fast as I could screaming as loud as I could.
“I pushed my way into the small crowd, but with the momentum I followed through and I think at the time I actually slipped off the shield and twisted my ankle.”
Pc Martin said he could see that the crowd of youths were using implements in the attack, but could not tell what they were.
He said he had also noticed a much larger group, which he then saw attacking Pc Blakelock.
“They too had implements in their hands, which they would raise up and bring down, and I knew what was happening,” he said.
“I was a young officer, only 19, but I knew exactly what was happening at the time.”
Pc Martin said that he remembered that the mob were using bottles in their attack on Pc Blakelock because they were glinting in the street light.
* The trial continues.