A victim of perjury and prejudice, but still he is demonised and despised

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The Independent Online
THE IMAGE that is still branded upon the public memory is that of the crazed maniac, staring out from all the front pages, "the face of evil". In that context, facts have become almost irrelevant. After Silcott was first cleared of killing PC Keith Blakelock, a typical comment from Scotland Yard was: "He is an animal. I don't care if he is guilty or not." That attitude remains prevalent, even today.

The first public perception of Winston Silcott, as monster incarnate, has proved difficult to erase. After he was paid compensation for his wrongful conviction in the Blakelock case, the Daily Mail declared: "Outrage upon outrage. Shame upon shame."

Silcott's conviction for an unconnected murder still stands; that fact is constantly entangled with the horrific murder of PC Keith Blakelock at the Broadwater Farm riot in October 1985.

The most famous image of Silcott - "The Beast of Broadwater Farm", as he became known - was taken after he was dragged out of his cell and his arms pinioned to his sides; the picture was released to the media for them to use as they saw fit. In defiance of all legal constraints, The Sun promptly published it under the headline: "First picture in machete death case". That is the public perception of the man who remains notorious - despite all the lies that have been exposed in the 14 years since.

In 1991, the Court of Appeal cleared Silcott of the killing of PC Blakelock. The conviction was deemed unsafe when an expert testified that the key incriminating pages of interview notes - including admissions Silcott had always denied making - were added later. The Court said that "the foundation of the Crown case has been destroyed".

Lord Justice Farquharson described Silcott and the two others cleared at the same time as "victims of perjury". The detectives in the case were charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice - but were acquitted in 1994, which permits all sorts of implicit questions. (The detectives' defence case quoted allegedly new statements from eyewitnesses, including descriptions which a judge had earlier described as "fantasy".)

After the acquittal of the detectives on perjury charges, the question marks over Silcott hung in the air. The implication remained: he may have been cleared on what was described as "a technicality". But what (it was implied) about his true guilt?

In the sense that it is impossible to prove a negative, things indeed remain unclear. But the proven tampering with evidence notes is only part of the story. The circumstantial evidence was poor to non-existent. No item of forensic evidence linked him with the murder. Of the 1,000-odd photographs taken during the Broadwater riot, Silcott was not visible in any. His then girlfriend insists that he was desperate to stay out of trouble that night, because of the charges already hanging over him at that time.

His parents, devout Seventh Day Adventists who came to Britain in 1957 from Montserrat, have clearly been shocked at much of the press coverage. His mother, Mary said: "I never knew white people could be so wicked."

Certainly, Silcott had form. At age 15, he was apprenticed to a cabinet- maker. One day, while he was cycling to work, police stopped and searched him. He was convicted and fined - because his bicycle had faulty brakes. As his mother later said: "Since that day, for every little thing they pick him up. Like a cat playing with a mouse, they keep arresting him, then they let him go."

Silcott did not mind answering back, so made himself unpopular with the police. He later repeatedly got into fights. But even the murder for which he was on bail at the time of PC Blakelock's murder was far from clear-cut. This time it was Silcott who dealt the lethal blow, and at his trial he lied about his possession of a weapon. It may well have been that he was badly advised.

The dead man was a 22-year-old boxer and gang leader, Anthony Smith. According to independent accounts, Smith and two fellow posse members came after Silcott with a knife at a club. A doorman told police (in a statement not heard at the trial): "Between you and me, the dead guy caused it all. He came in with a knife and cut Sticks [Silcott] and Sticks defended himself." Silcott might have been expected to be convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter. The magistrate allowed him out on bail - unusual, in the case of murder.

It was in accordance with those bail conditions, according to Silcott, that he was signing on at a police station at 7.15pm, when the riot was underway; the police said he had signed in at 6pm but the book with his signature had been "misplaced". It has never been found.

Even now, Silcott is allowed to stand as a symbol of evil, despite everything that has happened. In his own words, "The Silcott name is a stigma and will be for the rest of my life."