I walk pretty much everywhere I go in London.
I find sights like this blue plaque very interesting, and when I do come across one, once back indoors, I research the name to see what I can find.
This particular plaque pretty much says it all, but I had to dig a little deeper.
The Brixton riot of 1985 started on 28 September in Lambeth in South London. It was the second major riot that the area had witnessed in the space of four years, the last in 1981. It was sparked by the shooting of Dorothy “Cherry” Groce by the Metropolitan Police, while they sought her 21-year-old son Michael Groce in relation to a suspected firearms offence; they believed Michael Groce was hiding in his mother’s home.
Ms Groce survived the shooting, but she was paralysed from the waist down, after the bullet first passed through a lung, then her spine.
She died in 2011 after contracting an infection leading to kidney failure.
In March 2014, the police eventually apologised for the wrongful shooting of Mrs Groce. In July of the same year, an inquest jury concluded that eight separate police failures had contributed to Mrs Groce’s death, for which the present Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe subsequently “apologised unreservedly for our failings” to the family.
There were rioters at the bottom of the stairs too, wearing masks or crash helmets, and carrying knives, baseball bats, bricks and petrol bombs. As the firefighters and police ran out of the stairwell toward a car park and a patch of grass, one of the firemen, Trevor Stratford, saw that Blakelock had tripped: “He just stumbled and went down and they were upon him. It was just mob hysteria. … There were about 50 people on him.”
The rioters removed Blakelock’s protective helmet, which was never found. Rose writes that the pathologist, David Bowen, found 54 holes in Blakelock’s overalls, and 40 cutting or stabbing injuries, eight of them to his head, caused by a machete, sword or axe-type instrument. A six-inch-long knife was buried in his neck up to the hilt. His body was covered in marks from having been kicked or stamped on. His hands and arms were badly cut, and he had lost several fingers trying to defend himself. There were 14 stab wounds on his back, one on the back of his right thigh, six on his face, and his jawbone had been smashed by a blow that left a six-inch gash across the right side of his head. Bowen said the force of this blow had been “almost as if to sever his head,” which gave rise to a rumour that an attempt had been made to decapitate him (according to Rose, the autopsy photographs did not support this).
Needless to say, this plaque has one of the saddest reasons behind it.
I remember being a little girl of just five years old when the first riot broke out in 1981, and nine years old when the second one took place in 1985. My mother and my older sister were at my grandparents house (their house was situated a few yards from the path of the riot). We stayed there and could hear the destruction up and down the main road. We were petrified. Thankfully, it didn’t reach us. But only just missed us, and not by much.
When it was safe to leave, the damage was beyond words. Local businesses we frequented were ruined. Burnt beyond recognition. One particular business – a timber yard – was so badly destroyed, we never thought it would be repaired back to it’s former state.
We were grateful, even at the ages my sister and I were, that no-one we knew was hurt. I am talking about the 1985 riot at this point, as we understood more what was going on than we did the first time.
Unfortunately, I cannot see mankind has evolved from this behaviour. Maybe one day, but no doubt, when it is too late.