Black For a Cause

NEW. Coming soon. More on Special Branch and British Black Power

Coming soon: Revisiting the question of Special Branch and Black Power




Renewed interest by the Special Branch in the activities of Britain’s Black (Power) Movement followed a demonstration in Notting Hill  in August 1970. It was called to protesty and hightlight  long-standing and widespread incidents of harassment, false arrest and brutality meted out by the local police against black residents. I say “renewed interest” as the intertest of Special Branch in the emergence of the British Black Power Movement originated in 1967 when Black activist, Stokely Carmichael, spoke at the Dialectics of Liberation Conference in London. He was consequently asked by Special Branch to leave the country. Three years later, in 1970, Special Branch produced a ‘security and intelligence’ report assessing the  “significance of recent incidents in the general context of community relations and relations between the police and coloured communities in London and giving separate Special Branch general comment with some detail about organisations and personalities.” [HO  376/00154Attempts were made to link the 1970 incident with 'dangers' identified in their 1967 analysis.

According to the Special Branch assessment “Black Power is at the heart of all militant action by West Indian members of the community.”   Based on that assessment, covert action was undertaken to watch and collect information on individuals and groups,  and to 'harass' particular individuals deemed to supporting ‘Black Power’ activities. Attempts were also made to criminalise those identified as ‘Black Militants’ and as a threat to ‘harmonious community relations’ and ‘law and order’ in society.






      The British State, Special Branch and Black Power

All the signs are that Black Power is at the heart of all militant action by West Indian members of the community and whilst many of its members have spent some time in this country their general phraseology and slogans indicate that their philosophy is based upon the problems in North American continent rather than the United Kingdom which does not make it readily acceptable to those West Indians who are prepared to accept or wish to raise their children in the British way of life [Acting Assistant Commander, ‘A’ Team, 11/8/1970]. 1


That was Special Branch’s assessment of the impact and influence of the Black Power ideology in London’s black community in 1970 following a demonstration in ‘Notting Hill’ against police brutality.  Of the nineteen people arrested, the charges against ten of them were dropped but the remainder were charged with assaulting the police, incitement to riot and possessing an offensive weapon. They became known as the ‘Mangrove 9.’ Special Branch had collected and collated information on all the nine defendants, who were acquitted of  the most serious charge - 'incitement to riot' - in December 1971,  3 months before the arrest of the 'Oval 4.'

Speaking particularly of the Fasimba and its Black Power activities in south-east London during that time, does any evidence exist that would indicate that Special Branch were somehow ‘involved’ in the case of the ‘Oval 4’ as a part of a strategy  to ‘contain’ if not undermine Black Power activism in areas of black settlement in London?   The answer to that question relies on the answer to another question.  Had Special Branch been collecting and collating information on the Fasimba, as part of their ‘Intelligence’ gathering function on Black Power militants, to establish who its members were, they beliefs, who were their allies and, according to Special Branch’s assessment, could they pose a ‘threat’ to the maintenance of harmonious ‘community relations and 'law and order' on the streets of London?’ 

Below I set out five ‘indicators’ which  point to some answers to the latter question.   

1), Tony Soares was already ‘known’ to Special Branch from the late 1960s for what the Branch saw as ‘attempting to procure arms and ammunition for the use of the Black Power movement'; 2

2), in 1971 the Fasimba entered into a political alliance with the Black Liberation Front (BLF) to work together on issues of ‘common concern’; 3

3), in March 1972 Tony Soares was arrested by Special Branch detectives and charged with  ‘terrorist’ related offences.:

*         Attempt to encourage readers of Grassroots to murder a person unknown        

*         Attempt to encourage readers of Grassroots unlawfully to make and possess   explosives

*         Attempt to incite persons unknown to commit acts of arson on property unknown

*         Attempt to incite possession of firearms with intent to endanger life

This was at the same time as they hunted the Official Irish Republican Army  (IRA) for the car bombs at Aldershot Barracks in February, 1972,  and hunting members of the Angry Brigade, an Anarchist Group based in north London,  who they believed to be responsible for a series of bomb explosions in London.  [Jake Prescott was given 15 years in 1971 for the bomb explosions at the London home of Home Secretary, Robert Carr];

4)a week after Tony Soares' arrest Fasimba members attended a meeting at BLF headquarters to plan a publicity campaign  when, on their way back to south-London, they too were intercepted and arrested by undercover officers from the British Transport police at the Oval underground and charged with attempted theft and assault on police. It was and is strongly believed that the ‘hidden hand’ of Special Branch was somehow involved these arrests.  If Special Branch was not involved, then the arrest of the ‘Oval 4’ on fake charges seemed to have served their interests at that crucial time, as members of the Fasimba who attended that key meeting were now effectively ‘out of circulation' 

The Evening Standard report on the ‘violent’ Fasimbas

5) the fifth and most compelling indicator was a newspaper report on the January 1973 publicity meeting for the ‘Oval 4.’ It revealed that information had been collected on the Fasimba, at least by the Press, and was being assessed in a particular way.    In the book, Black for a Cause, [78-79] 4 I discuss that news report as follows: 

[T]he most interesting and telling newspaper report on the Brixton publicity  meeting was the Evening Standard’s (27/1/73) piece entitled “Fasimbas – and a glossary of violence.”   The report is telling because it revealed that the Fasimba were bring watched, at least by the press, who reported on one of our publicity leaflets.   Collecting samples of publicity leaflets is one way the Special Branch is reported to collect data of ‘black militant’ organisations to ascertain what they supported and why (Bunyan,1975).  It is interesting because it spoke about the Fasimba in specific terms. According to the reporter, Max Wall, the Fasmiba derived their name from a “once fierce African tribe.”    History recognises the Fasimba as Shaka Zulu’s most disciplined and feared warriors, the Fasimba Regiment (Ritter, 1968). The particular leaflet upon which the report was partly based was one produced in 1971 by members of the Fasimba Propaganda Committee, called ‘A Message to Tabby’ and aimed at young black young people after they had to defend themselves from white fairground workers and the police at Peckham Rye Fair in the summer of that year (see South London Press, 14, 17, 21 September 1971).  Readers were told in the Evening Standard article that:  “Just over a year ago, the Fasmbas circulated to local schools advice on what to do if questioned or arrested by the police and added a glossary of their slang language for violence.  Definitions include: “Hacklings,” an affray with the police; “Steel,” a knife; “Wicked” and “Kyan,” alternatives for the police; “Hustle, to take from or steal.”   The Evening Standard furtherreported that“the Fasimbas made one of their rare propaganda appearances” when they combined with other Black Power organisations to demand a “retrial of the Oval Four.”  Effectively, the report suggested that the Fasimba are not only an organisation that derives its name from a “once fierce African tribe” and whose publicity addresses young people in the ‘language of violence’ they are also a ‘secretive’ organisation, making a rare public appearance to defend some of their “warriors.”     This information alone would have bought the Fasimba to the attention of the Special Branch but they already had information on the organisation, who was involved and their connections to other groups in London and overseas. Certainly the reporter, Max Wall, would have been briefed about an interpretation of the ‘street slang’ it used.    Both the Evening Standard reporter and the Special Branch would have obtained a copy of the leaflet and it is almost certain that we were under surveillance before and after the meeting at Whyteman Road, with the Special Branch already knowing us as Fasimba members and Black Power activists. The public revelation that the ‘Oval Four’ were Fasimba members coupled with our physical resistance to the police at the Oval, would have made the ‘Free the Oval 4’ campaign of interest to them and, as noted above, warranted plain clothes detectives from the Transport Police and/or the Metropolitan police attending the meeting. 

The January 1973 publicity meeting for the ‘Oval 4’ was prefaced by a march of about 100 people, from the Oval underground to Brixton Assembly Hall .

Ignoring for the moment the Standard’s colonial description of the origins of the name, Fasimba, a question that sprang to mind was how could the Evening Standard have known that meeting was one of our “rare propaganda appearances?”  That suggests that Fasimba publicity was being collected, as was the case with all  militant groups.  Certainly the leaflet, produced after the clashes at the Funfair in 1971, must have been in their possession since that time, until a situation had emerged where it could be called upon to dramatic effect.  

Fasimbas – and a glossary of violence was how the Standard dramatised their piece:that the ‘Oval 4’ who fought with undercover detectives belonged to an organisation that attempted to influence school children with  ‘anti-police attitudes’ in a language laced with ‘violence.’

If a time-line was needed to pinpoint the presence of Black Power in Britain and the interest of Special Branch in the activities of its advocates, then 1967 must be understood as a point of its emergence on the British social and political scene.  Special Branch  interest in Black Power activism first emerged in July 1967 with the visit of Stokely Carmichael.   After his speech at the Roundhouse, Carmichael was visited at his 'secret address' by Special Branch detectives and told to leave the country. 5   He did so immediately.   On return to America his passport was confiscated.It is to be noted that what the British State and Special Branch took as 'Black Power' was not what its advocates understood and practiced as  Black Power.  

A chief concern for Special  Branch was what they took as the promotion of violence by 'Black Power' advocates and  'an intemperate anti-police campaign.'  The report states:

                 During the last two years, for example, leading coloured extremists in the 
                     Camden and Islington areas have regularly reiterated allegations that police
                     have not adequately protected coloured persons from white hooliganism and
                     they have attempted to form 'vigilante' groups for that purpose. A more
                     venomous aspect of this campaign has been  the way in which  the militants
                     have attempted to build up the legend  of "police brutality."6
The demonstration in 'Notting Hill'  in 1970  was in part a response to the failure of the police to protect members of black communities from violence by individual racists and fascist organisations  in English cities during the 1950s, and rather than acting as as a solution to these attacks, the police were being regarded, increasingly,  as part of the problem.   In the 21st century police butality is far from a 'legend' but continues to be a living reality as much as it was in the 1950s.     Black men are no longer stabbed to death by racists as in  'Notting Hill' in May 1959, they are now shot dead by policemen, as in Tottenham in August 2011.

1                    HO 376/00154/  "Black Power" in the United Kingdom, p.1
2                   HO 376/00154/  "Black Power" in the United Kingdom, Appendix B
                   Black Liberation front  leaflet
[blackforacause archives]

4                   'Black for a Cause...Not just Because,2010, p78-79
5                   Bunce &  Field, 'Obi B Egbuna, C.L.R James and the Birth of British Black Power in Britain: Black
                     Radicalism in Britain, 1967-1972,' Twentieth British History, 2010, p.2

6                   HO376/00154
/ "Black Power" in the United Kingdom,p.6

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