Protesters march against racism in the police and in support of The Mangrove. Protesters carry flags and placards.

The Mangrove Nine

The Mangrove was a Caribbean restaurant located at 8 All Saints Road Notting Hill, opened in 1968 by Trinidadian community activist and civil rights campaigner Frank Crichlow.

In the late 60’s, Notting Hill wasn’t the sought after address it is today, there were still undeveloped WWll bomb sites and the under-construction Westway motorway carved the area in two, but accommodation was cheap and many of the Windrush Generation, arriving in the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries, called the area home. 

The Mangrove was a meeting place for the Black community, White radicals, artists, authors, and musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone, Bob Marley, C. L. R. James, Lionel Morrison, Norman Beaton, Vanessa Redgrave, Colin MacInnes, Richard Neville, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Tony Gifford.  The premises also served as an informal head office for the Notting Hill Carnival and produced The Hustler, a small community newspaper.  Barbara Beese, one of the Mangrove Nine vividly remembers the spicy aroma of West Indian food wafting through the restaurant and the mural of mangrove trees on the wall. “It was the ‘frontline’, a hub for our community.”  When Clive Phillip arrived in “dismal and cold” London from Trinidad, he struggled.  Low on money, unable to find work, and fearful of White racist “Teddy Boy” thugs, he longed for community.  When the Mangrove opened, he felt at home, “It was like a sanctuary, it was family, a base of support.”  The Mangrove was more than just a restaurant, it became a home from home for the Caribbean community, and a space for political discussion.

In 1969 the restaurant became the target of police attention that seemed designed to close it down, they repeatedly raided the premises under the pretext of ‘looking for drugs’, despite never finding any.  Local Police Constable Frank Pulley remained convinced that the restaurant was ‘a den of iniquity’ frequented by ‘pimps, prostitutes and criminals’.  Between January 1969 and July 1970, the police raided the Mangrove 12 times.  No evidence of illegal activity was found during these raids.  

In December 1969, two days before Christmas, the restaurant was dealt a significant blow when the local council withdrew the ‘all-night cafe’ licence, meaning only takeaway food could be offered after 23:00. The Mangrove was open from 18:00 to 06:00 though the bulk of trade was after midnight. One of the reasons given for removing the licence was that “people with criminal records, prostitutes, and convicted persons” used the Mangrove, yet as mentioned above not once did police find evidence of drugs, pimps and prostitutes.  Frank wrote to the Race Relations Board complaining that the police raids were unlawful, stating “I know it is because I am a Black citizen of Britain that I am discriminated against”.  

In response to the ongoing harassment of the Black Community in Notting Hill, a group of activists, led by Darcus Howe founded the group “Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove and a march was organised to take place in August 1970.  Before the protest, the committee wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Edward Heath and others.  It said the “deliberate raids, harassments and provocations by the police had been reported to the Home Office on many occasions but had fallen on deaf ears”.

An copy of the open letter written to inform police of the demonstration due to take place in regards to persecution of the Mangrove

Just after lunchtime on Sunday 9 August 1970, a crowd gathered in front of the restaurant.  Clive recalls Darcus Howe stood on the roof of a car as he spoke:

“We’ve complained to the police about the police and nothing’s been done.  We’ve complained to magistrates about magistrates and nothing’s been done. We’ve complained to judges about judges and nothing’s been done. Now it’s time to do something ourselves.” 

The march, totalling 150 people, intended to walk past several police stations calling for the ‘end of the persecution of the Mangrove Restaurant’.

Protesters were vastly outnumbered by police. One police document obtained by historian Paul Field, who co-wrote a biography of Darcus Howe, revealed that 588 Constables, 84 Sergeants, 29 Inspectors and 4 Chief Inspectors had been made available to cover the protest.  There was also a handful of plain clothes and Special Branch detectives.

fig 1. A young Black woman stands in the doorway of The Mangrove, across the front of the restaurant is a sign that reads 'Hands Off Mangrove". Fig 2. Protesters march with banners and placards

The march ended in violence resulting in 19 arrests and injuries to both sides.  Nine people were arrested on charges that included incitement to riot and affray however these initial riot charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence and because police statements were thought to be contradictory.  In total, 23 pages of police statements were ruled to be inadmissible by the magistrate.  Despite this, the Director of Public Prosecutions reinstated the charges, which Barbara Besse believes “illustrated the determination of the authorities and the police to paint us as criminals rather than legitimate Black activists”.

Black families with placards at the protest march

The defendants were rearrested and in 1971, the Mangrove Nine would end up at the Old Bailey in a high-profile, but now much forgotten trial that secured an important spot in the timeline of Black British people.  Barbara Beese, Frank Crichlow and Darcus Howe were joined in the dock by Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett.   

The strategic way the Nine organised their defence is perhaps one of the reasons why the trial is considered so significant.  Both Howe and Jones-LeCointe took the bold decision to defend themselves meaning they could speak directly to the jury rather than through the intermediary of a barrister.  The prospect of Black people defending themselves in court significantly increased the media attention.  Another radical step was the demand by Howe for an all Black jury.  The judge was asked to consider a precedent enshrined in the Magna Carta which established the principle of the right to justice and a fair trial for all and that no free man may suffer punishment without “the lawful judgment of his peers”

Legal arguments for a “fair trial” were made for two days but the request for an all Black Jury was denied but the defendants used their right to question potential jurors, asking among other things what they understood by the term “Black Power” dismissing those who might be prejudiced.  A total of 63 jurors were rejected and the final selection included two Black people.

A poster showing headshots of the Mangrove Nine, with the title 'Battle For Freedom at Old Bailey'

More than 50 witnesses would be called by the prosecution and almost twice as many would be called by the defence.

Barbara Beese described the atmosphere of the courtroom.  “It was male, pale and stale”. She was 24 at the time “The Old Bailey was where the worst criminals went on trial, so for us to be there, it was like being told we were up there with murderers and rapists.”

The trial ended on Thursday 16 December 1971 having lasted for 55 days, but after only 8 hours of jury deliberation ALL the defendants were acquitted of the main charge of incitement to riot.  Five were acquitted of ALL charges and the remaining four, Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis and Altheia Jones-Lecointe, received suspended sentences for a selection of lesser offences.

The trial made legal history when it delivered the first judicial acknowledgement of ‘evidence of behaviour motivated by racial hatred’ within the Metropolitan Police.  

The trial and subsequent victory no doubt sent shockwaves through the establishment, more importantly, it demonstrated to Black people that it was possible to fight against institutional racism and to win.  The Mangrove Nine achieved an incredible feat, they convinced a White majority jury that the police had “stains of racism” and that the officers’ “trumped up allegations were without foundation”. 

Rapid gentrification of the neighbourhood in the 1980s led to more increased police pressure.  In 1988 the Mangrove was raided twice, once by 48 officers in riot gear, resulting in Frank being charged with supplying heroin and cannabis and bail conditions prohibited him from going near the restaurant for a year.  Frank was known locally for his strong anti-drug stance and alleged that the police had intentionally planted the drugs.  He was eventually acquitted of all charges and in 1992 the Metropolitan Police paid him damages of £50,000 for false imprisonments, battery and malicious prosecution, however the restaurant never recovered from his year-long absence and changes in economic conditions.  In 1992, it closed for the last time. 

A heritage blue plaque to honour Frank Crichlow at the Mangrove’s former address was unveiled on 4 December 2011 by Jak Beula’s Nubian Jak Community Trust.

“Mangrove” was the first of five original films from Bafta and Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen.  The ‘Small Axe’ anthology each tells of a different story from London’s West Indian community, where lives have been shaped by personal determination, despite racism and discrimination. You can watch all five films on BBC iPlayer.

AUTHOR: Sarah Saunders.

 

Sources:

¹ Constable Frank Pulley quoted in ‘A Den of Iniquity,’ Kensington Post, October 12, 1971, as cited in Rob Waters, Thinking Black: Britain, 1964-1985 (2019), p. 99 

Byline Times

BBC

National Archives

Useful source for education:

Mangrove Nine protest – The National Archives