In 1981 and 1985 major riots broke out in British cities. These included: in 1981, Brixton (London), Toxteth (Liverpool), Handsworth (Birmingham) and Chapeltown (Leeds), and in 1985, Broadwater Farm (London), Brixton (London) and Handsworth (Birmingham). Long standing tensions between local communities and the police had been exacerbated by the disproportionate use of 'stop and search' ('sus') powers against young black men and the increasing economic decline of inner city areas (in particular the rapid growth in unemployment).
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The Modern Records Centre's archive collections include contemporary documents about the riots of the 1980s, as well as the broader issues of policing and social conditions in Britain's inner cities. Information about some of these sources is given below. A 'ready-made' search of our archive catalogueLink opens in a new window which identifies some additional items on this subject is also available.
We have been unable to publish digital copies online as all of the material listed below is in copyright. Researchers are welcome to look at the original documents in the MRC reading room.
Runnymede Trust pamphlet by Peter Evans. It contains the results of "a survey of young immigrant males" (divided into groups of Indians, West Indians and Pakistanis), and includes responses to questions about perceptions of the law abiding nature of their communities and discriminatory treatment by the police.
Newspaper of the Black Unity and Freedom Party, a British Black Power group - front page headline 'Liverpool: Fascists, skinheads, and police gang up against black people'. It reports on events in Liverpool 8 (Toxteth).
Collection of interviews published as a pamphlet by the Birmingham-based group AFFOR, in an "attempt to communicate to a wider audience the experiences, frustrations and sense of bitter injustice of young black people concerning police behaviour".
BPOCAS broadsheet published as part of the campaign against police use of 'stop and search'.
Handbill from the People's National Party Socialist Youth Movement about the use of 'stop and search'.
Pamphlet published by Tower Hamlets Trades Council and Hackney Legal Action Group. It relates to anti-fascist protests in the Brick Lane area of East London (led by members of the local Bengali community), arrests of protesters by the police, and the work of the Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Committee.
Pamphlet which includes introduction on institutional racism and chapters on 'Sus', the 'Special Patrol Group', 'What were the SPG doing in Lambeth?' and 'The accountability of the police'.
Pamphlet published by the Commission for Racial Equality. It includes sections on 'The disadvantage of urban youth', 'Youth in racial strife', 'Types of disadvantaged youth', 'Black youth and the statutory services', 'The police and the courts' and 'Black self help'.
File of photographs included in the archives of the National Union of Public Employees. It includes several images taken during riots in Brixton.
Trades Union Congress files on race relations and conditions in the inner cities
The TUC archive includes a large amount of material on race relations in Britain, including a series of files on "Colour Problems and Racial Discrimination"Link opens in a new window during the 1970s and 1980s. The collection includes several files which contain material on the riots of 1981, including:
The file includes the TUC policy statement on 'Regenerating our inner cities', press releases on the riots, correspondence (including with the Home Secretary) and circulars (including from Merseyside Community Relations Council).
Includes briefing notes, correspondence and reports on policing and race relations.
Contains material relating to conditions in Britain's inner cities, including a report of a meeting between the Trades Union Congress General Council and the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet about the TUC's 1981 policy statement on 'Regenerating our inner cities'.
Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure
The RCCP was set up in 1978 to examine the duties and powers of the police and the rights and duties of suspects in respect of the investigation of criminal offences and the procedure for prosecution in criminal cases. It reported in 1981. The Modern Records Centre has copies of evidence submitted to the Commission, including:
The Socialist Party (formerly Militant Tendency)
Two files specifically relating to riots during the 1980s are included in the archives of Militant Tendency, a Trotskyist group which operated within the Labour Party during the 1980s (and ran Liverpool City Council between 1983-1987):
File which includes leaflets and press releases about the Brixton riots and behaviour of the police in London and Liverpool, produced by various organisations, 1981.
File which includes leaflets from various organisations; photocopied information re Brixton People's Enquiry; ephemera and reports relating to the Broadwater Farm riots; and Leeds Labour Party Young Socialists pamphlet 'Youth Campaign Against Unemployment: The night that Brixton burned!!', c1981.
File of correspondence from the archives of the Coventry MP William Wilson. It includes letters on both local and national topics, including the Scarman Report into the causes of the 1981 riots.
Booklet published by the Lord Mayor's Committee for Racial Harmony, an independent body set up in 1981 to assist "in the promotion of racial understanding and co-operation, encouraging the due observance of the law and identifying policies, approaches and organisations which could help to eliminate racial tension".
Amnesty International press release, report and update, all from 1988, on arrests and prosecutions following the Broadwater Farm riots. The convictions of Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite for the murder of the police officer Keith Blakelock during the riots were overturned in 1991.
Newspapers, journals and 'zines in this collection include articles and comment on riots during the 1980s, usually from an anti-establishment perspective.