The Tower Hamlets Nine Defence Campaign

TH9On 8 September 1993, a racist gang attacked 17-year-old Quddus Ali, who was walking with friends past a pub, the Dean Swift, near Watney Market in Shadwell. His friends managed to escape but Quddus was set upon and severely beaten.

On 10 September, a vigil was called outside the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, where Quddus was in intensive care and on a life-support machine. By late afternoon, around 500 mainly young Bengalis had gathered and the vigil had spilled over in to the road. The police appeared unprepared for the numbers taking part but in spite of efforts to force people into a small area at the front of the hospital, the vigil was peaceful. However, after a number of emotionally charged speeches, officers chose to push their way into the centre of the demonstration, apparently to deal with a group of children throwing rolled-up stickers at the police. Inevitably, this provocative decision led to confrontation as young people fought back, forcing the police to first withdraw and then inflame tensions further by deploying riot officers with dogs. Eventually, the vigil formed into an impromptu march that headed west towards Brick Lane. By the end of the evening, many people had been injured and nine young people, two of whom were under 17, had been arrested for riot, a charge that carried the potential for imprisonment for up to ten years.

On 11 September, a series of meetings in Hanbury St in Spitalfields led to the formation of Youth Connection, an alliance of over 30 youth clubs and groups from around Tower Hamlets. With NMP’s help and support, the Tower Hamlets Nine Defence Campaign was also set up. At the same time police officers, many in riot gear, continued to swamp Brick Lane, stopping, searching and intimidating young people. This heavy-handed police presence failed, however, to prevent a mob of 50 British National Party (BNP) members, who had earlier been delivering election leaflets on the Isle of Dogs, from making their way to Brick Lane to smash shop windows and cars and then escape without arrest. At 12.30am, hundreds of young people from the Bangladeshi community has responded by joining a spontaneous protest march that attempted to head to the local police station.

Youth Connection and the Tower Hamlets Nine Defence Campaign call their first picket of Thames Magistrates Court in Bow on 13 September, in support of the nine defendants.

On 17 September 1993, Londoners woke to discover that the BNP won its first council seat in the marginal Millwall ward, beating Labour by just seven votes. On 3 October, Youth Connection held a peaceful march from Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel, calling for opposition to the BNP, the dropping of charges against the Tower Hamlets Nine and an end to racist violence and police racism.

The Tower Hamlets Nine Defence Campaign continued to hold open meetings at the Berner Club on Cannon Street Road and speak at meetings around the country. The campaign also organised pickets at court hearings, including a large presence on 26 October 1993 when the nine defendants were granted bail. On 1 February 1994, the fourth hearing began with aggressive policing of the 100-strong picket outside. Members of the public were also prevented by the police from entering the court building – although it was only black people who were questioned about their reasons for attending that day. Inside, meanwhile, the charge of riot against all nine defendants was dropped and three were discharged completely. The remaining six still faced serious charges of violent disorder and affray.