The Mangrove Nine

In the month of October we will be marking Black History Month by sharing a series of short posts written by four recent graduates of the History Department at the University of Manchester. These students were part of Dr Kerry Pimblott’s third-year seminar on the Black Freedom Movement and were tasked with putting their new historical skills to work by performing original research on the transnational links between movements for racial justice in the US and UK. We would like to extend our thanks to the many archivists and librarians who assisted the students in developing these important profiles in Black British History. 

Our second blog post on the Mangrove Nine trial is from Hana Ward, a postgraduate student in History at Manchester and editor of the In:Colour Zine (@InColourMag). 

Hana Ward (right) photographed with Jaymie Marinelli presenting research findings at Manchester Central Library in December 2018.

In 1993, Stephen Lawrence was killed at the hands of the Metropolitan Police. This led to the Macpherson Report (1999) which exposed institutionalised racism within the police force. Racial minorities did not need the Report to tell them that the police were institutionally racist; this was their lived experience. The tragic tale of Stephen’s murder was just one instance of police brutality which had existed for decades, and still remains prevalent to this day.

Figure 1: Journalist Vince Hines ‘U.K.: British “Black Power” Leader Talks Of Discrimination By Police, 1970

However, the institutionalised nature of racism within the police had not gone unnoticed before this. A pivotal point in UK Black History was the case of the Mangrove Nine. This was significant as it was the first time the judiciary recognised evidence of racial hatred within the police force toward the black communities of London. [1] Yet like much of Black British History, this case is not often talked about, despite how instrumental it is in understanding the history of the black experience in Britain today.

‘I know it is because I am a black citizen of Britain that I am discriminated against.’ – Frank Crichlow, 1969.

Figure 2: Frank Crichlow’s complaint to the Race Relations Board, 1969. Courtesy of the National Archives blog (catalogue reference: CK 2/690)

Frank Crichlow was the owner of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, described by Sivanandan as ‘a meeting place and an eating place, a social and welfare club, an advice and resource centre, a black house for black people, a resting place in Babylon.’ [2] The Mangrove wasn’t just a restaurant: it was a cultural hub within the vibrant community of Notting Hill. It was a place where intellectuals and radicals would meet. It provided the space where the new generation of black radicals could come together and discuss ideological matters as well as the struggles of black people in Britain, America and the Caribbean. [3]

As innocuous as these meetings were, they were still perceived by the police as a threat. This led to a series of police raids on the Mangrove which were justified on the grounds that the restaurant was selling drugs. [4] Despite these allegations, no drugs were ever found. Figure 2 is a complaint written by Frank Crichlow to the Race Relations Board in 1969. In his complaint, Crichlow labels the police raids as ‘unlawful’, explicitly concluding that it is because of his race that he is being discriminated against. This was in direct violation of the Race Relations Action established in 1968. The act stated that it was illegal to discriminate on grounds of race, colour or ethnicity. Therefore, if this was not a clear case of racial discrimination by the police, it showed their inability to distinguish between a group of intellectuals in a restaurant and a group of criminals in a drugs den.

August 9, 1970: The March on Portnall Road

Figure 3: Black Power march in West London, 1970. There were 150 protesters accompanied by 200 police officers, showing a unequal police response. Courtesy of the National Archives flickr (catalogue reference: MEPO 31/21/5)

The police continued to raid the Mangrove and on August 9, 1970 the local community decided to protest against this harassment. The march was organised by The Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove with help from the Black Panthers. [6] The purpose of this demonstration was to ‘expose the racist brutality that black people experience[d] at the hands of the police.’ [7] Footage of the protest can be seen here, courtesy of the British Pathé website.

Figure 4: Lennox France and others, 9 August 1970. The signs read ‘LEAVE MANGROVE ALONE’ and ‘THE PIGS, THE PIGS, WE GOT TO GET RID OF THE PIGS’. The police reported that the signs had violent intent, despite various eyewitness accounts which suggest otherwise. Courtesy of the National Archives flickr (catalogue reference: MEPO 31/21 [A25]) a caption
There were 150 protestors at the march, accompanied by 200 police. This disproportionate response from the police suggests that they were expecting the violence that later ensued. Violent clashes broke out between the protestors and the police, and a number of protestors were arrested. Nine of the ‘ring-leaders’ were charged with riot, affray and assault. [8] The police reports at the time accused the protestors of inciting violence. As records at the National Archives indicate:

‘PC Pulley in his witness statement claimed that the banners showed violent intent because read ‘kill the pigs’, ‘slavery is still here’ and ‘the pigs are gonna get your mama’, however the photographs only showed signs saying ‘hands off us pigs’, ‘black power is gonna get your mama’ and ‘slavery is still alive.’ [9]

Figure 5: Mangrove Nine evidence photo. Police photographers were planted and told to capture any images which would implicate Black Power allies and leaders. Courtesy of the National Archives flickr (catalogue reference: MEPO 31/21 [A22])
Figure 5 is one of many photographs used by the police to imply that allies of the Black Power Movement were involved in planning and inciting a riot. According to scholars Bunce and Field, ‘Home Office documents reveal this was a deliberate strategy to target and decapitate the emerging black power movement.’ [10] Despite police efforts, this did not happen. In charging the nine ‘ring-leaders’ the police galvanised the British Black Power movement and thus the Mangrove Nine were born.

Black Power Defence

The Mangrove Nine were Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Frank Crichlow, Rhodan Gordon, Darcus Howe, Anthony Innis, Althea Jones-Lecointe, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett. They were charged with riot, affray and assault, and were tried before Judge Clarke at the Old Bailey. Their legal strategy has been recognised as a Black Power defence, in which they portrayed themselves as protagonists rather than defendants. [11]

Figure 6: Battle for freedom at the Old Bailey poster. These flyers were circulated during the trial, directly addressing the police brutality in Notting Hill and surrounding areas.  Courtesy of the National Archives flickr (catalogue reference: HO 325/143)

The first aspect of this Black Power defence involved using the Magna Carta as a precedent and demanding an all-black jury. [12] The ancient text of the Magna Carta forms the basis of the British legal system. It enshrines the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial. Therefore, in using the Magna Carta’s ‘jury of peers’ clause as part of their defence, the Nine were able to highlight how the institutional nature of British racism prevented them from receiving a fair trial. [13] This is akin to the American Panthers’ use of the Fourteenth Amendment as their constitutional basis for an all-black jury. [14]

The second aspect of their defence strategy was to have two of the Nine represent themselves: Darcus Howe and Althea Jones-Lecointe. The rest would be represented by lawyer Ian Macdonald. Black self-representation was an important tactic for two reasons: firstly, they would not be bound by the strict regulations of legal procedure, and secondly it would also allow them to expose the political nature of the trial and police brutality in Notting Hill. [15] Yet as Barbara Beese recalls, it also gained publicity and media attention because ‘the idea of black people actually defending themselves was quite extraordinary, [and] had not happened before’. [16] In representing themselves, Howe and Jones-Lecointe were drawing on tenets of Black Nationalist thought to show the efficacy of black self-reliance in order to achieve their goals. [17]

Figure 7: Barbara Beese, Corin and Vanessa Redgrave. The Nine were able to capitalise on publicity through various celebrities coming forward to show solidarity.  Courtesy of the National Archives flickr (catalogue reference: MEPO 31/21)

In total, the trial lasted 55 days. Throughout the trial, there were major inconsistencies within the prosecution’s case. For example, PC Lewis ‘had claimed… to the magistrate’s court that the police van was parked a few feet away from Crichlow, Howe and Gordon when the fighting began. He now said the van was parked 30 feet away, an admission that seemed to cast serious doubt on his claim that he heard Gordon… tell a black youth ‘kill the pigs.’ [18]

These contradictions did not go unnoticed by the defence. Howe was incredibly meticulous in his cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses. He took note of the number of times the police witnesses answered with ‘I don’t know’, coming to a grand total of 70 times. [19] In doing so, Howe was able to show the jury how unreliable the police accounts were.

However, it was not just the police testimonies that were controversial. Heavy criticism was targeted at Clarke whose actions were regularly challenged by the Nine. Howe accused Clarke of prejudice, and ‘railroading the defendants’ at key moments. [20] In his closing statement, Macdonald argued that this was not the United States, where a Chicago judge ordered Bobby Seale, co-founder of the American Panthers, to be ‘bound and gagged in the dock to stop him speaking out.’ [21] He went on to say that Clarke was guilty of subjecting the Nine to ‘naked judicial tyranny’. [22] In their closing statements, both Howe and Jones-Lecointe explicitly called ou the police brutality against the black community of Notting Hill. They stated that it was the police who had incited the violence because they were angry at the protestors for challenging their actions. [23]

‘What this trial has shown is that there is clearly evidence of racial hatred on both sides.’ [24]

After just over eight hours of deliberation, the jury came to a verdict. Rothwell Kentish, Frank Crichlow, Darcus Howe, Barbara Beese and Godfrey Millet were acquitted of all charges. [25] Anthony Innis, Rhodan Gordan, Althea Jones-Lecointe and Rupert Boyce received suspended sentences, meaning that none were sent to prison. [26] But as the scholars Bunce and Field argue, the Black Power defence strategy had put sufficient pressure on Clarke that he had to respond in an even manner in his closing statement. [27] The Judge concluded by recognising evidence of racial hatred on both sides. [28]

This was a watershed because it was the first judicial acknowledgment of racism within the Metropolitan Police. It also meant institutionalised racism within the police force was officially recognised decades prior to the Stephen Lawrence murder, which leads to the question as to why there was no inquiry before. In a report that the Home Office later commissioned, it was found that ‘contrary to police reports the violence was not initiated by marchers but by the police.’ [29]

‘The Mangrove Nine had turned the fight against police racism into a cause célebre‘ [30]

The significance of the Mangrove Nine should not be underestimated. It empowered and electrified the black communities of London and beyond. The case was an example of how black people could succeed in holding the establishment accountable for their racism. Barbara Beese recalls the trial as:

‘… a defining moment for black people in Britain, because it actually gave real meaning to Black Power.’ [31]

This is particularly important as it shows how the doctrine of Black Power was successful in a British context. Much of the literature around Black Power focuses on the successes of the movement in America, without recognising its role in Britain during the late twentieth century. However, as Beese states, the case of the Mangrove Nine gave a new meaning to Black Power in Britain. The doctrine of Black Power places a heavy emphasis on ideals of self-help and self-reliance and the Nine put the theory into practice. This demonstrates how it is possible to fight against racism without relying on institutions which were created to oppress you.

The Mangrove Nine ‘marked the high water-mark of Black Power,’ yet it has become overlooked by the mainstream. [32] This case demonstrates how black Power was not solely confined to the spatial boundaries of the United States. Britain had its own movement and the Mangrove Nine is proof of that.


[1] Robin Bunce and Paul Field, “Mangrove Nine: The Court Challenge Against Police Racism in Notting Hill”, The Guardian, 2010 [Accessed 29 November 2018].

[2] A Sivanandan, A Different Hunger: Writings on Black Resistance (London: Pluto Press, 1982), pp 32-33.

[3] Paul Field and Robin Bunce, Darcus Howe: A Political Biography (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014) p. 98.

[4] Ibid., p. 93.

[5] Ibid, p. 100.

[6] Vicky Iglikowski and Rowena Hillel, “Rights, Resistance and Racism: The Story of The Mangrove Nine”, The National Archives Blog, 2015 [Accessed 29 November 2018].

[7] Anne-Marie Angelo, “‘Any Name That Has Power’: The Black Panthers Of Israel, The United Kingdom, And The United States, 1948-1977” (unpublished Ph.D, Duke University) p. 265.

[8] Sivanandan, A Different Hunger, p. 32.

[9] Iglikowski and Hillel, “Rights, Resistance and Racism”.

[10] Bunce and Field, “The Mangrove Nine”.

[11] Ibid., p. 122.

[12] Ibid., p. 122.

[13] Rosalind Wild, “‘Black Was the Colour of Our Fight.’ Black Power In Britain, 1955-1976” (unpublished Ph.D, University of Sheffield) p. 187.

[14] Field and Bunce, Darcus Howe, p. 122.

[15] Ibid., p. 123.

[16] Ibid., p. 123.

[17] Michael C Dawson, Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

[18] Field and Bunce, Darcus Howe, p. 130.

[19] Ibid., p. 131.

[20] Ibid., p. 132.

[21] Ibid., p. 132.

[22] Ibid., p. 132.

[23] Ibid., p. 132.

[24] Iglikowski and Hillel, “Rights, Resistance and Racism”.

[25] Wild, ‘“Black Was the Colour of Our Fight”’, p. 187.

[26] Wild, ‘“Black Was the Colour of Our Fight”’, p. 187; Field and Bunce, Darcus Howe, p. 133.

[27] Field and Bunce, Darcus Howe, p. 133.

[28] Iglikowski and Hillel, “Rights, Resistance and Racism”; Field and Bunce, Darcus Howe, p. 134.

[29] Iglikowski and Hillel, “Rights, Resistance and Racism”.

[30] Field and Bunce, Darcus Howe, p. 135.

[31] Ibid., p. 135.

[32] Sivanandan, A Different Hunger, p. 33.

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