To: "Editor, Islington Tribune"
Date: Wednesday, April 23, 2008 4:41 PM
Subject: Howard Hannah text & photo - 18th April
I expect this comes too late for this week's edition, but for the sake of the historical record and fairness, I hope you will hold this letter over for next weeks's issue.
In his article ("How the angry eight fought to keep racism out of their paper", 18th April) Howard Hannah says:
"In 1974 a National Front (NF) rally in Red Lion Square, Holborn, resulted in the death of Kevin Gately, a 21 year old anti-fascist student."
The NF rally was held indoors at the Conway Hall. It was an entirely peaceful event. It was preceded by a march from Westminster during which no NF members were arrested or involved in any violent clashes. No NF members were arrested that day.
The riot which transpired in Red Lion Square took place an hour before the start of the NF rally, when supporters of the International Marxist Group (IMG), including Kevin Gately, departed from a route pre-agreed with the police and attacked the police cordon protecting Conway Hall with a view to invading the building and preventing access to it by the NF. No NF members were in the vicinity of the riot.
Don't take my word for any of this. Lord Justice Scarman, noted for his anti-racist views, conducted a public judicial inquiry into the riot. I append relevant passages taken from his report "The Red Lion Square Disorders of 15 June 1974", starting with paragraph 22.
The photo used with Hannah's piece was obviously chosen because it shows a young 'punk' wearing swastika T-shirt. The photo caption reads: "National Front rallies in the mid-1970s invariably spawned violent attacks". That's grotesque and perverse in view of Scarman's findings of fact. Nobody displaying a swastika was ever allowed to participate in any NF activity.
That photograph was not taken of participants at any NF demonstration. Look at the shield shaped badge, bearing a 'Sunwheel' (cross and circle) motif being worn on the upper left-hand side of the 'punk's' leather jacket (below the skull and cross-bones) and at a similar badge at the top of the tie of the conventionally-dressed young man. Both wearing the badge of an organisation called the British Movement (BM).
The BM was proscribed by the NF (at my instigation). Any of its members who tried to infiltrate NF activities were evicted by me or my stewards. The deputy-leader of BM, Ray Hill, turned out to be a paid agent of "anti-fascist" 'Searchlight' magazine. On being exposed as an 'agent provocateur', Hill toured the country earning fees giving lectures at anti-fascist meetings.
Hannah was wrong to state that the "One down, a million to go" remark (made at a street meeting allegedly in reference to the killing of a young Sikh in an alleged but unproven racist attack) was made by "one of the their [i.e. the NF's] leaders, John Kingsley Read".
Read made that remark as leader of the National Party (NP). He was prosecuted for that speech at an Old Bailey trial and was acquitted by the jury and wished "Good luck" by the judge.
None of the leaders of the NF during my time with that party, or subsequently so far as I know, were ever charged, let alone convicted, of encouraging "random, brutal and often fatal attacks on black and Asian people".
Counsel representing the IMG at Lord Scarman's Inquiry was a young left wing barrister called Stephen Sedley. His cross-examination of me degenerated into a shouting match and Scarman had to calm us down. Sedley is now a Lord Justice of Appeal.
About a decade ago he established a precedent upholding free speech in public places. In his judgment he remarked (I paraphrase): "Free speech without the freedom to offend is no free speech at all."
Surely we can all agree with that?
National Activities Organiser,
1970 - 1983.
Extracts from Lord Justice Scarman's Report:
"The Red Lion Square Disorders of 15 June 1974"
(HMSO, Cmnd. 5919, February 1975)
22: "....A gap opened up between the rear of those 500 [leading the anti-NF march] and those following the banner of the International Marxist Group. I have no doubt that this gap was deliberately created by the IMG slowing its pace a little. ..... Disregarding the direction taken by the march ahead of them they led a charge round the corner to the left of the police cordon. There thus began ..... 'a deliberate, determined, and sustained attack' on the police cordon. It was unexpected, unprovoked and viciously violent. It was the beginning of the afternoon's violence in the course of which one young man sustained a fatal injury, and an unknown number of demonstrators and 46 policemen were injured. A heavy responsibility rests on those who instigated and led that assault."
36: "The riot was short-lived and order was restored in Red Lion Square within 15 minutes. Nevertheless it was to prove the fiercest fight of the day, and there were many injuries. In all, 31 policemen were injured as a result of blows on the head, body punches, kicks and falls under the pressure of the crowd. A number of demonstrators suffered similar injuries. By far the most serious consequence was the injury from which Kevin Gately so tragically died some hours later.
38: "There is no evidence that he was struck any blow by any policeman ..... Mr Bailey of the IMG clearly recognised the absence of any direct evidence as to the cause of the injury when he made he remarkable declaration that political responsibility for the death lay firstly with the National Front (who were a mile or so away at the time); and secondly with the authorities for allowing the National Front to march -- a declaration which, though it may have some emotive political value, is nonsense, if it be judged against the background of what happened and responsibilities of those who were there and took part in the events.
44: "The National Front had moved off from their assembly point at Tothill Street shortly before 3pm. In numbers they were about 1,000, or perhaps slightly less. .... The march was conducted in silence except for the accompaniment of a bass drum, four side drums and a fife. .... By the standards of political demonstrations the demonstration was regarded by the police as orderly and well-disciplined."
67: "In the course of the Inquiry the police were heavily criticised for their handling of the disorders ..... I propose to state my findings on the criticisms which in my judgment call for consideration and the reasons for each finding.
"(b) 'In view of its political character and provocative nature the National Front march should have been prevented by the police, not protected by them'."
69: "....The police are not concerned with the politics of a demonstration: if they were, we should be a police state .... with the exception of some of the counter-demonstrators, nobody was provoked into any breach of the peace. And the 'provocation' to the counter-demonstrators was not anything that they saw the National Front do, but the mere idea that they were marching at all."
70: "It is necessary to understand the true nature of this criticism in order that it may be rejected as a menace to our liberties. It assumes that the police should be directed to prevent a demonstration taking place not because of any threats to public order but because the views being propagated by the demonstration are regarded as odious by others. The police cannot be allowed to do any such thing, unless Parliament expressly requires it to be done. Parliament has not forbidden the streets to the National Front: and, were the police to do so they would be usurping the political function."