The case of Colin Roach featured in the documentary film ‘INJUSTICE‘ Within the film the case was mentioned by Graham Smith who was very involved in the Colin Roach campaign.
The following transcript of the full interview made with Graham in 2001 also looks at wider context of policing in Hackney, police crime and related issues. We would like to thank Graham once again for his valuable contribution.
Ken Fero, Director INJUSTICE
The following are just excerpts from the full interview > (pdf file)
Ken Fero: Can you go into more detail about Colin Roach?
Graham Smith: Well Colin Roach was shot dead in the foyer of Stoke Newington police station in January 1993 and there was the community response was immediate, and I think you can look at the campaign as one of the most co-ordinated organised community campaigns that there’s probably ever been in this country in that it was led by the family member of the community and the council, trade unions other organisations supported that campaign and a measure of its success is that, although there was an inquest in to Colin’s death, it’s never been accepted in the community that he committed suicide, which was the inquest’s verdict and to this day people believed believe that something untoward happened and that he was the victim of crime.
I’m not saying that police officers committed that crime but it’s my view that he was murdered and to hide the embarrassment of not being able to solve a murder that occurred within the environs of the police station. It was claimed by the police that he committed suicide and maybe a conspiracy was put in to effect to conceal the fact that he was murdered. It was really in recognition of that, the nature of that campaign really that the name of Colin Roach was adopted by Hackney Community Defence Association and other organisations namely the local trade union support unit, as the name for a local community centre, a political community centre which was to continue independent campaigning in the borough in the mid 1990s.
Ken Fero: What’s the philosophy behind a crime is a crime is a crime?
Graham Smith: The origin of the expression a crime is a crime is a crime was taken directly from Margaret Thatcher in her comments on the IRA hunger strike where she said these are criminals and should be treated as such. Our view was of the police officers that committed these offences they are criminals and they should be treated as such, it was a direct parallel.
Ken Fero: Do you think that, from the political point of view, there is an acceptable level of violence that’s perpetrated by police officers?
Graham Smith: We all look to the police for our security there’s nobody else that we can turn to. They are responsible for the security of the citizen. Everybody recognises that the police have an extremely difficult job to do and I think most people certainly responsible people recognise that most police officers do try to do a good job, and that in their daily work they are dealing with some people that do not show respect for other citizens and that those individuals may lash out, may assault a police officer try and avoid arrest, and that in doing their difficult job police officers will occasionally resort to unnecessary force, will lose their temper with somebody that they know has committed an offence or caused another person to fear for their own personal safety.
Under those circumstances when the police do lash out and do perhaps assault a member of the public, the general public will accept that as a mistake, as an error of judgment or whatever and what that leads to is what can only be described as an acceptable level of police violence.
Ken Fero: What difference is it going to make if officers began to be charged with manslaughter or even murder?
Graham Smith: Well I think I think again it has to be across the board. Now the thing is it’s also the case that if the way the criminal law proceeds is that it doesn’t matter in many respects whether the offence is serious or minor. There is still the criminal process that has to be adhered to and it should apply to police officers the same as it does to other members of the public. Now the police argument or the official argument for non prosecution of police officers is of the tendency for juries to acquit or the courts to acquit police officers when they are charged therefore it’s better to deal with them internally, and where there is a higher chance of action being taken by senior police officers.
But if more police officers were brought before the courts and if the public became more conscious of this problem of police crime then when they sit on juries they will be more likely to convict if there is that general recognition of the problem, and I think that’s what’s been seen with civil actions against the police which have increased over the last ten years and also where in 1996 there was a whole spate of cases where record damages were awarded and there was much publicity about these awards. And once the public gets to know what the police are doing, what they’re capable of, then people will be much more willing to do something about it. At the moment what it is hidden crime and it’s like domestic violence is a hidden crime, everybody knows it’s there but nobody wants to talk about it, child abuse and police crime is the same.
Ken Fero: Would more prosecutions in terms of deaths lead to a better understanding in terms of the role of the police as a controlling force?
Graham Smith: I would say that there has to be more prosecutions of police officers per say for the small incidents where they may momentarily lose control in a very tense situation for example road rage that’s where people lose control in a tense situation. Nobody’s saying that those motorists should not be prosecuted for being violent. So it should be that police officers that momentarily lose control should be held accountable through the courts. The courts should deal with every case of police violence, which is of a criminal nature, which is unnecessary unreasonable force. That includes manslaughter and that includes common assault. And while we’re on the subject why not murder.