[sixties-l] Look back in anger [Angry Brigade] (fwd)

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Date: Wed Feb 06 2002 - 21:56:14 EST

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    Date: Mon, 04 Feb 2002 17:31:06 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Look back in anger [Angry Brigade]

    Look back in anger


    They were the British Baader Meinhof, 70s icons of the radical left. Thirty
    years ago, the Angry Brigade launched a string of bombing attacks against
    the heart of the British Establishment. No one was killed, but after a
    clampdown on the 'counter culture' and amid accusations of a Bomb Squad
    'fix', four radicals were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Now, for the very
    first time, two of the Angries break their vow of silence

    Martin Bright
    Sunday February 3, 2002
    The Observer

    Amhurst Road hasn't changed much in the past 30 years. Rotting chunks of
    low-rise council blocks break up the long lines of run-down Victorian
    villas. There are trees, but they don't look at home. There are shops, but
    no banks, just the odd bureau for cashing cheques. Here and there, towards
    the top of Amhurst Road, pockets of gentility peek through the desperation.
    At the farthest point north, as Amhurst Road ends and Stoke Newington
    begins, there's even a delicatessen. But all-in-all it's pretty low-key and
    anonymous. You could easily blend into the surroundings if you were a
    criminal. Or a terrorist.
    Number 359, the last building on Amhurst Road, has been spruced up a little,
    but it hasn't changed much since 20 August 1971, when a police squad raided
    the upstairs flat and found a small arsenal of weapons and explosives. They
    belonged to Britain's only homegrown urban terrorist group, the Angry
    Brigade. In the series of 25 bombings attributed to them no one was killed
    (one person was slightly injured), but they were a serious embarrassment to
    Edward Heath's government. For a brief period between August 1970 and August
    1971, the authorities were unable to stop a group of left-wing adventurers
    bombing the homes of Tory politicians, as well as government and corporate

    The Bomb Squad, set up in January 1971 with the specific job of catching
    'the Angries', had received a tip-off that the flat had been rented by four
    university dropouts wanted in connection with the bombs. When they smashed
    through the door at four o'clock that Friday afternoon, the squad couldn't
    believe its luck. There, according to the police account of events, they
    found more than 60 rounds of ammunition, a Browning revolver, a sten gun,
    and a Beretta said to have been used in an attack on the US embassy in 1967.
    In a cabinet in the hallway was a polythene bag stuffed with 33 sticks of
    gelignite and more ammunition. They also found detonators, a knife, a
    hand-operated duplicating machine used for the production of 'communiqus',
    and a John Bull children's printing set used to authenticate Angry Brigade
    releases to the press. Bags of documents removed from the flat included
    lists of names and addresses of prominent Tories: employment secretary
    Robert Carr, whose home had been bombed in January 1971, Attorney-General
    Sir Peter Rawlinson who had been targeted the previous September and John
    Davies, the secretary of state for Trade and Industry, whose heavily guarded
    town house in Chelsea had been bombed three weeks before the raid. Also
    included was the man who would later become the chief ideologue of
    Thatcherism, Keith Joseph, and the future chancellor, Geoffrey Howe, then an
    obscure junior minister.

    The police hid out in the house and the next day arrested two more suspects:
    Chris Bott, who had been an activist at Essex University, and Stuart
    Christie, an anarchist, known for his opposition to General Franco. A series
    of round-ups and raids in the months that followed led to the arrest of
    dozens of Angry Brigade suspects, but only two were linked to the six
    arrested in Amhurst Road: art student Kate McLean, and telephonist Angela
    Weir, now better known as Angela Mason OBE, director of Stonewall, the gay
    equality group. They became known as the Stoke Newington Eight.

    The people they arrested that August day on Amhurst Road fitted perfectly
    the Establishment's picture of dissolute middle-class revolutionaries
    plotting to undermine civilised values. James Greenfield and John Barker had
    both been at Cambridge before they ripped up their finals papers in 1968 as
    a political protest and joined the growing underground that had sprung up
    around opposition to the Vietnam war. Anna Mendleson and Hilary Creek had
    started at Essex University in 1967, but after their second year likewise
    gravitated to the alternative political scene in London's communes and
    squats. Bott had been involved in the student riots in Paris in 1968 before
    enrolling as a post-graduate student at Essex, and Christie was already
    wanted for a series of attacks on Spanish targets in London.

    It didn't take long for a mythology of hippie outlaws and their molls to
    develop around the two couples from Amhurst Road. This was helped in no
    small degree by the Angry Brigade's own ironic propaganda: one early
    communiqu was signed 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' and another 'The
    Wild Bunch'. The prurient drooling began even before the four had been
    identified. 'Girl slept with bedside arsenal' claimed one tabloid, while
    another screamed, 'Dropouts with brains tried to launch bloody revolution.'
    Meanwhile, a Sun reporter produced a bizarre story headlined 'Sex Orgies at
    the Cottage of Blood' about a house where the four were once said to have
    stayed. Here they were said to have ritually sacrificed a turkey while
    indulging in the nightmare revolutionary cocktail of 'bizarre sexual
    activities' and 'anarchist-type meetings.' Even the broadsheets couldn't
    resist. On the weekend after their trial was over, The Observer used the
    by-now iconic pictures of the two 22-year-olds as an eye-catching addition
    to its table of contents. What the press didn't know was that every time
    they used the images, they were contributing to a defence group fund. In a
    move that demonstrated a canny understanding of the media's thirst for
    images of pretty girls, Creek and Mendleson had a set of photographs
    secretly taken during the trial and gave the copyright to friends to manage.

    This year is the 30th anniversary of the Angry Brigade trial, which lasted
    from May to December in 1972. Barker, Greenfield, Creek and Mendleson all
    received 10-year sentences, reduced from 15 after pleas of clemency from the
    jury, for 'conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life or cause
    serious injury to property'. The other four defendants were acquitted. Jake
    Prescott, a burglar and heroin addict from Fife, who got mixed up in the
    politics of the Angry Brigade, had already been sentenced to 15 years in
    November 1971, although this was later reduced to 10.

    Today, the cases have all but faded from the collective memory, but for
    those still nostalgic for a time before irony had replaced political
    commitment, the 'Angries' retain a cult status. For the most part, however,
    if they register at all now it is only as a quaint Pythonesque version of
    their more murderous continental counterparts, Germany's Red Army Faction or
    the Red Brigades in Italy.

    But at the time, the Conservative government took the Angry Brigade very
    seriously indeed. By June 1971, when the home of William Batty, a director
    of the Ford plant at Dagenham, was damaged by an Angry Brigade bomb, The
    Telegraph reported that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John
    Waldron had been instructed to 'smash the Angry Brigade'. The raids on
    squats, communes and bookshops that followed, represented an unprecedented
    crackdown on the counter-culture culminating in the raid on Amhurst Road.
    The police strategy, which coincided with the introduction of internment in
    Northern Ireland, had the desired effect: the Angry Brigade was snuffed out
    before it had a chance to gather momentum.

    The reason the story of the Angry Brigade has never fully been told is that
    none of the main protagonists have ever spoken about what really happened
    all those years ago. A collective vow of silence was taken by those involved
    in the trial. That same agreement was also honoured by the defendants that
    were acquitted and the substantial network of friends that made up the Stoke
    Newington Eight defence committee. Now, for the first time, one of them has
    broken that wall of silence. Hilary Creek, who was 22 at the time of her
    arrest, believes the time has come to scotch some of the more lurid myths
    that surrounded them.

    'I was sick of sitting by and waiting passively for the next slap in the
    face from the mass media, who rarely reported anything but the prosecution
    case,' she says. 'But I thought I didn't really have the right to grumble if
    I didn't try to do something to rectify the situation myself.'

    The Angry Brigade was no joke for Creek, the youngest of the defendants, who
    like Anna Mendleson and her partner John Barker, came from a solidly
    middle-class background. Her father worked in the City and she attended
    Watford Grammar School where she discovered a talent for economics. At Essex
    University she became involved in the revolutionary politics that dominated
    the life of the campus and eventually drew her into open conflict with the
    British state. She is central to the story of the Angry Brigade. In the week
    before her arrest, she travelled to Paris where she met representatives of
    the French underground movement in the Latin Quarter. The police alleged she
    also collected the 33 sticks of gelignite found in the flat at Amhurst Road.

    I have met Creek on two occasions and what is most remarkable about her is
    that her politics have remained largely unchanged over 30 years. She
    supports the anti-globalisation protesters, but stays away from
    demonstrations, knowing it would do the cause no good if it was associated
    with a convicted terrorist. She is almost unrecognisable from the old
    photographs and she likes it that way. Her hair is shorter now and a
    lifetime's smoking has taken its toll. On top of that, the lights of her
    isolation cell in Holloway caused permanent damage to her eyes. She has now
    recovered from the anorexia she developed in prison, but still talks
    passionately about the damage the experience inflicted.

    'Anyone who says that prison rehabilitates people is insane,' she says. 'A
    long prison sentence completely stops you being able to lead a normal life.
    When I first came out I had to teach myself to do the most ordinary things,
    like going to the shops.' She believes she was lucky to survive the prison
    experience at all. She was threatened with being sent to a secure hospital
    and was only saved by the intervention of a psychologist. 'They said they
    could fix it so I would be detained "at Her Majesty's pleasure",' she says.
    'That was terrifying. I would still have been inside now.'

    While in Holloway, she was often kept in isolation, or in a wing with other
    long-term prisoners, including Myra Hindley, who became a good friend. When
    she developed anorexia nervosa she was finally released for hospital
    treatment. But the press wouldn't leave her alone. The Mail splashed the
    scandal of the 'bomb girl' who had been released into the community across
    its front page.

    MPs demanded an immediate inquiry, but Home Secretary Robert Carr, whose
    house had been bombed by the Angry Brigade, refused to bow to pressure and
    allowed her to continue treatment. When she was let out on parole in 1977,
    her conditions included a ban on leaving the town where she lived for any
    reason, having anyone to stay in her house or any political activity of any
    kind. When she first came out, she and her family received anonymous death
    threats and after completing a degree at Swansea University she began to do
    research which took her abroad, where she finally settled.

    After months of negotiation, she agreed to speak on the record to The
    Observer , but only if we agreed not to reveal her whereabouts, her
    professional activities, or publish a contemporary photograph.

    Speaking now about the Angry Brigade bombing campaign, she says it was a
    distraction from the main political thrust of the movement. But the bombs
    are a difficult issue to avoid and it is the only moment during our
    discussions that she comes close to losing her temper: 'You use the word
    "bomb", but be careful about using it because nowadays that's such a
    value-loaded term. You think of Omagh, you are not thinking half a pound of
    gelignite that causes small structural damage. It is important to put things
    in perspective. What nobody picked up on was that it wasn't the bombs
    themselves that they were worried about. It was the fact that it exposed the
    vulnerability of the system. How could someone go and do in the back door of
    a minister? It wasn't so much the criminal damage, it was the fact that it
    made them look stupid.'

    Basically, I'm not ashamed of anything I have done.' she says. 'Going from
    the student protests at Essex to the organisation for the Vietnam war
    demonstrations, squatting and the early women's movement. Some of the things
    we did I am proud of and we still see the effects now.' She argues that most
    of the work of the movement that was linked to the Angry Brigade went
    largely unseen. Creek and her friends were involved in campaigns that were
    considered subversive three decades ago, but now sound entirely mainstream:
    winter-heating campaigns for the elderly, schemes to set up adventure
    playgrounds in inner cities, and shelters for the victims of domestic
    violence. 'There was a lot going on and each of us had our own particular
    area. But there was no organisation that you could in any way coerce. It was
    just people helping and supporting each other. There was discipline, there
    had to be, but they didn't know where to attack us. I think that's why their
    action against us was so extreme. Because what we were doing was a new form
    of politics and anything new is frightening for the state.'

    Creek refuses to be drawn on precisely what her involvement was with the
    bombing campaign and it is important to remember that none of the defendants
    were ever convicted of planting explosives. But she is right when she says
    that the Angry Brigade bombs made the Heath government look 'stupid'. By
    hitting targets connected with the hated Industrial Relations Bill they also
    attracted a limited amount of support from workers against the proposed
    dismantling of the power of the trade unions. During the trial, thousands of
    badges were sold with 'I'm in the Angry Brigade'.

    It is difficult now to imagine the intensity of the times. Edward Heath was
    locked into a lengthy dispute with workers who occupied the Clydeside
    shipyards in Glasgow, which would eventually end with a humiliating
    climbdown for the government. Internment was introduced in Northern Ireland
    and the Bloody Sunday massacre of civil-rights marchers in January 1972
    happened while the Angry Brigade suspects were awaiting trial. One document
    found in the raids across London that weekend brought the three causes
    together in a mini-manifesto: 'Put the boot in - Bogside, Clydeside -
    Support the Angry side'.

    Creek also believes lessons should be drawn from the trial itself, a unique
    moment in judicial history. Barker, Mendleson and Creek, all under the age
    of 24, chose to conduct their own defences with a young barrister, Ian
    McDonald, acting for Greenfield. Much to the irritation of the police, they
    also chose to exercise their right to interview every juror about his or her
    background and political allegiances, to weed out anyone connected with
    groups that had been targeted by the Angry Brigade. In addition, the
    youthful defendants also introduced the concept of 'Mackenzies', named after
    a case in the divorce courts. These were assistants -in this case friends
    from the Stoke Newington Eight Defence Committee - who sat in the well of
    the court and were allowed to help and advise the accused. 'The hardest
    thing was that we were running a political defence in a country where there
    are, officially, no political trials,' Creek explains. 'John, Anna and I
    defended ourselves as a political decision. We decided the only way to
    counter the conspiracy charge was to make the jury understand what our real
    political activity was, who we were and where we were coming from.'

    Between them, the defence was highly effective, successfully casting serious
    doubt on most police evidence against them, including the arsenal found at
    Amhurst Road, which they claimed was planted on them. Government forensics
    and fingerprinting experts found their professional credibility brought
    seriously into doubt. The four also took advantage of the moments when
    detectives over-reached themselves in the desire to produce evidence. For
    instance, Creek questioned how the police could have found a pair of gloves
    impregnated with explosives in the pockets of a pair of her trousers when
    the trousers concerned were proven to have no pockets.

    'The only concrete evidence they had, we quickly disposed of,' she says.
    'All they were left with was the conspiracy charges.'

    'We will never know all the answers,' says Ian McDonald QC, now one of the
    country's most respected human rights lawyers. 'But there's no doubt about
    it, forensically you could sustain a defence that those weapons and
    explosives were planted.'

    Commander Ernest Bond, the first head of the Bomb Squad, doesn't see it that
    way, although he admits that when he first started investigating the Angry
    Brigade in January 1971, the only explosives he knew about were used for
    blowing safes. Now in his eighties, Bond still talks like a character from Z
    Cars , the popular cop show of the period. 'They were a cunning lot the
    Angry Brigade, well wrapped up in that anarchist movement. They were
    belligerent and very "anti" and there was no sense that they were sorry for
    what they had done. Right from the start, there were allegations that we'd
    planted this and planted that. It was the most disgraceful trial I've ever
    seen in my experience.'

    It is tempting to look upon the Angry Brigade convictions as miscarriages of
    justice, because we know what happened shortly afterwards in the Guildford
    Four and Birmingham Six cases. What can be said is that the police's
    ham-fisted investigation made it look like they were fitting people up.
    Thankfully, the matter is clarified in a review by John Barker of a book
    about the Angry Brigade: 'In 1971-72, I was convicted in the Angry Brigade
    trial and spent seven years in jail. In my case, the police framed a guilty
    man.' Barker also articulates the criminal naivete of the Angry Brigade's
    actions. 'For one thing we were libertarian communists believing in the mass
    movement and for another we were not that serious. Put baldly like this it
    sounds especially arrogant. Yeah, man, we never took it seriously anyway:
    what I mean is that like many people then and now we smoked a lot of dope
    and spent a lot of time having a good time.'

    Jake Prescott knows a lot about having a good time, as only someone who has
    had some genuinely bad times can. He is sitting in his Hackney home, just a
    few minutes, walk from Amhurst Road, every bit the working-class ghost at
    the Angry Brigade's bourgeois feast. Put into an orphanage at seven,
    convicted of his first crime at 11 (stealing a box of paints), and a drug
    addict and burglar by the time he was in his teens, Prescott didn't stand a
    chance. But in the mid-60s, when he was sent to Albany Prison for possession
    of a firearm, he discovered the revolutionary politics of the black civil
    rights movement. 'I took it all to heart. I had no objectivity. So when I
    got out of jail I thought, "London here I come." I wanted to live it.'

    In prison, he'd met Ian Purdie, a young revolutionary who was serving nine
    months for throwing a petrol bomb at an army recruitment office. Through
    Purdie he was introduced to a commune in Grosvenor Avenue, Islington, with
    close links to the Angry Brigade. But Prescott got in too deep with the
    revolutionaries and one day in January 1972 found himself in a house in
    Notting Hill agreeing to address three envelopes for Angry Brigade
    communiqus. Prescott says he had no idea the contents of the envelopes were
    claims of responsibility for an attack on the Barnet home of Robert Carr
    that night.

    Prescott read about the bombing in the papers the following morning and says
    that from that moment he knew the game was up. 'I literally walked into a
    wall when I read it,' he says. Later, when he left prison, Prescott wrote to
    Carr apologising for his involvement, an apology the minister gracefully
    accepted over tea at the House of Lords. Prescott still feels resentment
    towards the people who asked him to write out the envelopes. None of them
    were ever convicted and Prescott refused to name them under interrogation.
    But he now says that the apology to Carr represents a turning-point in his
    life. He found a job at a citizens' advice bureau in Sheffield and began to
    train in employment law. He is now married with two young children, whom he
    cares for while his wife goes out to work.

    'As the only working-class member, I was not surprised to be the first in
    and last out of prison. When I look back on it, I was the one who was angry
    and the people I met were more like the Slightly Cross Brigade.'

    The Trotskyist groups of the period always viewed the Angry Brigade with
    suspicion and the hostility among veterans is as strong as ever. Tariq Ali
    remembers being approached by someone claiming to represent the Angry
    Brigade, suggesting it might be an idea to plant a bomb at the American
    Embassy in Grosvenor Square. 'I told them it was a terrible idea. They were
    a distraction. It was difficult enough building an anti-war movement without
    the press linking this kind of action to the wider Left.'

    Nigel Fountain, who wrote the definitive history of the alternative media
    during the period, Underground , said that many people on the Left were
    forced to support the Stoke Newington Eight out of a sense of solidarity.
    'We saw them as a bunch of libertarian adventurists. But as soon as they
    went on trial you couldn't condemn them and we were dragged through it with
    gritted teeth.'

    Creek and Prescott have taken different paths since leaving prison, but both
    emerged from their Angry Brigade past with their sanity and their principles
    intact. In a sense, the Angry Brigade was the making of Prescott. He
    believes he would still be a criminal and drug addict if he hadn't come into
    contact with the middle-class revolutionaries he met at the time. Meanwhile,
    ironically, his old comrades Barker and Greenfield have since both have
    served time for major drugs offences. Creek completed a degree and rebuilt
    her life. Mendleson, also went back to university and did an English degree
    at Cambridge in the mid-80s. She writes poetry under a different name and
    friends have asked me not to approach her or reveal her new identity. As for
    those who were acquitted, apart from Mason, only Bott has had any public
    profile - he was marketing manager of the ill-fated left-wing newspaper,
    News on Sunday . He is now thought to live in France.

    As the anniversary of the trial approaches, interest in the case has started
    to grow. There are already plans for an Angry Brigade documentary and a
    radio docu-drama has been written based on the trial transcripts. There are
    still many unanswered questions. How much lasting damage did the Angry
    Brigade do to the radical Left in Britain, or did they have no real
    political significance at all? Did the police really plant the arsenal at
    Amhurst Road and did their success in getting a conviction mean they did it
    again? And were the young radicals really terrorists or would it be more
    accurate to describe them as political saboteurs? Thirty years on, the jury
    is still out on the Angry Brigade.

    The Stoke Newington Eight

    John Barker was involved in 1988 with Jim Greenfield and a group of Israelis
    and Lebanese in a massive 5m cannabis smuggling operation. Originally
    escaped to Greece, but arrested in 1990 when returning to Britain on a false

    Jim Greenfield (pictured right) was given six years for his part in the
    smuggling operation and gave a full confession to the police when he was
    arrested, putting himself in considerable danger. Served his sentence in
    solitary confinement and has not been heard of since.

    Anna Mendleson went back to full-time education in the mid-80s and studied
    English at Cambridge under an assumed name. Publishes poetry under her new
    name to considerable acclaim.

    Chris Bott helped found the ill-fated left-wing Sunday paper News on Sunday
    in the mid-1980s, but is since thought to have moved to France.

    Angela Weir as Angela Mason worked as a lawyer for Camden Council in London
    before becoming director of the gay rights group Stonewall. She was awarded
    an OBE for services to homosexual rights.

    Kate McLean married her solicitor from the Angry Brigade trial and is
    believed to now work herself in the legal field.

    Stuart Christie lived for many years in the Orkneys, where he set up an
    anarchist publishing house. He is since believed to have moved to England
    and is now living in the Home Counties.

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