The first police officer to give evidence in the trial of a man accused of murdering PC Keith Blakelock says he and his colleagues were fighting for their lives on Broadwater Farm.
David Pengelly, who was the sergeant in PC Blakelock’s unit the night he died in 1985, said the unit came under attack by people armed with iron bars and a machete. He added that he tried to rescue his colleague and feared he too would be killed.
He was appearing as a witness in the trial of Nicky Jacobs, 45, which opened this week.
The court heard a poem read out by prosecutor Richard Wittam QC, which he said was written by Mr Jacobs. The court heard the poem read: “As long as I live I remember it was 1985 the 6th October… Me have de chopper we have intention to kill an police officer PC Blakelock de unlucky f***** him dis an help de fireman.”
Giving evidence, he said that the scene that confronted his team when it arrived at Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, north London, at the height of the rioting on 6 October 1985, was one of “considerable disorder”.
He said his team was told to protect firefighters tackling a blaze in a supermarket. He added that he felt they were being cut off by one group of “youths” below them, while another group confronted them with bottles and bricks.
He said he decided to get his officers out but, as they retreated, “there were people with iron bars and at least one with a machete, effectively trying to chop the shields to bits. The retreat to ground level was just a continuing nightmare”.
He said he lost track of some of his officers but that he saw a group of people in a “cluster or circle” at the grass verge on the ground level, facing inwards and attacking someone.
Mr Pengelly added: “I ran across shouting and once I reached the group that was still facing inwards, I was trying to hit somebody across the head with my truncheon on the left hand side, then I lashed out and hit somebody else on my right hand side and at that time the group sort of broke up and dissolved.”
He then realised that the man who had been surrounded was one of his officers, he told the court.
“At this time we were fighting for our lives really. There was no time to do anything else, having scattered that group, than to turn and fend off other people from the main direction from which they had been running,” he said.
Mr Pengelly said he did try to make his way towards where the attack was taking place, but could not do it on his own.
“Very quickly I was joined by two other officers so I was able to try and fend off other rioters whilst they dragged my colleague away.”
Explaining how he had then lost his footing, Mr Pengelly said: “I was going backwards, trying to fight people off but there were possibly hundreds running around.
“I had already seen someone with a machete and I knew that if I didn’t get up quickly, I wouldn’t be getting up again.”
During cross-examination, Mr Pengelly was questioned on his perception of the fast-paced events as he feared for his life in the dark, smoky ground floor. Defending, Courtenay Griffiths QC said: “For the most part they appeared as shadowy figures?”
He replied: “It was dark, I cannot disagree with that,” adding: “There was a lot of running.”
Mr Griffiths questioned the witness on his descriptions of rioters. In evidence he said the crowd was made up of young men, whereas in his original statement, descriptions of individuals he saw close up were of black men in their 20s upwards, Mr Griffiths said.
The court also heard that the poem allegedly written by Mr Jacobs was found in his cell by a prison officer at a youth custody centre in 1988.
Mr Jacobs denies murder. The trial continues.