Legendary Jamaican drugs café is closed

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The Independent Online

Among drug connoisseurs, crack addicts, Jamaican gangsters and social historians the Black and White café in Bristol has a legendary status.

Among drug connoisseurs, crack addicts, Jamaican gangsters and social historians the Black and White café in Bristol has a legendary status.

But within the police its reputation is that of the country's most raided drugs den.

The Caribbean food café, where popular dishes include goat curry, has been a thorn in the side of the authorities ever since it was set up as an illegal drinking hangout in the 1970s.

In 1980 it shot to national prominence when a detective constable emerging from the café with a bag of cannabis was confronted by a group of black youths - sparking one of the most serious riots in Britain since the Second World War.

Dope-dealing at the café gave way to crack cocaine in the 1990s as Jamaican Yardie gangsters established themselves in the St Paul's district of Bristol, where the eatery is based. Gun crime and violence quickly followed.

But now, after more than two decades of the struggle to bring law and order to the "Black and White", the café is finally closing. The keys were handed over to police yesterday afternoon after legal action using new anti-social behaviour laws. In a few months' time the city council will take possession of the dilapidated building, along with the Victorian terrace in which it stands, which is being demolished to make way for social housing.

Inspector Andy Bennett, the officer in charge of policing St Paul's, recalled a housing association worker in Bristol being amazed to overhear a conversation while lying on the beach in Montego Bay between two Jamaicans talking about getting drugs at the "Black and White" in her home town. "People came to the café from all over the West Country and South Wales to buy drugs," he said. "It was open 24/7. It was even known in Jamaica."

The two-storey building sold Jamaican food, which was eaten at breakfast bars. Cans of Red Stripe lager could also be purchased through the food hatch. On each floor was a pool table, and it was around these that most of the dealing took place.

Police have made hundreds of arrests either inside or just outside the café for offences ranging from drug dealing to assault and robbery over the past two decades. Drugs have been found in customers' jackets, behind a false ceiling panel, in the lavatories, the pool tables, and the backs of speakers. Officers have been attacked by customers and rioting broke out on two occasions in 1986. Weapons and illegal immigrants as well as drugs have frequently been seized at the café and several people have also reported being assaulted or held "hostage".

On Saturday last week the police raided the café and seized about 200 £10 wraps of crack cocaine and a small amount of heroin and cannabis.

During the 1980 riots after a raid on the café a bank and a post office were attacked and a row of shops and a warehouse were set alight. Twelve police cars and several fire engines were damaged or set ablaze and dozens of people were injured.

After armed members of the Aggi Crew gang stormed in to the café and demanded a "tax" from a rival gang of Jamaican drug dealers, police took the unprecedented step of putting armed officers on 24-hour patrol in the district.

Steven Wilks, the owner of the café, took it over from his father who set it up in 1971. He has been fighting the police and city council to keep his business going. He told a court hearing: "For 30 years we have provided black food for the black community. I don't sell drugs. The café has been subject to negative press since day one, but closing the café is not going to change the drug situation in St Paul's. St Paul's is rife with drugs. Crack cocaine has mashed up the community and we have all felt that, myself included."

But local residents have rejoiced at the news of the café's demise. Pete Woollard, who has lived in St Paul's for 25 years, told the recent court hearing: "The dealers come down to the café to buy drugs. I have seen them on my wall chasing the dragon at 9am. This café is known throughout the world for drugs."

TWO DECADES OF TROUBLE

Some of the incidents at Black and White café recorded by police over 23 years:

1980: Bristol riots after police raid Black and White café.

1984: Three officers attacked by customers after going into café to arrest a man.

1986, February: Two-day riot outside café after car chase.

September: Raid at café followed by three nights of rioting.

1992, February: Person seen to leave café and conduct a drugs deal, arrested and drugs seized.

August: Two suspected drug dealers stopped by police after leaving café and drugs found.

November: Drugs seized from pool table inside café.

1995, 8 February: Known offenders seen leaving café. Found with CS gas and drugs.

1996, 3 January: Two brothers shot in a disturbance outside the café. One later died.

1997, 25 July: Police raid, £20,000 worth of drugs seized, two arrests.

13 October: People arrested for supplying drugs inside café.

1999, 1 May: Murder of Gary Mignott outside café.

6 May-summer: 32 arrests for drug dealing.

21 June: Report of hostage at café.

2000, 31 May-10 August: Numerous arrests and drug seizures at the cafe.

14 December: Sock containing drugs found inside café.

2002, 1 January: Stabbing outside café. Man seen outside café pointing a gun at a woman.

12 February: 29 arrests for drugs and immigration offences.

14-15 May: Three people convicted of conspiracy to supply controlled drugs.

22 October: Drugs seized from hole in wall inside café.

27 November: Assault on officer inside café.

2003, 13 January: Aggi Crew gang stage hold-up inside café.

23 January: Café searched by consent, drugs seized from a hole inside toilet unit and also from inside an electronic bar game.

23 April: Report of 50 people fighting outside the café.