Lives Remembered: Greta Brooks

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The Independent Online

After the Brixton riots in the 1980s, Lord Scarman and others recommended various reforms, and one woman was at the heart of three of them. Greta Brooks was a teacher, a doctor's wife, and a Quaker, and demonstrated that for good to triumph, it is only necessary for people of goodwill to do something.

She was a founder of the Community-Police Consultative Group, formed so that members of the community could hold constructive dialogue with the police. Secondly, after concern about prisoners being badly treated in police stations, in 1984 Greta was one of the first Lay Visitors, appointed to make unannounced inspections. Her family joked that at only 4ft 11in she got into the police stations under the radar. She was certainly unthreatening in her manner, but no less determined for that. The idea was copied throughout Britain and as far afield as South Africa; she received an MBE in 1988 and an award from the Metropolitan Police Authority in 2002.

The third recommendation was to establish a community mediation service. With a small Quaker grant and help from the mediation centre in neighbouring Southwark, Greta held meetings, formed a committee, drew up a constitution, trained volunteers and invited referrals. At first she was the sole co-ordinator (at 73), working from her back bedroom. At one time the committee, concerned about her workload, asked her to keep a record: she was working at least 40 hours a week on a voluntary basis. Lambeth Mediation Service celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Born on 4 February 1917 in Glasgow, she had already worked for the common good in several ways. During the Second World War she worked at the Ministry of Food on managing nutrition in rations; then she trained as a teacher to support her husband Victor Brooks and his sister through medical school. They became active Quakers. In addition to teaching she camped with the charity Forest School Camps, where one of the children was a young Jack Straw: she recalled that he made his first speech to a group of 100 people while sitting on her lap.

In 1978, as Quaker representative on the Brixton Council of Churches, she became aware of the deteriorating relationship between the police and certain sections of the community; she supported families who were experiencing trouble with the police, and began a positive dialogue with the Chief Inspector, laying the foundations for her later work.

In all her work she was supported by Victor, who continued to practise as a doctor past retirement age. In 1999, however, complications following an operation left him dependent on her until his death in 2005, in spite of which she carried on with much of her public work. She died peacefully on 26 December after spending Christmas Day with her family, and is buried next to Victor in Wester Ross.

Martin Wright

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