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Voice35Years: The start of something new

UNREST: youths overturn a police van in Brixton at the height of the riots

ALTHOUGH THE Voice newspaper was launched one year after the infamous Brixton riots of 1981, the newspaper was still giving coverage to the aftermath of the disturbance which was to be a turning point in the period of social unrest between the black community and the police.

The riots on the streets of Brixton lasted for three days in April 1981 when a confrontation between protesters and the Metropolitan Police erupted on Friday, April 11 and lasted until Sunday, April 13, resulting with more than 300 injuries to police and protesters, more than 100 vehicles damaged and 82 people arrested.

The riots came after the Met had launched ‘Operation Swamp 81’, a strategic manoeuvre to reduce crime in Lambeth, south London by using surprise raids by the Special Patrol Group (SPG) which would stop and search people who were suspected of committing crimes.

The Voice Newspaper

Popularly known as the Sus Law, the raids netted quite a number of arrests by the police, but its heavy use was criticised by the African Caribbean community who felt the police was disproportionately using it against black youths.

One of the many protests about these police arrests led to a confrontation in Railton Road on April 10 in which a black youth was bundled into a police car and people descended on the police demanding his release.

Tension then rose during the night as more officers were brought into the area and by the next day the riots began with the first vehicle being set alight and the police battling rioters who responded with bricks, bottles and petrol bombs.

A public inquiry into the riots was launched in the same month lead by Lord Scarman and when the report was finally published in November 1981, it outlined overwhelming evidence of the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of ‘stop and search’ powers by the police against black people.

A new code for police behaviour was put forward and later established in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. One year later, the aftermath of the riots was still being felt as the front page headline in The Voice on October 2, 1982, read: ‘Charged – Six SPG officers to face trial’.


The story was about six members of the controversial Special Patrol Group – five men and one woman – who were to face charges of assault and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice during the Brixton riots.

The charges related to an incident involving three black youths during the disturbances of April 1981 and the victims were not named on magistrates orders for their “own safety”. The story went on to say the six were bailed to appear at Horseferry Road Magistrates’ Court, which has since been replaced by Westminster Magistrates’.

Another story on the front page carried a headline ‘Job for Delroy’ which was a report on the news that 34-year-old Delroy Brown had started work for the first time in three years. Brown had been found guilty of possession of an offensive weapon, but the Old Bailey judge gave him a conditional discharge and agreed to find him a job. Three weeks later, he picked up a job at the National Car Parks and Delroy was quoted: “It’s great to be a working man again.”

On page two of the same edition, the winner of the Miss Afro-West Indian 1981, Audrey Beharie, was pictured taking full advantage of a prize trip to Barbados. She was accompanied by her chaper- one and the 21-year-old beauty queen noted that it was the first time she had been to the Caribbean.

Paul Boateng campaigning before being elected as MP for Brent South in 1987

Also on the page was another story that Haringey residents are being urged to demand better health care service by Councillor Maureen Dewar, who chaired the Save Haringey Hospitals Committee. Councillor Dewar made the call as the “new health authority will be discussing their strategy for hospitals in the borough”.


This was as the two main hospitals – then The Prince of Wales and St Ann’s – were being run down with accident and emergency units being closed. Councillor Dewar said: “I am urging local people to write in and demand that Haringey retains adequate hospital facilities.”

On page three, the lead story headline was ‘Black barrister stabbed’, which reported the sad story of the death of 47-year-old Ashanti, Ghana born Malik Owusu, who was fatally stabbed outside his flat in Pym House, Overton Road, Brixton.

The incident happened when Owusu, who had been called to the bar a year before, chased two youths who had snatched a pendant from a woman worth £1,000. He had confronted the youths, but one brandished a knife stabbing Owusu in the chest and fled. Two youths were later arrested and charged with his murder.

His wife, Julie Owusu had told The Voice: “I just hope they never come out of prison.” Another story on page three reported that despite opposition from Michael Foot and Denise Healey, the Labour Party leader and deputy leader respectively, Paul Boateng has been endorsed by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Hemel Hempstead.

The NEC voted 16 to nine to endorse Boateng despite further opposition from the Hemel Labour party. Boateng was to later go on and create history as one of the first four black and Asian MPs to be elected to Parliament in June 1987 along with Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott and Keith Vaz. He was later elected to the House of Lords.

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Share your Voice memories, comments and birthday wishes on social media, using the following hash tag: #Voice35Years

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