Leading Article: Mr Silcott should be released, not demonised

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The Independent Culture
WHAT DO a Jewish Army officer convicted of treason in turn-of- the-century France, six Irish men in Birmingham found guilty of bombing a pub in the 1970s, and a black man from a north London council estate serving time for the murder of a young policeman caught up in a riot have in common? They are all instances of men from minority communities who, following a rush to judgement, were found guilty of the most heinous crimes, and who were subsequently vindicated.

The mechanism is so familiar that it hardly needs detailing. Panic-stricken authorities, in a hurry to find a scapegoat to assuage public outrage, prosecute quickly on the basis of trumped-up evidence that they are later reluctant to repudiate. Those victims loudly protest their innocence, and gradually find allies who campaign on their behalf. Justice eventually wins out, but not before irreparable damage has been done to public trust.

Yesterday, in yet another sad reprise of this familiar script, the Metropolitan Police agreed to pay Winston Silcott, formerly of Broadwater Farm, pounds 50,000 (in addition to a large sum for his and their costs) in order to avoid facing the trial of a lawsuit he had instigated against them for malicious prosecution. That the police were willing to pay such large sums, rather than defend themselves in court, is an implicit admission of Mr Silcott's contention that he had been fitted up for the horrific, and deplorable, murder of PC Blakelock.

Of course, nothing can compensate the family of Keith Blakelock for their loss; and the police are understandably angry at the brutal killing of a popular young colleague. But these emotions should not lessen public outrage at the conviction, nor lead to the vilification, of the wrong man.

Sir Paul Condon needs to acknowledge police responsibility for the fabrication of evidence adduced at Mr Silcott's trial, and the press should end its racist stereotyping of him. Furthermore, Winston Silcott remains in prison, despite the quashing of the Blakelock verdict, for having killed a man in a brawl. The circumstances of this trial also raise disturbing questions; and due to the Blakelock case, his sentence has been prolonged past the judge's recommended tariff. This sad episode should end now with his early release from prison.