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Poll shines a light on police failings

FAULT IN THE SYSTEM: The front cover led on the story about race relations following a police report

A CONTROVERSIAL street crime statistics report, containing a racial breakdown of the perpetrators, which was published by Scotland Yard and pointed to black people as the main ones committing these crimes was met with strong resistance by black Londoners in a street poll by The Voice 35 years ago.

‘Racial harmony threatened’ was the front page headline on the 31st edition of the news- paper published on April 16, 1983 and centred on a staggering revelation from a poll of 730 black Londoners, 88 per cent of whom believe they were being used as scapegoats.

The Voice exclusive poll had followed the recently published Scotland Yard crime statistics and the newspaper was quick to put a team on the street to get the views of the people. The poll was conducted in Brixton, Harlesden, Ladbroke Grove, Shepherds Bush, Stoke Newington, Dalston, Finsbury Park, Peckham and Lewisham.

The Voice article pointed out that the overall answers showed that there is a feeling among black people in London that Scotland Yard’s sole aim is to present a picture of all black people being criminals.

Seventy-three per cent of all those asked believed that by publishing the figures in such a way, racial harmony in the country was being severely jeopardised.

The poll also revealed that the majority believed that black youths were no more likely to commit a street crime, while some felt that due to conditions such as poor housing, low job prospects and frustration, black youths might be led more easily into a life of crime.

When it came to the question of whether Scotland Yard was right in publishing the crime statistics, 75 per cent of the people in The Voice poll were against the figures being published with a racial breakdown.

An equal percentage of people believed that it was unfair of the police to publish only the figures on street crime and exclude more serious crimes like bank robberies and fraud.

The Voice closed the article with the view that not only had Scotland Yard acted in an irresponsible way by publishing the statistics, but also that black Londoners were outraged at the slander perpetrated against them.

Also featured on the front cover was a picture story of a meeting held at the offices of The Voice in Mare Street to discuss the possibility of staging a concert to raise funds for the victims of the Ethiopia famine.

‘Jamming for Ethiopia’ was the headline on the story, which said more than 30 people had attended the meeting, which included representatives from Save the Children Fund and the Ethiopian World Federation. The article revealed that a committee had been set up to stage the concert in June of that year at a venue to be named.

Turning over to page two, the lead story headlined ‘Black actor for Coronation Street’ reported that 18-year-old Tony Marshall made his television debut in the popular soap.

The young actor was to play the part of Robert Valentine – an unemployed youth who would do odd jobs with equipment borrowed from Len Fairclough.

The part would be a regular one in a cast, which was under-represented by black actors at the time.
Tony, who hailed from the north of England said he was well and truly bitten by the acting bug and was hoping for a place in drama school.

After getting involved in local drama workshops and taking a course at college in Oldham, Tony said his part in Coronation Street stemmed from a Christmas play where he was playing of all things, a pantomime horse.

He said: “I was playing in the front end of the panto horse and I couldn’t see out of the peep hole.
“I fell off the stage, landed in the orchestra pit, dragging the rear end and my mates with me. An almighty crash was the last thing I heard before I blacked out.”

The second lead story on the page, headlined ‘Narayan Acquitted’ reported that barrister Rudy Narayan was acquitted by the Bar Disciplinary Tribunal of professional misconduct in publishing a press state- ment, which was alleged to have slandered the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecution.

The Voice article said the five-man tribunal found that the charge, one of seven of alleged misconduct faced by Mr Narayan, had not been proved.

The news was greeted enthusiastically with clapping and cheering by Mr Narayan’s supporters who were present for the public hearing.

Mr Narayan went on to acknowledge the decision as a “victory for freedom of speech.” The hearing for the other charges had been adjourned until May.

Over on page 13 in the entertainment section, a story in the centre of the page headlined ‘Jah observe a Benie Man’ spoke of news from the Ruff Lion stables that a precocious 13-year-old DJ youth on the scene called Benie Man has been described as the youngest, smallest and most talented DJ with lyrics and style from Jamaica.

The first release from Benie Man, whose real name is Carlton Mattass, is a double A side single called Over the Sea.

The writer finished the article by asking, “Can the little star climb the steep reggae charts ladder?”

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Share your Voice memories, comments and birthday wishes on social media, using the hashtag #Voice35Years. Each week we will be digging into The Voice archive and publish a front cover from its first year of publication as we look back over 35 years.

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