In 1982, there were a series of racial attacks upon Asian schoolchildren at Little Ilford School in Manor Park, as well as two other schools in the borough. Although these attacks have been reported to the Metropolitan Police and the school was informed, there was no response from either agency.
On Friday 26 September 1982, as a response to growing rumours that there would be yet another attack upon children at the school, local Asian youths got together to escort younger children home. As the group collected them, three men came out of a car, racially abused the children and proceeded to assault them. The youths, thinking it was the racists who had been attacking them over the previous weeks, fought back in self-defence. Within a couple of minutes, uniformed police officers and dog-handlers arrived and eight of the youths were arrested. All eight were racially abused and assaulted by the arresting officers and it was only after they were taken to Forest Gate Police Station that they discovered that the three men who had started the incident were actually plain clothes police officers.
Around 24 hours after the arrests, a 500-strong local community meeting was held and the ‘Defend the Newham 8’ campaign was formed. NMP was heavily involved from the start.
The first court appearance of the eight Asian youths was on 5 November 1982. It was marked by a historic school strike of 500 schoolchildren.
On 13 December 1982, an additional charge of conspiracy -‘conspiring with each other and persons unknown to assault persons unknown’- was laid against all eight defendants. The charge was consequently dropped by the prosecution in favour of affray, just before the trial was due to commence in November 1983.
Meanwhile, in the course of the 15-month long campaign, NMP workers and volunteers gave talks at meetings up and down the country on the case, its implications, racism and the police in Newham. This nationwide effort to raise awareness about police racism in Newham resulted on the National March Against Racism and Racist Attacks on 24 September 1983, when 2000 people marched on the streets of the borough in support of the eight detainees. NMP was central to the build-up and organisation of the march.
The start of the trial on 17 November 1983 was again marked by a school strike of over 500 schoolchildren and a mass picket of the Old Bailey. The daily pickets at the court, supported by local and national organisations, were successful in drawing press and public attention to the case, as well as emphasising to the judge and jury that they were dealing with an issue of national concern.
The trial lasted for 6 months and the lies and racism of police officers was demonstrated clearly throughout. One example is the fabrication of testimony was demonstrated during barrister Mike Mansfield’s cross-examination of Sergeant Aylott (one of the three plain clothes police officers):
Mansfield: ‘Why did you say it was 100 Asians, when your notes say 30?’
Aylott: ‘I was dazed when I wrote my notes.’
Mansfield: ‘The statement is dated 2 months later. Were you dazed when you wrote that?’
The Newham 8 case finished at the Old Bailey on 22 December 1983 with four of the defendants acquitted of all charges and the other four found ‘guilty’ on the main charge of affray. Individual charges against the four were dismissed except for one defendant who was convicted on a minor charge of common assault. Not a single perpetrator involved in the series of attacks on schoolchildren at Little Ilford School in 1982 was prosecuted.
As the Newham 8 Defence Campaign pointed out at the time:
‘There must be something wrong with our society when 8 young men aged 15-21 without any previous record face conspiracy charges and undergo a 6-week long trial for the ‘mere’ crime of responding to a situation where they saw no other alternative but to organise their own defence!’