How did Michael Jarrett Lowe meet his death?
all credits: IRR News
originally published: 9th September 2010
News updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
The IRR was recently contacted by Bill Goodrham, a friend of Michael’s, who told us he had serious concerns as to how Michael died and that his death had been playing on his mind in recent years. He told us how Michael, whom he knew as ‘Jarrett’, was one of the few black faces around the Kings Cross area when he was growing up and that he was regularly beaten by local police officers.
Bill describes Jarrett as ‘like Eddie Murphy – a big smile with gleaming white teeth’ going on to say ‘Michael was a dear friend not only to me but many others, he was well respected and well liked and I constantly think of him, he did not deserve to die like this. Police at the time were extremely racist and violent towards Michael.’
Bill told IRR News about a particular incident: ‘I remember it as if was yesterday, it was in Kings Cross, there were three of us walking down the street, me, another white boy and Michael, and a police officer on the beat was coming towards us. He beckoned over Jarrett and took him round the corner where no one could see (at the back of the Southern Street and Calshott Street junction) and then we heard a commotion. Jarrett came out and he was crying and screaming at the policeman. As we walked off the policeman looked over his shoulder and laughed at us.
It was heart-breaking and still is for me, over thirty years later, I will never forget those memories. On numerous occasions I went running with Michael because we were scared of what the police would do to him and for those reasons I need to find out if anyone else was involved in Michael’s death. I myself witnessed police brutality to someone who was just a young boy, evil beyond belief, from those who abused their powers and it was because Michael was black.’
Bill told IRR News about another incident with Jarrett and the local police: ‘We must have done something because the police were after us and he was really scared. Jarrett was petrified of the police and they were quite brutal at the time and Jarrett was an obvious target because he was black. He was particularly vulnerable when it came to the police … I have no doubt that they [the police] killed Jarrett’.
With the passing of time, Bill hopes that someone will come forward to provide something definite as to how Michael met his death in the chimney of a derelict wallpaper shop. Were the police involved in his death? Was he being chased over roof-tops?
Policing of black communities in the ’70s
And it has to be remembered that for black people in run-down inner-city areas the police were more often than not ‘the enemy’. Police racism, especially towards young black men, was overt and found its expression in persistent harassments, stops and searches and the use of the notorious ‘Sus’ offence (when police suspicion that you might be about to do something would suffice). It was only a few years before Jarrett’s death that police officers in Leeds had been found guilty of harassing, beating, urinating on and ultimately driving to his death in the River Aire, Nigerian, David Oluwale.
And Islington had its fair share of problems with the police. In 1977 a special inquiry was set up into police brutality and the position of black youth in Islington, following the many complaints received, especially over the violence used during the arrest of eighteen youths on a total of ninety charges relating to the Notting Hill Carnival of 1976. One social worker filed a complaint against police for assaulting a 14-year-old boy who was in their custody. He had been stopped by police no less than thirty-eight times within twenty-eight days.
Investigation into Jarrett’s death
Jarrett’s death was reported in the local Islington Gazette, 20 September 1974, and an inquest was held on 23 January 1975. However, it is not clear whether the police carried out a separate investigation in to Jarrett’s death or if their inquiries were limited to the statements collected that are included in the inquest file. After examining the inquest records in to Jarrett’s death, the IRR has been able to piece together something of what happened to Jarrett in the last few years of his short life.
Michael Jarret Lowe was born in Kingston, Jamaica on 7 October 1956 to Delores McDermott (née Lowe) and Witton Jarrett. Michael never knew his father as he left his mother while they were in Jamaica. Michael arrived in London in 1961 aged five.
The family first lived in a house on Liverpool Road, Islington N1, before moving to Rockby Road, Brockley SE4, for two years before moving to Northdown Street in Kings Cross. Michael’s mother remarried in 1966 to Levy McDermott and Michael had a younger brother and sister. He attended Highbury Grove School in Islington and left around Easter 1972. It was then that Michael started getting in trouble at home and on the street, according to the statement provided by Thomas Fletcher, who was the play leader at a playground in Cumming Street, N1 which many local children attended: ‘The last year he was at school, he started having troubles at home and was regularly locked out of his home.
This he explained to me as that he had been told to be in by a certain time, and when he didn’t, he would be locked out. On one occasion I picked him up at the Angel when it was raining. It was about 11pm. I dropped him at his door and heard him knock. I saw him next day and he told me that he hadn’t been let in and had slept in the sheds underneath flats in Rising Green [probably Priory Green, N1]. He was also getting into trouble with police for various things.’
Michael seems to have been popular with local youth, many of whom were friendly with him, playing football, attending school, socialising at a disco at York Way Court, eating ice cream at De Marco’s cafe in Chapel Market and even getting into scrapes together.
Jarrett’s friend Mark Preston told police investigating the death: ‘He would come home with me and stay with us. Sometimes he would stay for a week. He used to tell me that he would be locked out by his father.’ Another friend, George Booth also told police: ‘He stayed with me some nights. This was when his father locked him out. He stayed with us one Boxing night when he got a bit drunk.’ Booth last saw Jarrett in about August 1973 and thought that at that time he was living rough.