Police efforts at improving relations put to severe test

THE SUCCESS of joint efforts to improve relations between the police and parts of the population in north London could not have faced a much more severe test than the death of Joy Gardner.

That she died following a raid by police officers serving a deportation order brought back memories of Cynthia Jarrett, whose death while being arrested at home by police in 1985 provided the catalyst for the Broadwater Farm riots.

Both incidents occurred within a couple of miles of each other in north London and were seized upon by local militants.

But attempts to refuel ill feeling against the police by revolutionary groups such as the Socialist Workers Party - 'Joy Gardner . . . murdered by the police' - have found a different climate.

Bernie Grant, the Labour MP for Tottenham and Mrs Gardner's MP until she moved three weeks ago to the neighbouring Hornsey constituency, is again at the centre of events.

At the time of Broadwater Farm he was the firebrand leader of Haringey Council whose 'police committee' often became a focus for vocal opposition to the force's every move.

Yesterday, he was appealing for calm following meetings with Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. 'The idea of Bernie meeting the Commissioner would have been a joke five years ago,' said one of the MP's staff.

The transformation from open hostility and conflict to one of respectful co-operation has been carefully conducted by both sides in an area where ethnic minorities make up 40 per cent of the population.

Chief Inspector Mark Sanger, responsible for community relations for the past four years, said there was always the risk that one incident could spark off trouble.

'Both women died as a result of a police raid. But the scenario is different from 1985. It doesn't have the same feel,' he said.

Before the Broadwater Farm riots there had been months of daily conflict over the numbers and force used in police arrests. Complaints regularly poured into local MPs' offices about brutality and harassment. Mr Grant admits the number of complaints has fallen, although he wrote to the police earlier this year warning of the danger of young black men being routinely stopped by the police. One constituent had been stopped 23 times in the nine months he had held a licence.

The office of Barbara Roche, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and former head of the police monitoring unit of Hackney Council, could mention only two recent cases of alleged police misconduct during an arrest.

Haringey's police committee was scrapped in 1990 when it joined a formal police consultation process. A joint application to the Department of the Environment resulted in a pounds 250,000 crime prevention exercise with the police working hand in hand with the local authority.

Hours of debate in community centres and council chambers earned its reward in that senior police officers were able to brief a meeting of the Haringey Council for Racial Equality about the raid on Mrs Gardner's home on the day it happened.

'Right from the start we have been working in the public forum. We can explain to people what has happened. The philosophy of senior officers has not been to seek a confrontation as may have been the case on previous occasions,' Ch Insp Sanger said.

There is no doubt that Mrs Gardner's death did reawaken fears and doubts about police behaviour. Those at a lunch club at Hornsey's West Indian centre saw the incident as the latest example in a long record of black people's mistreatment in Britain.

One guest said: 'That's not the right sort of way for the police to behave. I know they have their job to do but they can't keep on hurting people and getting away with it.'

Leading article, page 21

(Photograph omitted)

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