3 Mar 2014

Broadwater Farm riots murder trial opens

Nearly three decades after the killing of PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riots in north London, a man goes on trial at the Old Bailey charged with murder.

Opening the prosecution’s case against Nicky Jacobs, 45, Richard Whittam QC said that it would depend in part on the testimony of people who would themselves have been charged with the murder, had they not been granted immunity. Some of the witnesses due to give evidence have also been “rewarded” for doing so, the jury heard.

PC Blakelock was murdered as he tried to protect firefighters tackling a blaze at the height of the unrest. An armed mob yelled “kill the pig” as they set upon the 40-year-old police officer, the court heard.

Mr Whittam said the 1985 riots were more “sinister” than those that flared up across English cities in 2011. “At least some of the rioters in 1985 appeared to have as their target the death of a police officer,” said Mr Wittam.

He added: “Whether that was their primary objective is not something that you will have to decide. The fact is that one police officer was killed and another very seriously injured.”

And he said: “There is no dispute that PC Blakelock was murdered. There is no dispute that Nicky Jacobs was involved in the public disorder that night, as were some of the witnesses. That is not what he is on trial for. Neither is any witness on trial for that or anything else.

“Nicky Jacobs is the sole person on trial. He is on trial for the murder of PC Blakelock.”

‘Anger and grief’

The trouble erupted the day after Cynthia Jarrett, a mother of a police suspect, had a heart attack and died when her home in Tottenham was searched.

On Saturday 5 October 1985 a man was arrested in Tottenham in connection with a suspected stolen vehicle tax disc. When officers attended the man’s home address his mother, Mrs Jarrett, died, “fuelling further the existing community tensions”.

“Many members of the local community believed that the police were responsible for the death,” Mr Whittam told the jury.

“The anger and grief of the family and friends of Mrs Jarrett spread to other members of the community and a demonstration was planned to take place outside Tottenham police station on Sunday 6 October.”

PC Blakelock was among a group of uniformed officers sent out without cover on the night of Sunday 6 October 1985. The jury heard Mr Wittam say that the officers came across a “very large group” of rioters, many of whom were armed.

“Very heavily outnumbered and fearful they may become trapped both the police and the firefighters were forced to retreat. Outside the flats, as they ran for safety, PC Blakelock and PC Richard Coombes went to ground and were set upon to shouts of ‘kill the pig’ and the like,” said the prosecutor.

He added: “PC Coombes was very fortunate to survive. PC Blakelock did not. The attack on him was without mercy. In the ferocious attack his helmet came off. He was beaten and stabbed to death before his colleagues were able to force the attackers away.

“PC Blakelock suffered something in excess of 40 stab type injuries and there appears to have been an attempt made to decapitate him.”
And he told the jury that the allegation against Jacobs was that “he was armed with a bladed weapon and he used it as part of the joint attack” on PC Blakelock.


The court heard that Jacobs was 16, almost 17, at the time of the attack, which followed weeks of tension and concerns that “individuals were planning public disturbances” in the borough of Haringey.

Mr Whittam told the jury of seven men and five women that there had been two investigations into the murder prior to the current one.

The first inquiry in 1985 resulted in three juveniles and three adults being charged for murder. Although the case against the juveniles did not proceed, all three adults were convicted on March 1987. Their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1991, leading to a new investigation in 1992/93.

The prosecutor said that the new inquiry faced a dilemma in trying to get witness accounts of the attack on Pc Blakelock. While they needed eye witnesses close enough to see clearly what happened, some of them may have taken part themselves, ordinarily making them liable for prosecution.

This led the police and Crown Prosecution Service to a “highly unusual” decision – to pursue those who had weapons as suspects and regard unarmed attackers who punched and kicked as witnesses.

The prosecutor told the court that in 1993: “An agreement was reached outlining a form of conditional immunity from prosecution for some of those involved in the attack.”

Mr Whittam told the jury to treat the testimony of eye witnesses with care. Some of them admitted kicking Pc Blakelock during the attack and would have been charged with murder if they had not been given immunity, he said.

He told the jury: “Your task is likely to be centred on deciding whether or not you can be sure that these witnesses are telling the truth when they tell you that Nicky Jacobs took part in the attack with a bladed article, acting with others.”

Nicky Jacobs denies murder. The trial continues.