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

The Mangrove Nine

Author: Sarah Saunders

When we think of the civil rights movement we tend to think of the US, hardly surprising when you consider we are predominately taught American examples of the Black struggle.  Most people have heard of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King and the Alabama Church bombing but many haven’t heard of Paul Stephenson and the Bristol Bus Boycott, Jocelyn Barrow, Darcus Howe or the New Cross Fire.  Not teaching about the British civil rights movement reinforces the idea that ‘racism didn’t happen here’, which is of course not true.  Until 1965 it was legal in Britain to discriminate against people based on skin colour and to omit the British civil rights movement from the history books eradicates an important period of British history that shaped the future of the Black British experience.

In 1993, Black British teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in an unprovoked and racially motivated attack by a gang of White youths, six years later the Macpherson report concluded the investigation into the killing had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism; and a failure of leadership”.  The report was written almost 30 years after the first judicial acknowledgement of racism within the Metropolitan police force.

On 9 August 1970, 150 people set out to peacefully march against the Metropolitan Police, challenging their campaign of intimidation against the Black community in Notting Hill.  The march was met by over 500 police officers resulting in injuries and 19 arrests.  Nine Black people were charged with incitement to riot and affray leading to a trial at the Old Baily which would become one of the most important events in British civil rights history.  The group became known as the Mangrove Nine.

The issue at the heart of the case was the rise of a ‘Black power’ movement in Britain.  A Britain at the end of Empire, a Britain that had opened its doors to ‘subjects of the Commonwealth’.

By the 1960s British racism had become forceful and violent.  Conservative MP Enoch Powell encouraged White British people to blame migrants for the economic and social problems the country was experiencing.  His speeches against immigration influencing the 1971 Immigration Act, a law that allowed the government to stop Black and Asian people entering Britain, whilst allowing White people from Australia, New Zealand and Canada to enter freely.  The Act also gave the government power to repatriate certain migrants, repatriation Powell argued, should become government policy.  Powell caused widespread fear by claiming that Black and White people could not live together in peace.

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 from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1971 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 the informal head office for the Notting Hill Carnival and also produced The Hustler, a small community newspaper; underlining the community aspect of the restaurant.  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 ‘home from home’ for the Caribbean community, and a space for political discussion.

In 1969 the restaurant became the target of police attention.  Between January 1969 and July 1970, the police raided the Mangrove 12 times ‘looking for drugs’ despite never finding any.  No evidence of illegal activity was ever found, however local PC Frank Pulley remained convinced that the restaurant was ‘a den of iniquity’ frequented by ‘pimps, prostitutes and criminals’.

Although the Mangrove was open between 18:00 to 06:00 the bulk of trade was usually after midnight, so in 1969 two days before Christmas, when the local council withdrew the ‘all-night cafe’ licence, meaning only takeaway food could be offered after 23:00, this was a significant blow.  One reason given for revoking the licence was that “people with criminal records, prostitutes, and convicted persons” used the Mangrove yet as already mentioned, 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 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 stating 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 Phillip 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, totally 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 Darcus Howe: A Political Biography, 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.  The march ended in violence resulting in 19 arrests and injuries to both sides.

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 Nine were charged with incitement to riot and affray however these initial 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, 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 re-arrested and in 1971 and 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 history.  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.  Black people defending themselves in court significantly increased media attention, the other 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’. The Nine highlighted how the institutional nature of British racism prevented them from receiving a fair trial.  Legal arguments for a ‘fair trial’ were made for two days but the request for an all Black Jury was denied however 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 was 24 at the time and described the atmosphere of the courtroom.  “It was male, pale and stale” “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.  Throughout the trail, there were major inconsistencies within the prosecution’s case, these contradictions didn’t go unnoticed by the defence.  Howe was meticulous in taking note of the number of times police witnesses answered with ‘I don’t know’ (a total of 70 times) and in doing so was able to demonstrate to the jury how unreliable the police accounts were.  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 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”.

Black power went up against the power of the British state and won. 

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.

Following the trail, the government quickly moved to ‘modernise’ the justice system by restricting the rights of future defendants seeking to influence jury selection.  Nonetheless the Mangrove 9 had turned the fight against police racism into a cause celebre, inspiring activists across the country.

Barbara Beese recalls the trail as: “…..a defining moment for Black people in Britain, because it actually gave real meaning to Black Power.’

Rapid gentrification of Notting Hill during the 1980s led to further 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 despite being known locally for his strong anti-drugs stance (it was 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, his bail conditions had prohibited him from going near the restaurant for a year and the restaurant never recovered from his year-long absence, that and changes in economic conditions meant that in 1992 the Mangrove 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.

The significance of the Mangrove Nine case, which is often overlooked should not be underestimated.  It empowered and unified Black communities in Britain and was an example of how Black people could succeed in holding the establishment accountable for their racism and demonstrated that Britain had its own movement.

In 2020 “Mangrove” was the first of five original films in the ‘Small Axe’ anthology from Bafta and Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen, each telling of a different story from London’s West Indian community of lives shaped by personal and collective determination, despite racism. You can watch Mangrove and the other films on BBC iPlayer.

AUTHOR: Sarah Saunders.



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


National Archives

Useful source for education:

Mangrove Nine protest – The National Archives