On 7 April 1984, there was a series of racist attacks in the Upton Park and Forest Gate areas of Newham, carried by the same group of racist thugs driving around in a car. These attacks included a vicious assault on a partially disabled 16-year old Asian youth who was bundled into the car, taken to Wanstead Flats and beaten with a hammer. A family shopping on Green Street were attacked, as was an apprentice returning from work on St Stephens Road and a youth on Plashet Road. Further attacks during the day were orchestrated by racists drinking at The Duke of Edinburgh pub and as news spread, local Asian youths gathered outside the pub to confront the racists.The police arrived almost immediately, one Asian was arrested and kept into custody overnight. Three white youths who were inside the pub, throwing with billiard balls, beer glasses and bottles at Asian youths, were also arrested but released that evening without charge.
Over the next few weeks, six more Asians were arrested and although two of the seven were granted bail, the other five subsequently spent around many weeks on remand. Week after week, bail applications were rejected by magistrates, as the prosecution maintained that they were still preparing their case.
All seven were eventually charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage and affray. with additional individual charges including possessing offensive weapons.All carried the potential for heavy sentences on conviction. As a result, on 15 June 1984, the Newham 7 Defence Campaign was officially launched at a packed local public meeting.
On the committal hearing on 14 Sept 1984, 200 people picketed outside Stratford Magistrates Court. Conspiracy charge against six of the seven defendants was dismissed that day. The quick dismissal of a major charge like this raised questions about the decision to bring them in the first place.
On 3 November 1984, the Defence Campaign organised a picket outside Duke of Edinburgh pub, supported by NMP. Between 150-200 people shut down the pub for the afternoon.
Just as the local Asian community was organising, there was another appalling attack: the racist murder of 16-year old Eustace Pryce, who was stabbed in the head outside the Greengate pub on Barking Road in Plaistow on 29 November 1984. Eustace and a group of friends, including his brother Gerald, had confronted a gang of racists: the end of the incident had been witnessed from a passing bus by plain-clothed police officers. However, when the police arrived at the scene, it was Gerald, not the killer of Eustace Pryce, who was arrested.
Three weeks later, Gerald was charged with affray and denied bail, whilst Eustace’s killer, Martin Newhouse, was granted bail on the grounds it would be wrong to keep him in jail over Christmas. When Gerald was finally released, he was prevented from returning to Newham to visit his pregnant girlfriend. With NMP’s assistance, the Justice for the Pryce Family Support Committee was formed to ‘Defend Gerald and Remember Eustace’.
On 27 April 1985, a National Demonstration Against Racism was held in Newham, with 3000 people marching in support of the Newham 7 and Justice for the Pryce Family campaigns. The march brought together members of the Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities under a common banner and a shared struggle. The march reached Forest Gate Police Station in the afternoon, where the Metropolitan Police’s District Support Unit (DSU) snatch squads charged into the crowd, arresting 10 and accusing them of, amongst other things, ‘spitting and throwing weapons’. Demonstrators refused to move on until all were released and by 6pm, there were DSU reinforcements from across London. Young people were punched and kicked or charged down side-streets in isolated groups. By the end of the day, scores of people were injured and 34 arrests had been made.
Following the events on 27 April, the Defence Campaign decided to hold a second march. On 11 May 1985, over 2000 people participated in a militant but peaceful demonstration that was allowed to complete its route to Plashet Park. However, in a tense atmosphere, the manhandling by police of one black youth led to confrontation, the emergence of officers on horseback and riot officers who charged into the park. It appeared that this had been deliberately engineered: three to four white men in ordinary clothes were seen throwing sticks at the police; but were later seen behind police lines with police radios. Later, riot officers paraded along Green Street and East ham High Street North in a show of strength.
On 13 May 1985, the trial of the Newham 7 started at the Old Bailey. On the second day, one defendant Parvaiz Khan was assaulted by prison wardens for refusing, as a Muslim, to eat a pork pie. His appearance in court with bruises and a swollen eye delayed proceedings for two days. When the trial resumed, two police officers were discovered rifling through defence files and others showed the court how they had compiled notes together, in breach of police rules. The local Asian community also discovered that a meeting place for Asian youths, the Wimpy Bar opposite the Duke of Edinburgh pub, had been placed under constant police surveillance. There was no similar surveillance on white racist organisations.
The defence case rested on the right of community self-defence and the use of reasonable force to prevent a crime. The jury eventually convicted four of the seven defendants of affray but by the end of the trial, the actions of the police had been largely discredited. One officer at the trial, a DC Bonczoszek, was so furious at his exposure in court that he wrote an article for Police Review magazine in October 1985 claiming the ‘nebulous’ problem of racism was ‘a fabrication constructed by the left’.
The efforts of the Justice for the Pryce Family Support Committee ensured that Gerald Pryce was not criminalised. However, In October 1985, Martin Newhouse, was convicted of manslaughter and affray and sentenced to six and a half years in youth custody.