Freedom News

50 years ago: The Trial of the Stoke Newington Eight

The Angry Brigade was one of the most famous and controversial phenomenons of the 1970s. Rising out of the general furor of the period, which had also produced the likes of the Red Army Faction in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy, the non-lethal group carried out a series of property bombings leading to a hysterical press atmosphere and intensive police intervention. Eventually raids and arrests were carried out in 1971, leading to the Trial of the Stoke Newington Eight the following year, a politically charged circus which eventually became the longest such trial in British criminal history.

Freedom’s coverage of the trial became notorious on the anarchist scene after it published articles by then-influential figure Nicolas Walter, condemning the behaviour of the Angries. Black Flag editor Albert Meltzer, who had long since denounced Freedom as offering little more than liberal pacifism, recalled “a delicious moment when one of (the Freedom) group came along to a Black Cross meeting and explained in a firm schoolmistressy tone ‘We have been tolerant of this behaviour long enough … But we want it understood that this sort of thing has got to stop.’ Like the press and police, they followed the line that it was a small group of unruly individuals who were responsible for everything.”

This attitude was in stark contrast to that of Black Flag (eg. This issue from 1972) and the rest of the movement which pulled together to try and counter the State’s evident intent to “make an example,” and led to a period of Freedom being largely frozen out of the scene. This was understandable, but unfortunate for some of the paper’s correspondents and collective members who were not of a mind with Walter – parts of the reporting was in fairness very clear and remains useful in describing events today.

The three texts below, from the June 10th issue of Freedom, cover the first days of the trial, look at talks that were going on at the time, and approvingly review a pamphlet produced discussing the lessons from the experiences of the direct actionists at the time. Other articles not included offered run-downs on the judge, and backed the Angries’ solidarity fundraising.

On December 6 1972 Barker, Greenfield, Creek and Mendelson were sent down for “conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property”. Initially they got 15 years, reduced to 10 after pleas of clemency from the jury. Christie, Bott, Weir and McLean were acquitted.


On Trial

THE TRIAL of the eight people accused of being involved in the Angry Brigade began on May 30 before Mr Justice James in Number 1 Court at the Old Bailey, John Barker, Christopher Bolt, Stuart Christie. Hilary Creek, James Greenfield, Anna Mendelson, Catherine McLean. and Angela Weir, aged between 21 and 27, face the following charges:

  1. All are charged with conspiring with Jake Prescott and others to cause explosions between January 1968 and August 1971.
  2. Greenfield is charged with attempting to cause an explosion at Paddington Police Station on May 22, 1970.
  3. Greenfield and Mendelson are charged with attempting to cause an explosion at the Italian consulate in Manchester on October 9, 1970.
  4. Christie is charged with having a round of ammunition.
  5. Barker, Bott, Christie, Creek, Greenfield and Mendelson arc charged with having explosive substances.
  6. Barker, Christie and Greenfield are charged with having further explosive substances.
  7. Barker, Creek and Greenfield are charged with receiving a stolen car.
  8. Christie is charged with having yet further explosive substances.
  9. Barker, Bott Christie, Creek, Greenfield and Mendelson are charged with having a pistol.
  10. Barker, Bott Christie, Creek, Greenfield and Mendelson are charged with having eight rounds of ammunition.
  11. Barker, Bott Christie, Creek, Greenfield and Mendelson are charged with having two machine-guns.

The first day of the trial was taken up with procedural problems. Right at the start, after all the accused had pleaded not guilty to all the charges, the prosecution successfully applied for a brief adjournment to discuss procedure with the defence. Then after that Anna Mendelson, supported by John Barker, unsuccessfully applied for a long adjournment to allow the present atmosphere of prejudice against the accused to be dispelled — she suggested a period of two years. The judge claimed that he treated the application seriously, but despite the evidence of newspaper reports he insisted that the trial would be fair and would not be political.

The defence therefore applied for jurors to be questioned about their connections and opinions, and the judge agreed. All prospective jurors were then asked a whole string of standard questions, whether they were connected in various ways with such individuals as Robert Carr, John Davies, Peter Rawlinson, Woodrow Wyatt, William Batty, and John Waldron, or such organisations as the American and Spanish embassies, any Italian consulates, the Banks of Spain and Bilbao, Iberian Airways, Fords, Biba’s boutique, Securicor, the Territorial Army, the police or prison service, and the Conservative Party — all targets of the Angry Brigade — and whether they had any views generally concerning any anarchist movement or activities which might cause them to be biased in favour of or against the accused, whether they had formed any impression that the accused were members of an anarchist organisation or the Angry Brigade, and whether they had any knowledge of the social or political activities of the accused that might cause them to be biased.

In the end 72 people were questioned, 19 admitted bias, 39 were challenged, and two were excused, and after three hours a jury was found. The prosecution counsel, John Mathew (who was also the prosecution counsel at the trial of Prescott and Purdie last November), outlined the case against the accused from May 31 to June 2. It is naturally much the same as that against Prescott and Purdie, but far more detailed in view of the large number of people and incidents involved.

Briefly, the ease is that the accused were part of a conspiracy responsible for 27 bombing and shooting incidents which occurred during the four years up to the arrest of six of them at a flat in north-east London last August. The flat is alleged to have contained explosives, fire-arms, and incriminating documents; and it is alleged that the documents implicate the other two, Catherine McLean and Angela Weir.

On June 2 a juror was excused because his wife was ill, so a new juror had to be chosen and the trial technically began again. There have been more relevant interruptions than this, with Anna Mendelson and Hilary Creek in particular making a large number of important points; and when the defence failed to have Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Habcrshon. the policeman in charge of the case, removed from the court while prosecution witnesses gave evidence, all eight themselves left the court in protest. But they later returned, and the prosecution case continued.

In general the judge seems to be preserving the most careful calm and balance so that he cannot be accused of the kind of prejudice shown by Melford Stevenson at the trial of Prescott and Pundic last year, but there is a very long way to go yet, and things may change later.

~ Correspondent


The Defence does not Rest

THE STOKE NEWINGTON Defence Group meeting, scheduled for the LSE last Saturday, had to be transferred to the University of London Union at the last minute due to an LSE administrative decision. Once there, the preamble of latest details of the trial, and its connections with Micheal Tobin’s imprisonment (Nb// Tobin, accused of IRA connections, had gotten two years for incitement to disaffection), the Metro, Mangrove, and the Longannet coalminer pickets’ trial (Nb// related to the 1972 strike) in Dunfermline, gave way to a discussion about legality and illegality in the revolutionary movement.

A new Defence Group pamphlet has been printed and is now available (5p plus postage from Compendium Bookshop) and this carries a very extensive discussion of the role of violence in the State at present and how this must be overcome. Discussion of the implications of this pamphlet and the parallels between the ‘Angry Brigade’ and the Tupamaros, the Red Army Faction and so on, was rather abstract. A valuable point however, raised in conjunction with these armed revolutionary groups was that why have they, even the more successful of them, been unable to arouse a mass movement intent on the same goals. The attacks on various offices and banks by the Angry Brigade were a violent extension of what the revolutionaries in Britain all felt. A case in point is the raid on the Holloway TA recruiting centre just after internment had been introduced. But no activity followed.

Much further discussion centred around the politics of the State after the trial. If the defendants are sent down for long periods it seems fairly certain that the current spate of Special Branch searches, gunpoint arrests and infiltrations of groups will not only continue but will expand. If the left react violently then [Frank] Kitson and his fellow militarists will be on hand. (The masochism of the British Taxpayer is unbelievable, he even pays for his potential killer.) The whole purpose of the pamphlet and the meeting was to show that now is the time to act, any later and the State conspiracy will have prepared its defence. It is also vital that the trial is not lost politically as it seems certain to be judicially.

The absurdities of the arrests and searches, along with very dubious prosecution material and of course the blanket conspiracy charge, must be exposed and their real intentions revealed. As at least a few of the defendants are going to give political defences we cannot let these appeals stay inside the courtroom. This is a trial that no one can afford to lose.

~ David Brown


Review: IF YOU WANT PEACE PREPARE FOR WAR

by Stoke Newington Defence Group
Price 5p

THIS PAMPHLET attempts to put the current trial of those accused of conspiring to cause explosions into some perspective. To my mind it succeeds in broaching a number of subjects related to the implications of the trial and the Angry Brigade movement. It is well worth reading within the anarchist movement, and I sincerely hope our non-violent comrades will read and ponder the arguments put forward with their customary reasonableness and charity.

We have here no eulogy of the Angry Brigade, no blind emotional stirring of the consciousness, but a balanced, partly critical, portrayal of the emergence of a type of rebellion and revolution that has taken root in Britain. The drawings are a noteworthy contribution to the approach of the pamphlet.

Rather than summarising the case it seems best simply to request that you read it for yourselves; the aspects that I feel need our major concern are in the final section on “Revolutionary Criminality,” since it is in these bold and possibly farsighted lines that a fresh pattern of thought emerges. “Although the criminal fraternity is clearly not a revolutionary force at the moment, the authors argue, “neither can it be rejected as just an apolitical reflection of present day capitalist society, whose experiences arc irrelevant to the revolution. There are within it possibilities of it developing a close relationship with the revolutionary left. These possibilities stem from its basic position within the present set-up; its very existence poses a threat to, and is a denigration of the ideology of the work (exploitation) ethic and the ethic of exchange value; it is committed to an ongoing struggle with the Law and its Agents, and to maintaining its refusal to play the co-operative game with the ruling class.”

It is made clear that the authors don’t believe that within every criminal lies the soul of a revolutionary, but the example of the sit-downs in prisons “without the guidance of the organised left” does point to a certain mingling of concepts. Indeed as the State treats the libertarian left more and more like a criminal left the areas of contact between revolutionaries and criminals are bound to increase. The prisons may well become the universities of revolutionary criminality. A careful reading of the final pages of this powerful document is recommended.

~ J.W.