Quiet return to freedom for man cleared of PC's murder

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The Independent Online

In marked contrast to the furore that surrounded his conviction, Winston Silcott's release from jail was a muted affair.

The Prison Service announced yesterday that the 43-year-old had in fact been free for three days. Having left Blantyre House open prison in Kent on Friday, the man convicted and later cleared of murdering PC Keith Blakelock will officially be released today when he signs his life licence at a secret location.

Eighteen years after PC Blakelock was hacked to death during the notorious Broadwater Farm riots, Mr Silcott will begin to rebuild his life.

His release came after the announcement last week that ministers and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, had approved a parole board decision that the model prisoner was no longer a danger to the public.

Mr Silcott was convicted of murdering the police officer in March 1987, but the verdict was overturned on appeal as "unsafe'' in 1991 because of tainted police evidence. He remained in prison after being convicted of killing Anthony Smith, a boxer, in 1984.

Tony Murphy, his solicitor, insisted that Mr Silcott "remains intent on proving his innocence''. Pointing out that he has served three more years than his original 14-year tariff, Mr Murphy said Mr Silcott maintained he was acting in self-defence when he killed the 24-year-old.

Mr Silcott is expected to return to his home area, Tottenham, probably to stay with his parents in their Victorian terraced house, two miles from Broadwater Farm.

Despite being awarded £17,000 compensation by the Home Secretary for wrongful conviction in the Blakelock case, and £50,000 from the Metropolitan Police in a later civil claim, Mr Silcott has remained a controversial figure synonymous with the bitter division between the police and some sections of black youth.

At Broadwater Farm yesterday one man described him as a "Robin Hood'' figure for disenchanted young people, but most residents greeted news of his release with little more than apathy.

A £33m revamp has changed the area beyond recognition and the only evidence of its notorious past was a tiny, decaying sticker proclaiming "Free Winston Silcott'' on a car park wall. Murals and bright paintwork have changed the atmosphere of a bleak estate that was littered with broken bricks and missiles after rioters confronted police in October 1985 in one of the worst outbreaks of civil disorder Britain has seen.

"Most of the people living here 18 years ago have moved on and the estate has changed immeasurably,'' said Sean Gardiner, a senior housing officer. "Frankly [Winston Silcott's release] is irrelevant. It is of more interest to the media than to the public.''

Not everyone agreed. "It hasn't changed here. There are drugs, knives and stolen bikes, said a 51-year-old community activist.

"There has been a change of bricks and mortar but people haven't changed,''