In 1987 Winston Silcott, Mark Braithwaite and Engin Raghip were convicted of the murder in 1985 of Keith Blakelock on the riot-torn Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, north London, but all three were cleared in 1991 when their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal.Winston Silcott received £17,000 in compensation after his conviction was quashed. Forensic tests suggested evidence against him may have been fabricated by police officers.
Former Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Melvin and ex-Detective Inspector Maxwell Dingle were cleared at the Old Bailey in 1994 of fabricating evidence.
Winston Silcott is serving a life sentence arising from a separate matter – a crime he maintains was committed in self-defence – for which he has already served his “tariff”. He has not been granted parole. In October 1999 he was awarded £50,000 compensation for malicious prosecution by the Metropolitan police in the Blakelock case.
Cleared Silcott gets £50,000
16 October 1999 By Vikram Dodd
Scotland Yard have agreed to pay £50,000 in compensation to Winston Silcott, who was wrongly convicted of murdering a police officer during the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots.Silcott was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the murder of PC Keith Blakelock, who died after being hacked to death by a rioting mob on the north London estate during the worst riots to hit Britain in modern times.
He had sued the police for malicious prosecution and false imprisonment.
In 1991 Silcott and two others had their murder convictions quashed by the court of appeal.
The only evidence against Silcott were interview notes made by detectives during which he was alleged to have made admissions that amounted to a confession.
Tests later revealed that the alleged remarks had been doctored by officers. The detectives involved were charged with faking the interview notes, but all were cleared after an Old Bailey trial.
Clive Romain, solicitor for Mr Silcott, last night said that police had accepted that their prosecution of him had been “malicious”.
Mr Romain said: “I can confirm that there will be an agreement whereby Winston Silcott receives £50,000 in compensation for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. Counsel for the police has admitted in court that Winston Silcott did not kill PC Blakelock. There was no forensic evidence against Silcott. This has been a miscarriage of justice which the compensation has only partially put right.”
Silcott is serving a life sentence in Maidstone prison for the murder of a boxer, Anthony Smith in 1984. He says he stabbed Smith in self defence. Silcott was on bail charged with this offence when police arrested him for PC Blakelock’s murder.
Mr Romain said that his client was soon due to go before the parole board, and feared the stain of the conviction for PC Blakelock’s murder would reduce his chances of an early release.
Mr Romain told Channel 4 News: “He remains very concerned about the enormous slur that there has been on his reputation. Winston is in prison in respect of a quite separate matter which he says he did not commit and which is coming up for parole. One of his concerns is about [how] the Blakelock tragedy has been unfairly affecting his chances of parole, but hopefully that won’t happen now. This is one of the miscarriages of justice that one can list with a number of others that have happened to black people in this country.
“And one of the greatest tragedies of this situation is that the real killers of PC Blakelock have gone free.”
Silcott has already won £17,000 in compensation for his wrongful conviction.
Silcott claimed that police had framed him for the murder of PC Blakelock, and in a letter to the Guardian in 1997, said he was still being punished for it: “As a black person I wasn’t supposed to expose the way I was used as a sacrificial lamb in the PC Blakelock show trial.
“By using me as the fall guy, it was easier for the police to portray me in a different light to the judge in the Smith case and make sure I didn’t receive a fair trial.
“Some would say I am being punished for PC Blakelock’s death, which I am innocent of.”
Met confirms £50,000 payout to Silcott
13 November 1999 By Matt Wells
The Metropolitan police yesterday confirmed it would pay £50,000 to Winston Silcott, wrongly convicted of murdering a policeman, but expressed no regret for another episode during which its officers and their attitude to ethnic minorities was called to question.The payout to Silcott was confirmed to Mr Justice Morland at the high court in London in settlement of a civil claim for damages brought against the Met’s commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, for malicious prosecution. Silcott, 37, was convicted in 1987 of murdering PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riots in Tottenham, north London, two years earlier. He is serving life in prison for an unrelated murder.
Silcott’s family and friends said he felt vindicated, and they accused the force of missing an opportunity to repair shattered relations with black people.
Silcott’s brother, George, said the settlement was “further proof” that he had nothing to do with PC Blakelock’s death and was a victim of a “serious miscarriage of justice”.
Following his arrest, Silcott was interviewed five times; records of the first four showed that he refused to answer questions, but notes of the fifth recorded allegedly incriminating remarks. Forensic tests later showed these notes had been falsified. This evidence formed the basis of an appeal, and Silcott’s conviction was quashed in 1991. He was awarded £17,000 damages for the wrongful conviction.
The two interviewing officers were later cleared by an Old Bailey jury of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and perjury.
Silcott’s case for malicious prosecution, launched in 1993, was due to come before the high court last Monday. Last month, however, the Met made an offer of £50,000. The Met now faces a substantial bill. As well as the payment to Silcott, it has agreed to meet his legal costs, thought to be about £200,000, and its own costs, which would at least be of a similar level.
Tony Murphy, Silcott’s solicitor, claimed the Met was desperate to avoid the damaging publicity which would have surrounded a full court case. He condemned the force for failing to make any expression of remorse, even in the light of Sir William Macpherson’s scathing criticism of its handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry. “The Met could have used this as an opportunity to heal relations with the black community. But it has failed to grasp that opportunity.”
Silcott’s mother, Mary, said that the ordeal had taken its toll on the family. “It has been 14 years now, and we are suffering.”
Silcott open jail plan
13 December 1999 by David Pallister
Winston Silcott, whose conviction for the murder of PC Keith Blakelock was overturned on appeal eight years ago, has moved a step closer to being transferred to an open prison.He has been rewarded for good behaviour in prison with a reduction to category C status – given to prisoners who are no longer a serious risk. Silcott is serving life on a separate murder conviction.He will be transferred out of Maidstone to another prison next month and after his next parole board review, in February 2001, could be reduced to category D, the precursor to open prison and finally release.In an interview with the Guardian last week, his first for five years, Silcott said his main concern was to overturn his conviction for the murder of an amateur boxer, Tony Smith, who was killed during a fight at a party in 1984. Silcott claims he stabbed Smith in self defence.
But although new witnesses have come forward to support his case, the criminal cases review commission last year refused to send it back to the court of appeal. He claims that it was a political decision, and compares his case to that of Myra Hindley.
“How can the commission know what is in an appeal judge’s mind?” he asks. “It’s acting as judge and jury. They don’t want the true nature of this case coming out.”
Silcott gave his interview to counter the furore whipped up by some sections of the tabloid press about the £50,000 damages he received in October for malicious prosecution in the Blakelock murder case.
His conviction for that, in 1987, was quashed when the appeal court accepted that his partial confession was fabricated by the police. “The Police Federation have been making innuendoes about my guilt and saying the reason they settled was because of the cost. It was nothing to do with costs. They caved in because of the evidence and the fabrication of the notes.”
Internal reports about Silcott from the probation service and officers in Maidstone portray him as polite, courteous and popular, presenting no risk to himself or others.
Last night Bob Elder, chairman of the constables board of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said: “As far as I’m concerned they can throw away the key.” Accusing Silcott of talking “out of the back of his neck” he added: “As far as the parole board report goes, a leopard does not change its spots.”
Silcott says freedom will not end his fight: more hurdles for the man cleared of murdering PC Keith Blakelock
13 December 1999 by David Palllister
Winston Silcott is tall, over six feet, and he normally keeps his “freedom” beard tied in a knot under his chin. He has been growing it since his conviction for the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riot in north London in 1985.Last week, dressed in a Reebok top and tracksuit pants, he stood up in the lawyers’ interview room at Maidstone prison and unravelled it. Thin as a whip, the plait now reaches down to the ground.
“If I was freed now I’ll have to keep it,” he said. “I’d like to get rid of it.”
The beard will only finally go if and when he manages to overturn the conviction for murder for which he is still serving life – the stabbing of an amateur boxer, Tony Smith, at a party in 1984 which he claims was self-defence.
It could take some time. Last year the criminal cases review commission refused to send the case back to the court of appeal despite new witness evidence.
While his lawyers are considering ways to challenge that ruling, the prospect of freedom, after nearly 15 years inside, is beginning to be a faint gleam on the horizon.
Silcott has now been reduced to category C. And if the current complimentary prison and probation reports continue, the next parole board review in February, 2001, could recommend D status and open prison – the precursor to release.
The “Machete Monster” of tabloid notoriety, the grinning black man still vilified by the Daily Mail at every apoplectic opportunity, is now, according to a report by his personal prison officer, “polite and courteous at all times” and “a quiet and pleasant member of Weald wing”.
His prison behaviour is “very good”. He does his job in the laundry “quietly and efficiently”. He is, moreover, “popular and well-respected among his peers; he never appears to force his personality on anyone or try to dominate”.
Last week he gave his first press interview – with the Guardian and the Observer – for five years. It was arranged through the prison service’s new policy, as a result of a freedom of expression case in the House of Lords, of allowing prisoners access to the media.
An assistant governor and a senior prison service press officer sat in within hearing. But that did not appear to inhibit him. He speaks with a measured, strong voice.
Silcott wanted to talk because he has been incensed at the way the police leaked and spun their decision to give him £50,000 damages for malicious prosecution in the Blakelock case.
His conviction was overturned in 1991 when the court of appeal accepted that the police had fabricated his alleged confession – the only evidence against him.
Police ‘dirty tricks’
“I want to put the record straight. The police used their dirty tricks department to get their point of view in the media. I want to get my side over. Why did they settle? They portrayed me as still guilty but you’d think if they believed that they would have defended the case. If they’ve got nothing to hide, they’d defend it.
“They said it would be too costly. But the reason they caved in was because of the forensic evidence showing fabrication of the notes.
“They’ve done wrong and they should admit it. Otherwise this thing is going to continue for ever and ever.”
In fact the details of the award made it more of a rout than a cave-in. The figure was the accepted tariff for serious wrongdoing by senior officers.
The police also agreed to pay both sides’ costs, including pre-trial hearings which normally would have been deducted from the total.
A final bill has yet to be settled but it will probably be around £500,000.
For a man who has spent so long banged up, Silcott is remarkably insouciant about his impending transfer to a new prison and category C.
“To tell you the truth it makes no difference to me because my main goal is to overturn this conviction and until that happens I’m not happy. Obviously my family and my friends want me to progress through the system and come out but even if I am freed I’ve still got this conviction hanging over my head.
“If I’m released now and my case hasn’t been solved I’m still in prison.” He strongly believes that the commission’s refusal to refer the Smith case was influenced by politics.
“If I had been an unknown I believe they would have sent it back. What they [the judges] are doing is taking safe bets on cases they know will definitely win.”
Last year, for the first time, he agreed to go on a series of offending behaviour courses. His lawyer at the time said it would be a wise thing to do while still being able to protest his innocence of murder.
“It gives you perspective, to use assertion. It makes you stop and think before you act. To me it was good, because a lot of it you know but you don’t put it into practice.
“Before, if I think I’m right I’m 100% right. I stick to my guns. Now I listen to people and wait till they finish rather than talking at the same time.”
Currently he’s on a routine anger management course. “I wouldn’t say I was compulsive or an angry man but I’m like any other person. If you’re attacked you defend yourself. I wouldn’t just go and hit somebody in the head for violence sake. I’m not like that.”
Some of his correspondents could do with a hate management course. He produced a packet of letters received at the prison since the news of his civil action success. They are full of vile abuse. One included a copy of a lynching in the American south with a Klu Klux Klan leaflet and the warning: “This scum should hang … Tell this filth we know where his family lives.”
In prison, unlike Broadwater Farm of the 1980s, he says he has not personally experienced any racism. “But I can’t say it hasn’t affected other people,” he says with a touch of diplomacy.
It is often overlooked in the charged debate surrounding his case that, although he had a serious criminal record since the age of 14, in his early 20s he was a prominent community activist.
A founder of the Farm Youth Association, he would attend meetings of the Haringey council police sub-committee and articulate the complaints of young blacks.
“It is well known that the police used to say I was a thorn in their side.” He is convinced that that was one reason why he was arrested and fitted-up for the Blakelock murder.
This year Silcott turned 40. “I did reflect on my life but I didn’t do much. You usually get a birthday card but I didn’t tell anyone. I just treated it like another day.”
And what does he expect to be doing when he’s 45? “If my conviction is overturned I’d like to do something that can help others.”
He’d go back to north London. “That’s where my people are. I’d go back there. I’ve nothing to hide.”
Silcott: After 14 years I still can’t get justice
12 December 1999 by Jay Rayner
He’s been acquitted and paid damages by the Met, but Winston Silcott will never be free of the murder of Keith Blakelock. Now he breaks five years of silence to tell Jay Rayner that politics has kept him in jail for two crimes he didn’t commit
He is thinner and leaner than he looked in the brooding photographs originally issued by the police. He is in sportswear much of the time, a testament to his obsession with fitness – football, mostly, and running – and his hair is tied back under a black bandanna. But it is his beard which first catches the eye: beneath his chin is a thick, compact curl of twisted hair. Winston Silcott has vowed not to shave until his conviction for the murder of Anthony Smith – the killing that keeps him in jail, the killing that he claims was committed in self-defence – is overturned.
After 14 years inside it is now a full 3ft-long if unfurled. But for now he keeps it tied up. He knows there are those who hope he never has cause to shave, but he doesn’t let that distract him. He just wants to put his case. Friends and supporters had warned that, at first, he can be distant with people he does not know. In fact, he was eager to talk during our hour together last week within the thick Napoleonic walls of Maidstone’s jail, in what was his first interview for five years.
He may be a demon in the eyes of some of the public, but the prison officers have nothing but good words to say about him. Silcott has been described as a ‘model prisoner’ by his probation officer. ‘I’m just someone who gets on with it,’ he said. In any case he doesn’t think the assessment, delivered as part of the latest parole board review of his case in October, will have any impact on his situation. In the summer he completed the 14-year ‘tariff’ imposed on him as part of the life sentence he received for killing Smith, a boxer, in 1984. In theory he should now be heading towards release. But requests by his lawyers for him to be given Category D status and moved to open conditions – a precursor to that release – have been refused. He remains a Category B inmate.
He has no doubts as to why: the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riot of 1985. ‘It’s political,’ he says simply. The system, he says, is trying to make him pay again for the death of Blakelock even though his conviction for the killing was overturned in 1991. According to Silcott, the Smith killing – which he has always claimed was self-defence – and the now quashed Blakelock conviction have become inexorably entwined, the former being used to keep him in prison for the latter.
‘The police make out that they’ve done their job, that they got their man [for Blakelock], that my conviction was overturned on a technicality. But it’s not a technicality. There was a lot of forensic evidence.’ The police, he says, refuse to let it go. To them he has become a symbol of the evil they face out on the streets; they need him to stay locked away.
Last month, when he was awarded £50,000 compensation in an out-of-court settlement by the Metropolitan Police as damages for wrongful arrest and imprisonment in the Blakelock murder, the Metropolitan Police Federation, the police union, issued statements burning with outrage. It was clear what they thought of him.
‘Keith’s widow and his two sons will feel this is a kick in the teeth for them and it opens old wounds,’ said Glen Smyth of the federation. ‘It will be mentally distressing for them and all police officers.’ Ann Widdecombe, the Tory Shadow Home Secretary, joined in. ‘Someone serving a life sentence for murder should not benefit from the taxpayer like this,’ she said.
Blakelock’s widow, Elizabeth Johnson (now remarried), described the payment as ‘obscene’. There were mutterings – from the Police Federation – that the Blakelock family might try to bring a civil case against Silcott, because the burden of proof would be far less than in a criminal trial.
It was in response to that reaction to the payout that Silcott agreed to be interviewed. He knows full well how complex and muddy his story has become, rooted as it is in the wretched race relations, poverty and petty crime of Eighties inner-city London. Silcott grew up on the Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham, the son of Bill and Mary, Seventh Day Adventists who came to Britain from the Caribbean island of Montserrat in 1957. Silcott traces his troubled relationship with the authorities back to a confrontation with the police aged 15, when he was stopped and searched.
What made him stick out, his friends and family have said, was his willingness to answer back. After that first encounter he was regularly picked up by the police and not always without cause. By 1984, when he was arrested for the Smith killing, he had form both for burglary and malicious wounding. But he had also been tried and acquitted on a murder charge. Now, as far as the police were concerned, he was a crook who had got away with murder.
By that point he had a greengrocers shop on the estate and was running a mobile sound system for illegal ‘Blues’ drinking parties. One night Silcott broke up a fight outside his shop among local youths. One of them was Smith, an amateur boxer and a leading figure in a local gang, the Yankee Posse. A little later Smith threatened Silcott at a party.
What happened next is disputed. Silcott claims he took a knife from a friend and stabbed Smith in self-defence when he was attacked; he also says there are witnesses to this who were never brought to court to testify. At his trial the prosecution argued that he struck first. Either way the judge at the first remand hearing decided the evidence was hazy enough to allow him his freedom on bail prior to his trial.
As a result he was not in custody on the October night in 1985 when Broadwater Farm erupted in protest at the death of Cynthia Jarrett, a black woman who died of a heart attack as a result of an ill-executed police raid on her home. During the riot Keith Blakelock was killed in an orgy of violence. He sustained 42 stab wounds.
Silcott was arrested within days and charged as a ringleader. ‘They only put me in the Blakelock case so it would tarnish my image in the Smith case,’ Silcott says now. ‘In the Smith case the jury was under protection. There were police snipers on the rooftops of the court. The jury saw this black man in the dock who came from Broadwater Farm.’ And by then they all knew about Broadwater Farm. They all knew about PC Blakelock.
His conviction, he says, was guaranteed. The guilty verdict and life sentence (with a direction that he serve no less than 14 years) was made all the more likely when his defence lawyers advised him to deny having a knife on the night in question. There were endless witnesses who could – and did – testify to the contrary.
A little more than a year later Silcott was convicted of killing Blakelock on the evidence of his own confession and sentenced to a second term of life imprisonment. This time the tariff was 30 years. There was no forensic evidence linking him with the crime and he did not appear in any of 1,000 photographs taken on the night. He was immediately upgraded from category B prisoner to category A, a status which changed in 1991 when forensic tests proved that the only incriminating part of his testimony in the Blakelock case had been falsified. His conviction was deemed unsafe and he was immediately reclassified as category B.
To be eligible for parole a prisoner must be willing to face up to their crime and take courses dealing with what the parole board consider are the risk factors associated with it, among them – where murder is concerned – anger management. Until three years ago Silcott refused to have anything to do with these programmes. ‘My understanding at the time was that if you go to the parole board and say you’re innocent of the crime, they hold it against you,’ he says. ‘It’s hard to do courses where you say one thing but are secretly thinking another.’ He believes this refusal to work with the system, indeed at times to be completely withdrawn from it, damaged his prospects with the parole board.
He also complains that the Blakelock conviction remains on his parole board file even though it has been quashed. ‘I don’t see why it should be on the file,’ he says. ‘It makes it look like they still think I might have been involved. There must still be suspicion. It depends on who reads the file. It could hold me back.’
Certainly he hasn’t been able to shake whispers about the Blakelock case. In 1994 two officers were tried for attempting to pervert the course of justice by fabricating evidence at Silcott’s trial. Barristers for Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Melvin and Detective Inspector Maxwell Dingle, the officers involved, defended their clients by retrying Silcott in his absence for the Blakelock murder.
Fourteen statements by witnesses who were said to have implicated Silcott were read to the jury, a number by people who – the barristers said – were too scared to come to court and testify in person. Some of these statements had been dismissed as ‘pure fantasy’ by the original trial judge or to have been extracted under improper conditions. Others did not implicate Silcott but merely accused him of ‘hating the police’ or ‘being the governor of Broadwater Farm’. As to the scared witnesses, one who was approached by this newspaper shortly after the trial said he had never even been asked to appear.
Dingle and Melvin were cleared, to a great whoop of glee from sections of the press. Dingle promptly gave an interview to the News of the World in which he described Silcott as ‘the most evil man I’ve ever met’. A decision by the Home Office shortly afterwards to pay Silcott £17,000 in damages for wrongful conviction was met with an equal howl of pain from the same newspapers. ‘Outrage upon outrage. Shame upon shame,’ ran a Daily Mail leader. ‘The Silcott scandal grows worse by the day.’
The clamour from the right-wing press has always been buttressed by virulently racist hate mail which Silcott receives whenever the case resurfaces in the media. He picks up a brown envelope stuffed full of new examples which the assistant governor of the prison, sitting in on the interview, asks to see. ‘I don’t let it get in my head,’ he says dismissively, passing them over. ‘I just let it wash over me. I get much more mail from supporters.’ Later, before I leave, the assistant governor apologises to Silcott for his having received the racist letters. The passage of such material through the post is illegal. Silcott accepts the apology with a simple nod of the head.
Today Silcott insists that he went after the police for further damages because he wanted to put an end to the suggestions, raised by the acquittal of two police officers, that he was in any way guilty. ‘It wasn’t a need for a cash settlement,’ he says. ‘I wanted the police to admit they were wrong. I wanted them to apologise.’ In the end the police both denied liability for wrongful arrest and apologised for nothing. But, Silcott points out, lawyers for the police admitted in open court during a pre-trial hearing on the damages claim that they now accept Silcott was innocent of the Blakelock killing.
He also bats away claims by the police that they settled the case merely because of costs. ‘That’s a lame excuse. Afterwards it came out how much they had already spent [£250,000] and it wasn’t much cheaper than going to court.’ The size of Silcott’s damages bolsters his argument. In a ruling two years ago the Court of Appeal set down guidelines for damages in cases such as this. The maximum ‘exemplary’ damages solely to compensate victims for ‘oppressive, arbitrary or unconstitutional behaviour’ by senior police officers was set at £50,000, exactly the amount he was awarded.
The police also offered to pay the costs of pre-trial hearings in the case for which they were not liable. It seemed the Met was desperate to make sure Silcott would accept the money rather than go to court. In a pre-trial hearing it had been ruled that, because of the complexity of the forensic evidence, the case would be heard by a judge sitting alone rather than by a jury. In those circumstances the prospect of victory by the police legal team disappeared.
According to Tony Murphy, Silcott’s solicitor, the police had no choice but to settle. ‘The reality is that the Commissioner did not have a scrap of credible evidence to defend Winston’s claim and was clearly desperate to settle the case in order to avoid a public defeat at trial,’ he said. ‘The terms of the settlement are such that the Commissioner may now have to pay more costs than if he had lost at trial. There was no financial incentive in not fighting the case.’
As to the cash payout, Silcott dismisses arguments that he shouldn’t have received any money because he is a convicted murderer. ‘To me that’s a police line,’ he says. ‘When the police come up with the stories about the cash it stops people looking at the real evidence. The police have got something to hide. This saga is never going to end unless they admit they’ve done something wrong. But it’s hard for them to admit they’ve made mistakes.’ Nevertheless he understands the position of the Police Federation. ‘One of their officers was killed. Other officers say “that could have been me” and they need the Federation to back them to the hilt.’
He will not discuss what happened on the night of the Broadwater Farm riot. He was not involved in the killing, he says. He was not there so he does not need to answer questions. Now his attention is on the Smith conviction. Recently the Criminal Cases Review Commission refused to send the case back to the Court of Appeal. That too, he says, is ‘political pressure from the police. If the Blakelock case hadn’t been involved and the Smith case was by itself the CCRC would have sent it back by now.’
He rejects suggestions that he should just get on with his life and work towards parole. ‘When I’m released and I put my arguments across, what will come back is that I’m a convicted murderer and that you can’t believe him. If I came out now without the [Smith] conviction being overturned they could fabricate evidence against me again and I’d deserve it because I’d have shown no fight.’
There is no doubt he sees himself as a special case, someone excluded from any debate on the need for racial awareness in society. He says he followed the progress of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and the publication of the Macpherson report with interest. ‘Just to get an inquiry going was an achievement,’ he says. ‘Not a lot of good is going to come out of it, though. Maybe a few things have changed out there, but when it comes to my case nothing has changed. You’ve got some of the old heads on the Tottenham force who have been harassing me since I was a youngster. They whisper in the ears of the young ones.
‘And in the press when they mention my name you always see the subtle racism, the hint of my guilt. They don’t call me a monkey sitting in the zoo any more. They’re just more subtle.’
Three years ago Silcott read in a law report that parole boards could no longer hold declarations of innocence against inmates. Finally he began to engage with the prison system. He completed a course on strategic thinking. ‘It was good,’ he says. ‘It taught me to slow down and listen more before reacting.’ Last week he finished the anger management course. He had been on the waiting list for it for three years. ‘But every time my name was on the list to do it, the course was cancelled. They always said it was cutbacks.’ Still, that too was ‘okay’. He even took part in a youth project, talking to kids about life in prison to dissuade them from going off the rails. ‘The feedback was that it was successful. Certain kids stopped getting into trouble.’ All of this fed into the glowing parole board reports he has recently received.
For Silcott, however, this work and effort is a sideshow. It is something his solicitors have told him he has to do to have any chance of ever being released from prison and he is eager to oblige. But for him the main issue is the outstanding conviction for the killing of Smith. He says he is determined to get it overturned. He believes it is possible. He knows such a fight will make him unpopular with a lot of people. Then again, Winston Silcott, the model prisoner from Broadwater Farm, gave up on being popular a very long time ago.
Grinning murderers: Winston Silcott may have got a pay-out, but he’s still guilty in the eyes of the right
23 October 1999 by Jeremy Hardy
The police often make out-of-court settlements – paying up but admitting no guilt. There must be a standard letter that reads, “Oh good grief, just take the money. We can’t be doing with this.” Or could it be that they know they’ll lose when the evidence is heard?Thus the Met have given £50,000 to Winston Silcott, without admitting to having fitted him up. This put the rightwing press in a difficult position: appalled, but reluctant to criticise the police. That was earlier in the week, mind you. After the visit of President Jiang, the right has discovered police brutality in a big way; I predict that tomorrow’s Telegraph will denounce the Macpherson report as cosmetic and call for the Metropolitan police to be disbanded.Of course, the rag leading the attacks on Silcott has been the Mail. The Telegraph is always more circumspect, passing off its reactionary fanaticism as lofty detachment or injured disbelief. Tuesday’s Mail ran a front-page picture of Winston smiling. They let them do that in prisons nowadays, you know. Do they call that punishment – prisoners allowed civilian-style clothing and a range of facial expressions?
The headline read “Winston Silcott’s £50,000 Smile”, giving the impression to casual browsers that he’d just had his teeth done at great expense. But under the picture, ran the words: “Pictured in jail, the grinning face of murderer Winston Silcott who has been awarded £50,000 from police over their handling of the Blakelock case.”
The gutter press come perilously close to saying, “We know he did it really”, but can always claim they are talking about his outstanding murder conviction. As they might know, that conviction arose from a fight in which Winston was attacked by gangster Anthony Smith, who was armed with a knife and backed by two henchmen. An easy case of self-defence, you might think, were it not for the fact that, by the time of the Smith trial, Winston had been famously charged with the murder of PC Keith Blakelock.
Of course, the right admits that he was later cleared of the Blakelock killing, when it was proven that evidence was fabricated. But Tom Utley in the Telegraph points out that two officers subsequently tried for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice were also cleared. He doesn’t mention that the thrust of their defence was that Winston really had killed PC Blakelock. Extracts from several “anonymous” statements implicating him were produced. The jury was not told that most of them were made in 1985 by people arrested after the Blakelock murder, two of whom were mentally handicapped and one of whom was 13. That boy, Jason Hill, was held for three days and interrogated in his underpants, subsequently receiving £30,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
In effect, Silcott was re-convicted in his absence and without legal representation. And the press are still doing it. The Mail quotes an ex-policeman as saying, “It angers me that people seem to be generally more interested in convicted killers than the people who have been killed or injured as a result of their actions.”
That angers me too when it is the case. In the same issue of the Mail was an extract from the autobiography of the mercenary Colonel Tim Spicer, in which he defends Scots Guards Mark Wright and James Fisher, who are convicted murderers. They shot Peter McBride in Belfast in 1992. At the trial the judge rejected their evidence as lies, unsurprisingly since they claimed to have believed the victim was carrying a bomb, despite the fact that he had just been thoroughly searched, a detail that slipped Spicer’s scrutiny. Forensic experts ruled out the possibility that Peter McBride had been in contact with explosives.
Fisher claimed to have opened fire because he feared that Peter McBride was about to throw a bomb, despite the fact that Peter was 70 yards away and running. Wright claimed that he fired because he heard Fisher’s shot and thought that it was McBride shooting. Their account was rejected by the trial judge, the appeal court, and in a judicial review of the army’s decision to continue their employment.
Tim Spicer disagrees. He claims amid a heady whirl of other inaccuracies, “Suddenly, McBride stopped running and ducked down between two parked cars.” In reality, there was one parked car on to which Peter fell having been shot twice in the back. Then he was shot again. Why did he run, you might ask. According to his mother, Jean, he had recently taken a beating from soldiers and probably expected another. I’m sure this would paralyse the Mail or Telegraph with incredulity, but it would be no great surprise to people in Belfast. Mrs McBride’s feelings never seem to be considered by those papers. Neither was she shown any remorse by the killers. At his first court appearance, Wright smiled, winked and gave her the thumbs-up – the grinning face of a murderer, as the Mail wouldn’t say.