This blog is all that remains from the former website which was closed after 8 years of providing a 'wiki' of urban street gangs in London.

An unfinished history of modern urban street gangs in London has been used to replace some of the content of the original site, beginning here

Saturday, 5 October 1985

Part Two: The Farm

London Street Gangs: A modern history 

Click Here for Part One: Young Raiders Posse

Part Two: The Farm

The Broadwater Farm estate, often referred to as the Farm, was completed in 1970. By 1979 an official government report said that the long term future of the estate looked bleak and at best the local authority should seek to make it tolerable for another decade. The first residents had began moving onto the Farm in 1969 and by the mid 1970s there were over 3,000 permanent residents. The estate is a 21-acre area of concrete medium and high rise blocks, named after Battle of Britain airfields – Northolt, Tangmere and Martlesham – connected by grey walkways, a style known by its protagonists as brutalism. Such estates were erected across London in post-war Britain as a means of housing a growing population and re-housing the existing residents of terraced streets in run-down areas which were marked for slum clearance. According to one resident, the estate was intolerable for several reasons, “there was nothing for young people and no social facilities; the design was alienating and there was no space to call your own except behind your own front door.”[i] Haringey council were accused of dumping ‘problem families’ onto the estate, which had come to have unemployment rates significantly above the national average. By 1985 70% of 16 to 35 year-olds from Broadwater Farm were unemployed, whilst research carried out by Middlesex Polytechnic identified resident concerns as being sexual assaults, heroin and drug dealing, robbery, burglary and racially motivated violence. It was a diverse community composed of West Indian, African, Irish, British, Indian and Turkish residents, and the youngest residents often had to battle with an over-diligent local police force. 

At 1pm on October 5, 1985, 23-year-old Floyd Jarrett was stopped in his car by police in Tottenham as he and his pregnant girlfriend were running a household errand. Having just returned from a youth exchange trip abroad, Jarrett’s tax disc was out of date and officers asked to see the vehicle documents. Jarrett allowed the police to search the vehicle following which an argument began at the scene; Jarrett was subsequently arrested for “assault” on a constable and handcuffed. He was taken to a local police station where officers assaulted him by kicking and punching his legs and torso. Refused to make a call, and with no formal charges made, Floyd Jarrett was detained for five hours, during which time he was interviewed by Detective Constable Randall. Following the interview Floyd was handed back his personal property which had been surrendered on arrival, all except a key for his mothers address. Floyd insisted that he no longer lived at the address, however, with possession of the key officers made their way to the home of Mrs Cynthia Jarrett. Arriving at 5pm, Floyds sister Patricia was watching television and upon hearing a noise in the hallway she ventured downstairs and into the hallway to see what it was. At the bottom of the stairs Patricia was greeted by four uniformed officers, and one plain clothes policeman, who had let themselves into the property. They claimed to be in possession of a warrant and that they had come to search the address as a result of Floyd’s arrest. Asked how they gained entry officers told Mrs Jarrett that the front door was open. The search revealed nothing and so DC Randall, who had interviewed Floyd, began questioning Patricia. Meanwhile, Cynthia Jarrett in another room came to be slumped on the floor, alleged to have been pushed over by another officer. Her two-year-old son was crying beside her. Whilst Patricia scurried around to find her mother’s blood pressure tablets, police carried on searching and taking serial numbers from the TV set and video, ignoring the requests for help[ii][iii]

It is claimed that police refused to offer any assistance, but a patrol car did arrive on scene later to attempt first aid. An ambulance arrived 45 minutes after it had first been called, but it was too late and sadly Mrs Cynthia Jarrett was pronounced dead on arrival at North Middlesex Hospital in north London. Floyd who was still at the police station was charged with assault just over an hour later and told as an aside that his mother was dead[iv]. The reasons for the police raid remain unclear. The facts were that the key for the property had been obtained without consent. Floyd Jarrett did not live with his mother, he was not charged with a property offence but rather one arising from resisting an arrest. The raid on a house which Floyd Jarrett did not live in, for purposes which could bear no conceivable relationship to the grounds on which he was initially stopped, can only be understood as part of a fishing expedition undertaken by police in the hope that something might turn up. Despite extensive searches by six officers with ten further officers held in reserve – by an ‘underresourced’ Metropolitan Police – no stolen property was found in the home of Cynthia Jarrett. 

Floyd Jarrett was a leading member of the Broadwater Farm youth association. The death of Cynthia Jarrett on Saturday October 5, 1985, was followed by community protests, including a meeting at the Broadwater Farm Youth Centre on the Sunday evening. That evening rioting occurred on the estate. It may have been triggered by police attempts to seal off Broadwater Farm, equally it could have followed an encounter between local youths and a patrolling police vehicle which was attacked. By the end of the evening between 800 and 1,300 hundred officers descended upon the Farm. Some people contend that the riots were a direct consequence upon the belief that officers from the Metropolitan Police were surrounding the area, whilst the universal agreement is that police were the virtual exclusive target for rioters. By 9:30pm a full scale riot was in progress, during which an unprecedented level of violence was directed at police officers with a total of 250 constables sustaining injuries. Police Constable Blakelock belonged to police serial 502 which was drawn from Hornsey and Wood Green station. They were ordered to Tangmere House just before 10pm where a supermarket fire was inferno. Attempts to enter and douse the fire were thwarted by youths pelting firemen with debris. The objective of serial 502 was to protect the firemen. As serial 502 moved into position they were surrounded by a group of youths. Bricks, stones, cans, bottles and other missiles were thrown. Some youths were also armed with weapons, including knives and a machete. The police officers began to retreat as they came under attack by the youths. PC Blakelock was one of the last officers to start running. Upon reaching a grass verge by the pathway leading to Gloucester Road, it appeared as though he slipped and fell. He was pounced on by a large mob who began to hit, punch and kick PC Blakelock. Officers attempted to get to their colleague but it was too late. PC Blakelock was cut, slashed and stabbed 40 times sustaining eight lacerations to his head. He had a large gaping wound along the right side of his head, caused by a blow or blows from a machete or axe-like weapon which had fractured and splintered the outer table of the lower jaw and penetrated the entire thickness of the jawbone as if to sever his head[v]. Whilst there were numerous participants in the attack, one man in particular was demonised disproportionately for his alleged role. 

Winston Silcott was born in east London in 1959, his parents had moved to London from the Caribbean isle of Montserrat in 1957. Winston Silcott, his younger brother and his parents Bill and Mary moved to Tottenham in 1964. Both his parents took up hard working manual positions, Bill as a labourer and Mary as a factory worker. Winston was an avid primary school pupil although upon moving into Secondary education his academic record began to submerge, a childhood friend attributed this to racist treatment from their teachers. Their school experience included teachers yelling at them that they should go back to their own country. Winston’s parents had hoped he would try for a career in medicine. Up until the age of 15 he had gone to Sunday school and he was also in the Boys’ Brigade. After leaving school he began an apprenticeship at a cabinet making firm. One morning, when he was cycling to work, the police stopped and searched Winston. Nothing was found but he was charged £15 for having faulty brakes, it was his first conviction. His mother said that after that day “for every little thing they pick him a cat playing with a mouse, they keep arresting him, then they let him go.”[vi]

After 15 months Winston’s apprenticeship ended when he was falsely accused of theft in the staff canteen. He and his friends with little else to do and without legitimate means of making money began to participate in crime, mainly burglary. In December 1977, Winston, who was sometimes called Sticks, and 15 others were charged with nine counts of burglary and theft at Snaresbrook Crown Court, they were sent to borstal. Winston’s attitude made him unpopular, particularly with police, according to his brother George. “He was never the kind of person who would take any nonsense from anyone...a lot of people thought he was older than his age because of the way he spoke. If he saw someone being arrested he would always speak up and have his say.”[vii] Following an argument at a nightclub in 1979 Winston was attacked with a broken glass, in self defence he jabbed at his attacker with a chair leg. He received six months in jail for malicious wounding as a result of the incident. Just a few weeks following his release Winston was attacked again, this time at a party by the jealous boyfriend of a girl he had been talking to. Winston and his attacker were both armed with knives, both men sustained cuts. That same evening musician Lennie Mackintosh was found stabbed to death outside a party. Winston Silcott was charged with murder but after a year on remand in Brixton Prison, and two trials whereby testimonies were changed by witnesses, he was acquitted. It was inevitable that his run-ins with the police to this point would see that he became someone they’d likely keep an eye on. Winston and a friend of his began their own sound system in 1980, something he was very ambitious about. Another of his friends ‘DJ Jazzie B’ from Hornsey ran a local sound system called Jah Rico which changed to Soul II Soul in 1982, before becoming the group Soul II Soul which had a UK and US top hit with Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) in the late 1980’s. 

In 1982 Winston Silcott opened a greengrocers shop on the Broadwater Farm estate from which the police were convinced had been obtained through his involvement in crime. How else could someone recently released from prison afford to own and run a business. Dolly Kiffin, a Jamaican born dressmaker, was a founder of the Broadwater Farm Youth Association. Following a meeting with Haringey council and the Cooperative Development Unit she gained agreement for training youths[viii] to set up their own businesses. Funds were sought from the Greater London Enterprise Broad to begin initiatives and seven cooperatives were established in Tottenham: the laundry, the painting and decorating shop (both on the Farm), and a restaurant. Of a small sum leftover £300 was given to two youths to set up and fruit and vegetable shop on the Farm. Winston Silcott’s greengrocer was one of the cooperatives. A member of the Broadwater Farm Youth Association recalled that “we would never have given him that job if we had thought he was the kind to run away with the money or refuse to give it to us...he could be strong yes, and if you came to him for trouble, well...But he wasn't some heartless thug who went around hurting people. He was always willing to defend people. That was how he ended up involved in the Tony Smith thing.”[ix] In 1984 a row began among a group of youths outside Winston’s shop which he broke up. One of those involved was the leader of a group known as the ‘Yankee Posse’, a boxer called Anthony Smith. The Yankee Posse, as they were reportedly known, strutted throughout the Farm, robbing local youths and showing off gun butts in their belts. Collectively they’d threatened to ‘take him Silcott out’. 

In December 1984 Winston was pursued by Anthony Smith, with two of his associates, armed with knives at a party. To even up his chances Winston Silcott borrowed a knife and during a physical altercation he stabbed Smith twice. Winston had also been slashed with a knife, sustaining superficial wounds and later scars, however, Anthony Smith died a week later. He challenged a Home Office refusal to allow an appeal on the grounds of self-defence. Before this case was substantiated the Broadwater Farm riots of October 1985 had taken place, during which time Silcott was still on bail. A friend said that “It was odds to sods they were going to arrest Winston for Blakelock...They arrested him for so many other things and each time he had made them look, well, stupid when they had to let him go”. After two months of evidence and three days’ deliberation, three men were pronounced guilty of PC Blakelock’s murder in March 1987. They became known as the Tottenham Three and they included Winston Silcott who was told that he must serve at least 30 years. In addition to the guilty charge for PC Blakelock’s murder, Winston Silcott had been recommended to serve 12 years for the murder of Anthony Smith from the Yankee Posse. His lawyers submitted a petition to then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, arguing that his claim of self-defence be referred to the Court of Appeal. The appeal contained details of the threats made toward Winston Silcott from Anthony Smith in the weeks before the incident. Smith had threatened to kill Winston Silcott for defending a friend who’d fallen foul of the Yankee Posse. Furthermore, there were statements from witnesses at the party who said Smith drew his knife first and attacked Winston without provocation. There was also a crucial testimony from a police officer, Detective Sergeant Douglas Hill, which said the doorman told him, “Between you and me, the dead guy caused it all. He came in with a knife and cut Sticks (Silcott) and Sticks defended himself. Smith brought it all on himself.”[x] This evidence was not disclosed to the Crown when Silcott first stood trial. Michael Howard refused the petition. 

In the week following PC Blakelock’s death Winston Silcott came face to face with Detective Chief Superintendent Graham Melvin in an interview at Paddington Green police station, he was to be questioned about the Blakelock murder. DCS Melvin kept Winston Silcott in custody for 22 hours; he was denied legal advice during this period. DCS Melvin conducted the interrogation with Detective Inspector Maxwell Dingle who sat behind the desk recording questions and answers. In accordance with the provisions of the new Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE 1984), DI Dingle recorded everything said contemporaneously, along with ‘stage directions’ describing Silcott’s actions[xi]. Later at the trial in 1987, Silcott’s plight would be dependent on the comments which were recorded from that interrogation which DCS Melvin claimed he made in reply. Barbara Mills QC, Silcott’s defence counsel, cross-examined DCS Melvin who admitted that despite 1,000 police photographs being taken during the riots, none depicted Winston Silcott. There were no witnesses to attest his involvement, no forensic evidence, and his shoes did not match footprints found at the scene of the attack. The accuracy in the recording of his interview was integral in the jury establishing a verdict. Mr Judge Hodgson told the jury it was their job to decide whether or not the interview record “amounts to full, reliable and truthful confession to murder...if you are not sure, you must find him not guilty”. The Tottenham Three were found guilty in March 1987. An appeal was made and heard by the Court of Appeal five years after Winston Silcott’s conviction for the murder of PC Blackelock. According to the official transcripts, R v Ragship; R v Silcott; R v Braithwaite, from 5 December, 1991, the papers produced from the interview (7:11pm to 8pm, 13th October 1985), recorded the exchanges between Winston Silcott and interviewing officers as follows: 

Interview Page 3 
"Q. What about the other photograph? 
A. You tell me. You know it all. If that's all you've got, you've got nothing man. You've made a mistake, that's not me and you're trying to say it's me. That's stupid man. 
Q. There were a large number of photographs taken that night which will give an accurate picture of who was involved in the violence. 
A. Look if you have a photograph show me. If not just take me downstairs and charge me. . . . 

Interview Page 4 
Q. I believe that you were with ML, NJ and others standing over Police Constable Blakelock when he was on the ground. You had either a machete or something like a sword with which you struck the officer. 
A. Who told you that? 
Q. I am not prepared to tell you who has described your part in the murder of the officer, suffice to say that I have been told that you played an active part in murdering him. 
A. They're only kids. No one's going to believe them. You say they say that. How do I know. I don't go with kids. 
Q. What makes you think that the people I am referring to who have witnessed your part in the murder are young people? 
A. Pause. You've only had kids in so far haven't you? 

Interview Page 5 
Q. If only one person had told me of your part in this crime I would not be so confident in my belief that you were the ringleader that night. When there is more than one person saying the same thing the facts become clear." 
At this point Silcott looked out of the window. He stood up, moved to the window and again looked out. He returned to his chair and sat down saying: "You cunts, you cunts". He leaned back in his chair with tears in his eyes. He raised his arms above his head and said: "Jesus Jesus". 

The questioning continued: 
Q. Did you murder Police Constable Blakelock? 
A. You ain't got enough evidence. Those kids will never go to court. You wait and see. Nobody else will talk to you. You can't keep me away from them. . . . 
Q. What do you mean by that? 
A. I ain't saying no more and you've got a big surprise coming. You will probably be out of a job. 
Q. Are you telling me that any witness is in danger from you? 

Interview Page 6 
A. Just take me down and charge me. I ain't saying no more. I ain't signing anything. You ain't got no evidence. 
Q. Apart from the murder it is important to recover the firearms and knives that were used that night. . . . 
A. You're too slow man. They have gone. 
Q. Mr Silcott in order to save further life it is essential we find those weapons. Can you help me? 
A. [Silcott laughed and said], No fuck you. You find them. 
Q. Mr Silcott I firmly believe that you were the ringleader in the attack upon the officer. You had a weapon. You used it on the officer and you caused other people to stab and cut that officer. 
A. They won't give evidence against me." 

Results of an Esda (Electrostatic Deposition Analysis) on the original interview notes, described by top forensic scientists as absolutely clear-cut, suggested that vital sections of this text were interpolated after the interrogation. The section of notes which the Crown based its entire prosecution case was later deemed questionable. Furthermore, Winston Silcott had not signed the notes. The Esda analysis had disproved DCS Melvin’s claims from the 1987 trial, that notes of a crucial interview conducted with Winston Silcott, one of the accused, had been taken contemporaneously. Furthermore, DCS Melvin’s dishonesty contaminated the case against the two other defendants. It was announced on December 14, 1991, that DCS Melvin, the officer who had led the inquiry into the killing of PC Keith Blakelock, would be prosecuted for perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice[xii]. DI Dingle also faced charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The murder convictions of the Tottenham Three were overturned. Unsurprisingly, some might say, DCS Melvin and DI Dingle were later acquitted of perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, the prosecution for reasons unknown did not call upon Silcott as a witness[xiii]

A group known as the Broadwater Farm Posse is said to have begun in the late 1970s, it was during this time that Winston Silcott and 15 of his friends had collectively been arrested and charged for nine burglaries. Whilst there is nothing to say that this posse was a criminal gang, one of the founding members it is said was a man known as ‘Sticks’, a nickname of Winston Silcott, referring to the natty dress sense that made him look like a ‘sticks man’ or Spiv[xiv]. There is no official documented literature that supports the existence of such a collective; however, there are media references to Winston Silcott as a gang leader, albeit drawing on bias police accounts. Some coverage of the Anthony Smith murder also referred to the incident as being a dispute between rival gangs[xv][xvi]. The only published material which sheds light on what could be deemed early ‘gang activity’ on the Broadwater Farm Estate can be found in the book We Dared, written by Danny Woollard. Woollard was a notorious East End gangster who was jailed in 1998, then aged 54, for his involvement in a £7.2million security van robbery in the City of London, also known as the Snowhill Robbery. He contends that Sticks, was in fact Styx, "after the mythical river which flows by the gates of hell, because when you cross Stix (sic) you get hell" (Woollard 2003, p. 71). Woollard sheds light on an incident whereby he and his associates had attended Broadwater Farm to partake in a dog fighting event, after those from the Farm had made a challenge in the Sporting Dog Journal which began publishing in 1972, and the Pit Bull Gazette. The challenge was for £10,000 a side. A contract was agreed between Woollard and three men from Broadwater Farm who he refers to as ‘Outlaw’, ‘Ebony’ and ‘Cribb’, the latter being the dog owner. Cribb’s dog, Commander, was killed during the fight by Woollard’s dog, Sam. The scene became heated and Danny Woollard, and his friend Micky Gluckstead, another reputed East End villain, wound up brawling with those from the Farm. Woollard and his companions were armed with a gun; they shot one person as they made off from Broadwater Farm back to Forest Gate. Woollard and co were told in no uncertain terms never to come back to Tottenham, and those from the Farm said that they’d stay out of the East End. 

Click Here for Part Three: Yardies

[i] Glancey, J. & White, J. (1991). ‘Down, down, down on the Farm’, The Independent, 14 December, p. 29.
[ii] Loney, M. (1986). Imagery and reality in the Broadwater Farm riot. Critical Social Policy. 6 (1), 81-86.
[iii] Hearst, D. Parry, G. & Ezard, J. (1985) ‘Dispute with police was first link in riots chain’, The Guardian, 8 October.
[iv] ibid
[v] Rose, D. (1987). ‘Riot mob tried to behead PC Blakelock, says QC’, The Guardian, 22 January.
[vi] Victor, P. (1994). ‘Is he icon or demon?’, The Independent, 7 August, p.17.
[vii] ibid
[viii] Those on the Youth Opportunities job training schemes (YOPS)
[ix] Victor, P. (1994). ‘Is he icon or demon?’, The Independent, 7 August, p.17.
[x] Rose, D. (2004). ‘They created Winston Silcott, the beast of Broadwater Farm. And they won’t let this creation lie down and die’, The Observer, 18 January, p.1.
[xi] Rose, D. (1991). ‘The Winston Silcott Case: What the jury did not know’, The Observer, 14 July, p.19.
[xii] Mullin, J. (1991). ‘Blakelock detectives charged’, The Guardian, 14 December.
[xiii] Rose, D. (2004). ‘They created Winston Silcott, the beast of Broadwater Farm. And they won’t let this creation lie down and die’, The Observer, 18 January, p.1.
[xiv] Heller, Z. (1991). ‘The Silcott variations’, The Independent, 28 July.
[xv] Dalrymple, J. (1990). ‘Did Winston Silcott murder PC Blakelock’, The Independent, 28 January, p.17.
[xvi] Rose, D. (1988). ‘Broadwater three ‘safely convicted’: Lord Lane refuses leave to appeal over killing of PC’, The Guardian, 14 December.

Tuesday, 1 January 1985

Part One: Young Raiders Posse

London Street Gangs: A modern history 

Part One: Young Raiders Posse 

Street gangs have for many years attracted adult condemnation, however, the notion of the ‘gang’ was largely absent from post-war Britain. The rejection of gangs was down to the American stereotypes, portrayed by the motion picture industry, which bore very little resemblance to the delinquent youth groups of the United Kingdom. By the 1960s deviant youth groups here were labelled as sub-cultures by sociologists and criminologists such as David Downes[i]

“America owns the gang, while Britain has traditionally been the home of subcultures.” John Muncie[ii]

Noel ‘Razor’ Smith joins the two favoured academic terms in his book Warrior Kings: The South London Gang Wars 1976-1982[iii], placing his competing subcultures of south London firmly within the context of youth gangs. During this period the Labour government had striven for full male employment and Smith’s youth gangs seemed to be motivated much more by violence, reputation and territory with a lesser need for financial gain. Smith’s memoirs tell us of a south London torn up by gangs of young people who pledged allegiance to numerous subculture gangs such as the Rebel Teds, Skinheads, Mods, Rockers, Soul Boys and Smoothies. They fought one another on the streets, parks and council estates, often over minor slights, frequently bloody but very rarely fatal. Weapons were a feature of these battles and it was common for bicycle chains, knuckle-dusters, lead pipes and razors to be carried by participants. There were a host of south London gangs including the Battersea Teds, from the Patmore Estate, Mitcham Skinheads, Clapham Junction Rebels, Tilson House Job and The Flash Pakis from Tooting. Contrary to popular belief subculture gangs, with the exception of National Front mobs and Skinheads, included non-whites. There were Black Teddy Boys, such as Black Bill of Tooting, Olly the Cat of Streatham and Jester of the Shepherd’s Bush Rebels to name a few exceptions. Another gang, the New Park Dreads were a multi-racial group of soul boys, with two of the leading members being brothers of Irish heritage. New Park Dreads were notorious, they were thought to be the first group of this period to carry knives, and they were also responsible for a murder at a Streatham wine bar in 1977. During the 1970s a travelling fun fair pitched up on Tooting Bec Common during the summer and was a draw for the south London gangs. Here there were reported incidents whereby young people had been stabbed during fights between rivals. A man known as Barry Louvane was said to be a top gang tattooist at the time who had a shop in Garrat Lane near the Arndale Centre in Wandsworth. He was believed to have probably done tattoos for every south London gang of the 1970s from his parlour, which local gang affiliated youths classed as neutral territory. 

Noel ‘Razor’ Smith was part of a gang based around Balham, south-west London. Known firstly as the Sinclair Mob, taking their name from Sinclair House, they fought instinctively with rival youths from other estates and would try and gain victories by beating a rival gang on their own territory. Those that carried knives mitigated with the same excuse as young people today, for protection. Reporting assaults and even minor wounds sustained during these gang fights was generally not the done thing, as also remains the same today. The group reputation counted for a lot and as collective identities developed so did the importance of showing it off by daubing agreed gang names on walls, having the correct clothing and appearance to identify with your gang and even gang tattoos on the necks and arms stating gang names and other acronyms associated with your subculture identity. Razor’s gang were Rebel Teds, a revival of the 1950s Teddy Boys, and a later split within the Sinclair Mob led to his faction becoming known as the Balham Wildkatz. Violence was said to have taken place entirely amongst gang members, or those identifiable as being from rival sub-cultural movements. When they clashed they acted as though the general public did not exist yet their escapades helped fuel panic and fear as a result of some very large scale clashes. By the end of the 1970s Razor describes south London as a dangerous place for young people because of the large number of sub-culture gangs which were present. It was perceived to have escalated to a point whereby youths couldn't even go down the shops without some other teenager with a rival identity wanting to stab them or knock them out on sight. In the end, like the posses that followed, Razor and his peers also progressed into crime for financial gain. He became an armed robber, a career criminal, notching up 58 criminal convictions and spending almost 33 years behind bars. 

In the early 1980s Wayne Rowe, also known as Fathead after a reggae musician, was drawn into the lifestyle of drugs, guns and gangs on the Stockwell Park estate in south London where he and his peers formed a gang called the Wakod Posse, a crew of about eight, including Wayne, that grew to number as many as fifty. The Wakod Posse had followed the Raiders Posse, a crew set up by the elder brothers of some of the Wakod members. A succession of crews and posse’s formed in Brixton and Stockwell during the 1980s which contributed to its reputation as a dangerous place, they included the aforementioned Raiders and Wakod posses, the Hangman Posse and the 28’s. As Wayne recalled “There was no leader of our crew, though certain individuals always thought they had the final say. But mostly we got along just fine with each other and with the other posses. Inevitably, this changed when individuals started to make money from drugs. Envy and greed set in, and you had to protect your interested.”[iv] The generation in which the 1980s posses developed was by many accounts driven by rising youth unemployment, and whilst there is a myriad of reasons that people become involved with street gangs, many of the earliest accounts contend that it was a financially motivated decision. “I remember what it was like to be out of work, trying endlessly to get jobs with no success. I was so broke that I didn’t have any money to put in the electricity meter. When the credit went down to 20p and I had no one to lend me money, I felt I had no choice but to rob someone”[v] said Wayne. Sir Kenneth Newman, who became commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in 1982, made tackling street crime, including robbery, one of his number one priorities. When it came to handing over to Peter Imbert five years later he conceded that during his term in office, robbery, including knife point robbery, drugs and organised crime had worsened and there had undoubtedly been a growth in gratuitous violence[vi]. Robbery and muggings by urban youth become a folk demon applied to the street gangs of the 1980s by the national media. From the beginning of Noel ‘Razor’ Smith’s gang wars to the establishment of the Wakod Posse there was a 47% increase[vii] in robbery offences reported to police in England and Wales – more than half of the reported offences took place within London. 

By 1987 recorded robbery offences exceeded 50 per day in the capital, many of which were carried out using a tactic derived from the United States, known as ‘steaming’. The American-style crime trend involves gangs of up to 30 people swarming into a shop or through a bus, or underground carriage, and stealing en-masse. The large numbers alone ensure that victims are engulfed and other members of the public are unable to stop them. Shops and the London transport network became the most affected targets of such gangs. Whilst youth gangs were causing street robberies to spike, older mainly British born criminals were causing a blip of their own, pushing up figures for commercial robberies of banks, security vans and building societies by 74% just in London, from 370 in 1983 to 644 in 1987[viii]. The biggest of these robberies was the Brinks-Mat gold bullion raid of 1983, with an estimated coup of £26million. The general consensus among true crime authors is that these cash and bullion heists funded the growth of Britain’s drugs trade with the youth gang robbers becoming the shop floor retailers. A street crime campaign was set up by the Metropolitan Police to combat rising street robbery and snatch thefts in 1987 focusing on the inner city districts of Brixton, Stoke Newington, Hackney, Tottenham, Notting Hill, Kilburn, Peckham, Battersea, Lewisham, Holloway, Wembley, Streatham, Walworth and West Ham. These were the forces worst hit policing divisions, Brixton was particularly bad and had almost twice as many recorded offences as second placed Stoke Newington. The British Transport Police mounted their own special operations on the London Underground network to prevent steaming, focusing on twelve identified gangs[ix]. By using video footage of offences police in London were able to identify and apprehend 320 gang members during 10 months of targeted work in 1988. The gangs targeted were known to the police by names such as the West Kensington Massive, referring to the West Kensington housing estate in Hammersmith and Fulham, Stamford Hill Posse, DMC Posse from north and east London, Junction Boys and the KGP. As part of the work to crack down on steaming an attempt was made to address the culprits via JBC, a small north London pirate radio station, after police said they’d established a link between another north London station and an outbreak of steaming in which London Underground passengers were terrorised by 200 steamers going home after a concert in west London[x]. Despite all their efforts, street robbery in London would continue to rise annually over the next eight years almost doubling in volume. 

Whilst steaming gangs made headlines the concept of gang violence was absent. Variously the articles relating to gang violence in the 1980s were reserved for football hooligans and racially aggravated violence, the latter related specifically to the targeting of Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bengali residents at the hands of white British youths in areas such as Somers Town, Ilford, Tower Hamlets and Newham. In April 1984 young Asians and whites battled one another outside the Duke of Edinburgh public house in east London. It followed a series of attacks and counter attacks involving Asians and whites in Newham, later leading local Asians to form the Newham Seven Defence Committee. At the Duke of Edinburgh approximately 50 Asian youths, angered at a series of attacks during the day, marched with bricks, bottles and iron bars on what they believed to be the headquarters of the white youths responsible. Seven Asian youths who went on trial were given the name the Newham Seven, four of whom were found guilty of fighting and making an affray, three white youths were also found guilty of similar charges[xi]. It became referred to in popular media as the trial of the Newham Seven. The book We Dared[xii] written many years later by a self-confessed East End criminal contended that the Newham Seven were a well-known criminal gang in 1980s Newham. Ten months after the Duke of Edinburgh brawl the Young Raiders Posse in south London were about to set a new tone for street gangs in Britain. Whilst they had participated in economically motivated crimes, such as robbery and burglary, their generation heinously found solace in carrying out acts of gratuitous violence, and it did not matter whether or not the victims were other gang members. 

In January 1985, two young girls, both 16, were returning home from a pop concert at 2am in south London. As they walked home along Brixton Road they were pounced on and frogmarched to an underground garage area on the Stockwell Park estate. As the girls were dragged to the garages, they were robbed of money and jewellery. Then even more harrowing, several young boys queued up to rape the two girls, squabbling among themselves as to who should go first. Although it’s unthinkably appeasing, police said that the girls were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were systematically degraded. One of them was raped 30 times whilst the other was raped 15 times on the concrete floor of the garage area. They were also forced to perform oral sex. Neither girl offered resistance out of fear. Mrs Myrtle Mbatha said in mitigation for one of the accused that their parents found it hard to instill proper sexual attitudes because television films and newspapers showed young men how easy it is to treat young women in a degrading way. In the preceding decade there had been a 150% increase in the volume of rape cases heard by courts[xiii]. When the girls were finally freed they ran to nearby Brixton police station. Seven teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 were charged in relation to this vile enterprise. They resided on the Stockwell Park estate and were collectively known as the Young Raiders Posse. Each of the youths was known by their own street moniker. There was 17-year-old ‘Private Gripper’ who had previous convictions for theft and for burglary. He and an 18-year-old clerical officer nicknamed ‘Star’ or ‘Sugar Gee’ were said to have helped the girls dress and leave after their ordeal. A 17-year-old electrical engineer nicknamed ‘General Smiley’, with previous convictions for robbery, was accused of being the gangs’ leader. The two younger boys, aged 14 and 15, also had previous convictions for arson, burglary, violence and possessing a loaded airgun. Lastly, there was an 18-year-old known by the nickname ‘Flash’, he was the only person charged who did not claim that the girls were willing participants. He was also the only member of the group to express remorse, admitting one charge of indecent assault. 

The youths chatted and laughed among themselves during the three-week trial at the Old Bailey in 1986. One of them when asked if he was sorry replied: ‘Not particularly’. The four older members of the gang were each found guilty of one rape charge against each girl. They were sentenced to seven years’ youth custody, which entailed transfer to prison at the age of 21. Relatives in the public gallery wept and gasped as the judge sentenced them. The two younger boys, who were found guilty of one rape charge each, were given three-year sentences under the Children and Young Persons Act. No emotion was shown by the defendants as the verdicts were announced. The Recorder of London, Sir James Miskin, told the court that the deterrent sentences "must express society’s horror of the mounting volume of man’s inhumanity to women". The much publicised case stimulated further debate on sentencing of rapists and led to MP’s calling for greater consistency, whilst criticising the diversity and inequity of judiciary policy at the time. Figures from 1984 showed that 325 defendants were sentenced at crown courts for rape, with 297 being custodial sentences. Almost two-thirds (63%) of sentences were for between two to five years whilst around one-in-twenty (6%) were for more than five years. Following the case of the Young Raiders Posse, David Mellor, then Home Office minister, urged the Lord Chief Justice to issue new guidelines on sentencing rape cases, including increasing sentencing bands for aggravated rape including gang rapes, multiple rapes, attacks on the very young and those marked by a high degree of violence[xiv]

During the tenure of the Young Raiders a new generation of juvenile street collectives began to spread outward from local epicentres across inner London. Around Brixton there were groups in nearby Stockwell, Kennington and Tulse Hill using names such as the Punishers and the 28s. Other areas of south London saw their own version of this occurring around centres such as Peckham, Deptford and New Cross. Whilst this was going on, north of the River Thames quite possibly the beginning of one of London’s most infamous street collectives was taking shape. 

Click Here for Part Two: The Farm

[i] Downes, D. (1966). The Delinquent Solution, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul
[ii] Muncie, J. (1999). Youth and Crime, p.160, London: Sage
[iii] Smith, N. (2008). Warrior Kings: The South London Gang Wars 1976-192. London: Apex.
[iv] Rowe, W. (2004). ‘Fifteen of my friends were shot dead...only prison saved me’, Mail on Sunday, 21 November, p.62.
[v] ibid
[vi] Greig, G. & Hogg, A. (1987). ‘Steamer mobs bring a vicious new dimension to street crime’, The Sunday Times, 5 July.
[vii] Home Office: Statistical Publication (1984). Total Notifiable Offences in England & Wales
[viii] Greig, G. & Hogg, A. (1987). ‘Steamer mobs bring a vicious new dimension to street crime’, The Sunday Times, 5 July.
[ix] Tendler, S. (1988). ‘Underground action over steaming’, The Times, 16 August.
[x] Leppard, D. (1988). ‘Carnival gangs face hit squads’, The Sunday Times, 21 August
[xi] Keel, P. & Tirbutt, S. (1985). ‘Seven convicted in ‘racism’ trial’, The Guardian, 11 July.
[xii] Woollard, D. (2003). We Dared. London: John Blake.
[xiii] Court Reporter (1985). ‘Rapists get seven years for act of inhumanity’, The Guardian, 19 November.
[xiv] Travis, A. (1985). ‘Rape guidelines urged by Mellor’, The Guardian, 22 November.