Restaurant that became a symbol for radicalism: An action for damages by a civil rights leader has ended but without an apology. Heather Mills reports

Heather Mills
Monday 12 October 1992 23:02 BST

THE MANGROVE restaurant in Notting Hill, west London, once the powerhouse of black radicalism, stands boarded up.

The recession has done for the restaurant's new yuppie owners what the black community alleges the police did previously to its thriving eating house and talking shop - forced it out of business.

Frank Critchlow, the man who 23 years ago set up the Mangrove - not as the symbol for civil rights that it became - but as a trendy West Indian restaurant, yesterday accepted pounds 50,000 in damages from the police over the incident, which he says was the final nail in the restaurant's coffin.

In 1988, a raid on the premises by 48 officers in crash helmets and riot gear resulted in Mr Critchlow facing charges of supplying heroin and cannabis. At first he was held in custody and when freed on bail, banned from going anywhere near his business for about a year.

It floundered. But Mr Critchlow did not. He was a community leader respected by most people it seems except the Notting Hill police. Churchmen, magistrates and others who worked among the black and white communities in west London knew of his anti-drugs stance and projects. There was even a joke about him: 'His education is lacking: he's the only Trinidadian who doesn't know what a great draw of ganja is.'

That was why, despite the testimony on oath of no less than 36 police officers, the jury at his 1989 trial acquitted him of all charges. His case was simply that the police had planted the drugs on him.

While not admitting that officers had fabricated evidence, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner yesterday agreed to pay the damages to Mr Critchlow in settlement of his claim for false imprisonment, battery and malicious prosecution.

'I think pounds 50,000 will help me in a small way. But it is no compensation for what they did. Everybody knows that I do not have anything to do with drugs. I don't even smoke cigarettes. I cannot explain the disgust; the ugliness not just for me but for all my family that this whole incident has caused.'

Mr Critchlow was speaking from cramped offices across from the boarded-up restaurant in All Saints Road. They house what is now the Mangrove Community Association - an offshoot of Mr Critchlow's Mangrove.

With full-time workers supporting an old people's centre, an ex-offenders hostel, a steel band and other projects, Mangrove lives on despite what its workers perceive as unprecedented efforts by Notting Hill police to close it down. They claim a letter from a senior police officer to the local authority and housing associations was a thinly disguised attempt to starve it of funds. Officers were politely told to concern themselves with policing.

At 60, Mr Critchlow's role is now a smaller one. The 1988 raid and its repercussions finally wearied him. He surveys the boarded- up premises that he once ran and says: 'Sometimes I feel very pained about it and sometimes I think maybe it is just as well. It was all getting too much.'

For the roots of the Mangrove and its relationship with Notting Hill police run deep into the past. In the wake of the Notting Hill race riots, Mr Critchlow, opened El Rio, a small coffee bar.

Patronage was never exclusively black. Its Bohemian image attracted artists, authors, musicians and the hippies who had also made Notting Hill their base. Christine Keeler, Mandy-Rice Davis and Stephen Ward were regulars. Mr Critchlow served John Profumo, the War Minister, during his affair with Miss Keeler in the early Sixties.

But, according to a close associate, a combination of history, geography and the undoubted charisma of Mr Critchlow himself meant it turned into a talking shop for the new West Indian community - a place where they felt safe. In 1969 he opened the more upmarket Mangrove.

However, its magnetism as a centre for an increasingly politicised black community started attracting police attention. 'The presence of groups of black people on the streets was not a palatable sight for Notting Hill police. In the first year the police raided my restaurant six times and six times they found nothing,' Mr Critchlow said.

His complaints unanswered, in 1971 he organised a protest march. Mr Critchlow and eight others were arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot in a marathon trial which was to become a cause celebre - Lord Gifford and Vanessa Redgrave were among those who gave evidence for defendants who were acquitted.

'It was a turning point for black people,' Mr Critchlow said. 'It put on trial the attitudes of the police, the Home Office, of everyone towards the black community. We took a stand and I am proud of what we achieved - we forced them to sit down and rethink harassment. They decided there must be more law centres and more places to help people with their problems.'

The restaurant, meanwhile, was turned into a coffee bar where people could meet and from where Mr Critchlow was now running his advice and help centre.

In the police eye, it was a sanctuary for criminals and in the late 1970s Mr Critchlow was arrested for running a place concerned with the supply of drugs. Another trial - this time the Mangrove Six - and he was again acquitted.

But in what has been an ambivalent relationship with the police, there were periods when he was viewed as an asset - not least in organising the massive carnival. Following the 1982 Scarman Report, he liaised between authority and young blacks in the spirit of community policing. He was regarded as a father figure by the community; a cushion by the police.

It was not to last. All Saints Road had acquired notoriety as a drug-dealing area, attracting all sorts of characters from outside Notting Hill. In 1987 community policing gave way to swamp policing. In one month 4,000 officers were deployed in the area in Operation Trident. It coincided with the reopening of the Mangrove restaurant. Inevitably its customers were searched. 'There were 80 police in All Saints Road alone. You can imagine how the black community felt,' Mr Critchlow said.

A few months later came the two raids on the Mangrove that were to end in the damages' payment. Scotland Yard did not want to discuss policing now in relation to the Critchlow case but there is apparently hope on both sides that this will bring to an end the long unhappy saga of poor police- community relations.

There are plans to give All Saints Road a facelift. Some police were apparently in favour of changing its name to wipe out its past, not realising its significance to the black community. Jebb Johnson, of the community association, adds. 'Only if they agreed to call it All Franks Road.'

(Photograph omitted)

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