Blakelock trial told of flame thrower attack

Keith Blakelock was assisting firefighters attacked by rioters. Picture: PA
Keith Blakelock was assisting firefighters attacked by rioters. Picture: PA
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Constable Keith Blakelock’s unit came under attack with a “flame-type thrower” before he was hacked to death by a mob during the first Tottenham riots, a jury has heard.

The riots, on the night of 6 October, 1985, saw a group of officers who were trying to protect firefighters come under attack from a mob of 150 youths on the Broadwater Farm estate.

The trial of Nicky Jacobs, 45, for the murder of PC Blakelock heard that bricks, bottles and petrol bombs rained down on police officers.

In a statement given two days after the riots and read out in court yesterday by prosecutor Richard Whittam QC, one of the officers said he had seen “shiny knives” and a “flame-type thrower”.

PC Alan Tappy explained that, as the officers tried to escape, he became aware of a “bundle on the grass” whom the mob were “stabbing and clubbing”.

Explaining the aftermath, he said: “Keith was lying face-down and I thought he was dead. Pengelly [the unit’s sergeant] was at the front of us, kneeling down to his left. We grabbed hold of Keith’s shoulders and made an attempt to move him but couldn’t.”

PC Tappy realised that his colleague was still alive as the unit tried to drag him to safety.

The court also heard a statement from PC Richard Coombes, who was beaten unconscious and received facial injuries and cuts and lost teeth during the rioting.

The court heard that he had been given “no training” on how to use the riot gear he was issued with on the night of the riot.

“My feeling during this riot was that those doing the rioting attacked us with such ferocity and determination that I believe they wanted to do us serious harm,” he said in a statement given days after the riots. “It made me fear for my life.”

In the mayhem, PC Coombes said he lost his truncheon, shield and helmet. Giving evidence, one of the firefighters who came under attack said the noise made by the mob was “equivalent to someone scoring a goal at a football match”. Assistant divisional officer Trevor Stratford told the jury that he was assisted by PC Blakelock as they tried to make their escape. As they made their way out of the building where firefighters had been tackling a blaze, they were blocked by protesters with their faces covered.

“This is a living memory for me,” he said. “The first thing that came to mind was, ‘They are going to cut us off’ because of the numbers involved.”

Mr Stratford said that one officer screamed for the firefighters to “get the hell out of there” as between 50 and 80 rioters “charged around”.

Struck several times, Mr Stratford at one point turned and saw that PC Blakelock had fallen to the ground. He told the court he wanted to go back but then witnessed how the police officer was “enveloped” by a group of eight or nine rioters.

Then he realised that two other officers appeared to be under attack. One of them was PC Coombes, but he was dragged out of the crowds by colleagues.

Ordering his men to take PC Coombes to hospital, Mr Stratford then saw 20 to 25 people had “focused on” PC Blakelock, stabbing and kicking him.

“They were pushing each other out of the way to get into the centre of the group,” the court heard. Asked if he could remember weapons being used, he said he saw “what appeared to be something like a sword”.

As the crowd began to disperse, the firefighter said he ran back to where PC Blakelock had fallen and “slipped” into a group that was still attacking him. He and another police officer managed to drag the officer away.

“I was conscious of him having a knife embedded up to the handle underneath his ear and injuries to his neck,” he said.

Jacobs denies murder. The trial continues.