A reproduction of material from a Liverpool and Knowsley Trades Councils inquiry into police violence.

A committee was set up in 1979 to establish an Inquiry into Allegations of Police Violence, Bill Hunter was Chairman, Kevin Earley was Secretary. Another well known local person who participated on the committee was Margaret Simey who served as a Labour Councillor for the Granby Ward of Liverpool from 1963, and was chair of the Merseyside County Police Committee at the time of the Toxteth riots in 1981. She frequently clashed with the then Chief Constable Kenneth Oxford. Today Bill recalls that she was a formidable women and very active in supporting the work of the committee.

Many sections of the working class in the 1970s, in particular the Black communities, suffered disproportionate levels of unemployment, discrimination in schools, work, housing and public services and hard line aggressive and violent policing targeting Black and Irish communities and workers in struggle such as the miners and the building workers.

One of Inquiry’s interim report said, “We have a number of statements from Liverpool 8 where the black youth suffer the added attack of racial insult. There is the example of the raid on the Babalou Club last April, when a number of people were arrested. Most of them were acquitted.

A 22 year old girl says the police came into the club in a provocative way. The club was mainly used by young Black people. She says she was put in a van with four young men who were told to lie on the floor. She says they were then kicked and punched and their heads banged on the floor by policemen. She says when she spoke, she was hit on the face and told: ‘Shut up you black bastard’.”

“A Black man claims that he is stopped at least once every couple of months in his car for a trivial reason and wonders if the fact that he is black has anything to do with it.”

In agreeing to initiate the inquiry the Liverpool Trades Council looked into the killing and injuring of James Kelly of Huyton, Liverpool, who died in police custody on the night of June 21 1979 and Michael Cavangh who underwent surgery after being arrested by the Kirkby police, in Knowsley.

By December 6 1979 the inquiry had established weekly surgeries to take statements from potential witnesses and victims of police violence. A LTC letter dated December explained that the aim was to “build up a case file of incidents, together with our own report, which will, we hope, be forwarded to MPs, National pressure groups (National Council for Civil Liberties etc) and of course the Labour Party, T.U.C. and the like.”

The committee went on to warn that they could only advance their task with the continued support of the union movement and community.

An interim report published in January 15 included the information that, “… there were 245 deaths in police custody between January 1970 and June 30th 1979. Fourteen of these were on Merseyside but the Chief Constable has refused so far to give details. The number on Merseyside is among the highest in the country. (The committee felt it relevant to insert here that Merseyside is also a record breaker in the number of detentions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act’, having no less than 25% of the total of 4,015 between 1974 and 1979).”

In calling for its conference in March 1980 and the need to strengthen the committee a report concluded, “We think this is all the more urgent as most trade unionists are worried at the role of the police in dealing with future resistance to the Tory Government attacks.” 

This a warning that should be heeded today. The trade unions and working class organisations need to stand with the youth and Black communities in exposing police harassment and racism. The working class cannot allow itself to be divided if it is to succeed in the fight against police harassment, and for the right to jobs for all. We must fight for the unity of all sections of the class to defend our communities and for an extension of decent public services for all. Trade unions need the communities and the communities need trade unions.