I may have missed out on that place at Essex University, but I did go on to have an encounter with the Angry Brigade, some of whose members were students there. I was covering a case of alleged police brutality for the north London paper I then worked for, after a boy died in police custody the night his head came into contact with a lamp post while being arrested as a Borstal absconder.
The boy turned out to have a latent mastoid infection, and his death was entirely unconnected with the lamp post.
His family did not see it that way, though, and campaigned for an inquiry. They were delivering a petition to the police station when scores of police suddenly arrived back from an Arsenal game and tried to move them on. Result: his three brothers were arrested for assaulting the police.
I, along with Richard Stott, later editor of the Mirror, was subpoenaed by the defence to give evidence that the affair had been peaceful before the police arrived, which we duly did. During the court case, I got chatting to a guy, Bert, and two women who were preparing leaflets for the family.
Cue a watch on my parents' home (the sight of a man standing by a lamp post in a leafy road far from anywhere was almost amusing). Even my father, no revolutionary (he was vice-chairman of the Finchley Conservative Association) thought something odd was up. A college reporter friend from Watford was questioned as to whether I had any political affiliations at college. (I was a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, I confess).
The next day, the magistrate duly trashed both my evidence and Richard's. We were accused of wanting to wound the police. Then I heard, via our court reporter, that if my car was ever spotted near the police station, there would be cannabis in it before I could blink.
Six months later, the two women's faces appeared on my TV screen – they were Hilary Creek and Anna Mendelssohn from the Angry Brigade. Hence the surveillance.
Which all shows why – for the rest of my working life – I have been a member of the Moderately Sceptical Brigade when it comes to authority.
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