19 years on, garden is dug up in hunt for Blakelock killers

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The Independent Online

Police investigating the murder of PC Keith Blakelock in 1985 began digging up a garden in a search for weapons and the clothes of his killers yesterday after uncovering fresh intelligence. Officers believe that evidence may have been buried there shortly after the murder.

Police investigating the murder of PC Keith Blakelock in 1985 began digging up a garden in a search for weapons and the clothes of his killers yesterday after uncovering fresh intelligence. Officers believe that evidence may have been buried there shortly after the murder.

New information led to the excavation around a house 50 yards from where the officer was hacked to death during riots on the Broadwater Farm estate in north London.

A Scotland Yard detective in charge of homicide investigations said he was "very confident" of catching the killers. Archaeologists are helping a team of specialist officers, equipped with ground-penetrating radar, to scour the small back garden of the terraced house at 16 Willan Road, Tottenham, north London.

PC Blakelock, 40, a father of three, was hacked to death by a mob of around 40 people armed with knives and machetes during riots in October 1985. Another officer, PC Richard Coombes, was seriously injured with a machete during the disturbances that were sparked by the death of a woman during a police raid.

Many of the weapons used in the murder, including PC Blakelock's helmet, were never recovered. If the police find these items they may contain forensic evidence that identifies the killers. The search is expected to last three days.

When asked about the chances of obtaining evidence after 19 years, Commander Andy Baker, head of homicide at the Metropolitan Police, replied: "We are very confident - that's why we are doing it. This is about our ethos of relentless pursuit in any murder case."

"We have got strong intelligence that something is buried there," he added.

A new investigation into the murder began in December 2003. More than 6,000 statements have been examined and the latest DNA techniques used to scrutinise evidence.

Police also used a groundbreaking virtual-reality video of the scene compiled from police and press photographs taken on the night of the riot.

After analysing thousands of images, police now believe that two "distinct" groups of attackers converged on PC Blakelock. At least six figures in the scrum around the fallen policeman have been identified using enhancing techniques.

The current residents of 16 Willan Road moved into the house in the late 1990s and are not suspects. Police refused to discuss if the former occupants who lived there at the time of the riot had been contacted as part of the new investigation.

The case has been one of the most controversial in modern times. In 1987, Winston Silcott was convicted of the murder along with Mark Braithwaite and Engin Raghip. However, their convictions were overturned on appeal in 1991 because of "unsafe" evidence.

Two officers who were involved in the original Broadwater Farm inquiry - Graham Melvin, a former detective chief superintendent, and Maxwell Dingle, a former detective inspector - were charged with fabricating evidence but were cleared at the Old Bailey in 1994.

In recent weeks police have delivered more than 3,000 leaflets to homes on the estate and in surrounding areas to alert the community to what is happening - they do not want to risk reopening old wounds in this predominately black inner- city community.

Bishop Kwaku Frimpong-Manson, chair of the Broadwater Farm Residents' Asso- ciation, said: "The community has moved forward and we want to continue building our community. The police have a right and it is their duty to investigate what happened."

"Every good citizen would want to see that people with bad intentions are put away."

HOW THE CASE UNFOLDED

5 October 1985: Cynthia Jarrett, 49, dies during police raid on her home.

6 October: PC Keith Blakelock, 40, dies from machete wounds in riot after demonstration by Mrs Jarrett's family.

13 October: Winston Silcott, 26, charged with PC Blakelock's murder. Engin Raghip, 19, and Mark Braithwaite, 18, later charged.

March 1987: All three convicted of murder and sentenced to life.

November 1991: Appeal court overturns Silcott's conviction following doubt over police evidence. Silcott serving life for killing boxer Tony Smith.

5 December: Raghip's and Braithwaite convictions quashed by appeal court.

July 1994: Former Det Chief Supt Graham Melvin and Det Insp Maxwell Dingle cleared at Old Bailey of fabricating evidence.

October 1999: Silcott receives £50,000 in settlement with Met.

January 2000: PC Blakelock's murder under review by Met.

October 2003: Silcott released after serving 17 years for Smith's murder.

December: Fresh investigation into PC Blakelock's murder, following new evidence.

September 2004: House near riots searched for possible weapons and clothing linked to murder.