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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 1st July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Ernest Roberts Mr Ernest Roberts , Hackney North and Stoke Newington 12:43 pm, 1st July 1983

I want to deal with one subject only—the problem of policing in London. The police are supposed to be accountable to the House through the Home Secretary. What I have shows that the police are not making themselves accountable to the democratically elected representatives of the people. The Commissioner, in his report, which has been dealt with in the press, referred to a campaign of denigration and our enemies on the Left. That provided headlines in The Standard. Is he complaining, as he appears to be, about criticism from elected representatives, such as Members of Parliament, members of the GLC and local councils, all of whom have made criticisms of police activity in London?

I have had occasion to write to the Home Secretary over the past six months about several cases, one of which was the Colin Roach case. The Minister promised to reply to some of my questions after the Colin Roach inquest. Instead, he took the opportunity to reply to a planted parliamentary question from a Conservative Member and say that the Commissioner was to set up an inquiry into the criticisms made by the jury and others about the way in which the police at Stoke Newington police station had dealt with the Colin Roach case.

The problem was again raised in the House by myself and about 60 other Members under a motion headed Police-Public relations in Hackney-Stoke Newington which urged the Home Secretary to make an investigation into the policing practices in Hackney-Stoke Newington. We are still awaiting an answer.

The Home Secretary has received a copy of the comments of the jury which tried the case of Colin Roach, a copy of which I have obtained from the Library. The jury say that they were deeply distressed at the handling of the case by the police regarding the Roach family. We feel that the bereaved family were kept in the dark over the death of their son and that the police were not sympathetic to the situation". Police activities in north Hackney have caused the public to demonstrate on the streets, as a result of which about 100 people have been arrested. That is not the way to deal with the public criticisms that are now being made about police activities in a particular case. However, the purpose of my remarks here today is to point out that the Colin Roach case is only the tip of the iceberg. Several other cases have been brought to the attention of the Home Secretary, the Commissioner of police and the area commander. I have here a file of those cases which have been placed before the Home Secretary for investigation and upon which I have demanded an inquiry into the activities of the police at the Stoke Newington police station as well as into the Colin Roach affair. I am still waiting, months later, for a reply.

There is the case of Mrs. Knight, whose flat was visited by police vans, dogs and cars. Three policemen entered the flat and dragged out the family, leaving behind a six-year-old daughter to care for herself. Charges were made against members of the Knight family, but two juries failed to agree and the defendants were acquitted. They are taking civil proceedings against the police. That case provides another reason for an investigation into policing at Stoke Newington.

The White case has been going on since 1976. The police were ordered to pay compensation of £51,000 because of their actions against the White family. Complaints were made against 17 policemen, but no known action has been taken against any of those officers at Stoke Newington police station.

Mrs. Whitmarsh reported her son, Colin Barnard, missing. He was later found drowned in the Thames, but, despite the fact that Mrs. Whitmarsh had reported him missing to the police and had issued public advertisements, she was not told until six months later that he had been found and cremated. I took up the matter, but all that we have received so far is a letter of apology from the local commander, who said: A further response will be made to you but I wanted to make it quite clear in this initial reply that the case caused the Police great concern and our deepest sympathy and apology goes to the family as I appreciate that their grief was prolonged by our error. That is another case which needs investigation.

The Kanadu family complained to me about police harassment. They wrote to me on 14 January when they discovered that their mother, whom they had reported to the Stoke Newington police as missing, had been gaoled by the police. I took up the case with the police. The mother went before Old street magistrates' court, but no charges were made against her and she was released. That mother, a black woman, Mrs. Osie, was here legally and had not contravened any law. That is another case which needs investigation.

Another case connected with Stoke Newington police station involves Mrs. Ettie Cohen, an epileptic who had an attack in a shop. Not understanding, the shopkeeper sent for the police, who took her away in a van and imprisoned her without food. As her husband said in his letter to me, she should have been taken to hospital. In fact, she was charged with causing a disturbance, but the case was dismissed by Old street magistrates. That is another complaint against the actions of the police at Stoke Newington.

There have been many complaints about stop-and-search actions, which are quite common in my area, particularly against young black people. In one case a youth was stopped and searched in October 1981, in April 1982 and, at Stamford hill, in November 1982. He was told to put his hands against a wall and to keep his legs apart. He was searched, nothing was found and he was sent on his way by police, who insisted that he should carry his passport with him as identification. That is one of a number of stop-and-search cases that are causing considerable anxiety in the area.

The Commission for Racial Equality sent me and the Home Secretary a dossier of 40 complaints. It demanded an inquiry into policing in Hackney. Community relations are so bad that the Hackney teachers association does not allow the police into schools to talk to pupils. The National Union of Teachers takes the same attitude. That, too, is a good sign of a need for an inquiry.