THE highest-ranking officer at the scene where North East-born Pc Keith Blakelock was killed during the first Tottenham riots has described the estate where it happened as “impossible to police”.
Pc Blakelock, 40, died trying to protect firefighters tackling a blaze at the height of the unrest on the Broadwater Farm estate in north London on October 6 1985.
The Old Bailey trial of Nicky Jacobs, 45, who denies murdering him, heard the estate had been singled out by Scotland Yard because of its “supposed association with the sale and use of drugs and potential for disorder”.
Violence broke out there after local woman Cynthia Jarrett died of a heart attack as police searched her house.
Chief Superintendent Colin Couch, who worked in the area’s police station, told the court: “Tottenham was a working-class, multi-ethnic area and after the death of Cynthia Jarrett I was concerned that we would witness disorder.”
But asked by Courtenay Griffiths QC, for the defence, if a contingency plan had been put in place for riots, Mr Couch replied: “No, there wasn’t.”
The court heard that former Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Kenneth Newman had put together a list of “symbolic areas” police needed to keep an eye on at the time, which included Broadwater Farm.
But Mr Couch denied that the estate was on the list because of crime, but rather because anyone could cross it from one side to another without descending to street level, making it “impossible to police”.
“We were policing it very sensibly,” he added.
Mr Couch said that on the day of the riots he had met members of Mrs Jarrett’s family and community leaders.
Tensions had gone from being “nose to nose, but not violent” during the afternoon to a full onslaught at night, when disturbances broke out on the Broadwater estate.
Waiting outside after sending Pc Blakelock’s unit and firefighters into a building to deal with a blaze, he later saw two officers running out and then a “silver lump” lying on the ground.
Then, he said, “four or five jumped on him and appeared to stab him”.
Asked about criticisms he received afterwards from rank-and-file police officers, Mr Couch said: “They didn’t have the decision to make. I did.”
The court heard that a new investigation into Pc Blakelock’s death had got under way in January 2000, codenamed Operation Worlingworth, under the command of Detective Superintendent John Sweeney.
In 1991 the convictions of three men charged under the initial investigation were quashed after questions were raised about their police interviews, the court heard.
A second investigation between 1992 and 1994, which offered immunity from prosecution for those in the mob who had kicked rather than used weapons on Pc Blakelock, did not result in prosecutions.
Two police officers - Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Melvin and Detective Inspector Maxwell Dingle - were charged and acquitted of perverting the course of justice in July 1994.
Questioning Mr Sweeney today, defence lawyer Mr Griffiths suggested that the initial investigation into the riots had been “tainted by corruption and dishonesty from the highest level”.
He said: “I am going to suggest that the first investigation still casts a shadow up until now on all subsequent police investigations.”
Asked if mistakes had been made by the police in community relations ahead of the Tottenham riots, Mr Sweeney said: “I think we have come a long way.
“I accept that perhaps it wasn’t the best time in the Metropolitan Police’s community relationships, but we have learned a lot over the years.
“But there will never be a time when the police never make mistakes, because they are human beings.”
Mr Griffiths also asked about Met Police commissioner Sir Kenneth’s reference in 1983 to “locations where unemployed youths, often black youths, congregate, where the sale and purchase of drugs, exchange of stolen goods and where illegal drinking and gambling is not unknown”.
Sir Kenneth had spoken of “symbolic locations” which the youths regarded as their own territory and where there was hostility towards the police, the court heard.
Asked if this had applied to Broadwater Farm, Mr Sweeney answered: “It was certainly seen as a location where the police weren’t always welcome.”