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Nubian Jak Blue Plaque for Frank Crichlow

The Mangrove Nine trial and its impact on Black activism in Britain

Image: Nubiak Jak blue plaque for Frank Crichlow |

In this guest article, Tony Warner, the founder of Black History Walks and author of Black History Walks Volume 1, explores the 1971 trial of the ‘Mangrove Nine’.

The 1971 Mangrove Nine trial was significant, not just for being the first time institutional racism was exposed in the British legal system, but also for several unique circumstances; how it even got to Crown Court, how it was tried and the way the accused defended themselves.

The Mangrove restaurant on All Saints Road, Notting Hill was a successful black-owned business with queues out the door. Run by Trinidadian Frank Crichlow, the venue was classy, produced great food and was making money. In its lifetime the Mangrove attracted numerous celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley, Diana Ross, Jimi Hendrix, Sammy Davis Jnr, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone and Vanessa Redgrave.

Frank Crichlow was a businessman who used his profits and venue to sponsor community groups like the Black Panthers and the Mangrove Steel Band. The Mangrove had a lawyer on tap in the restaurant to assist young black men who had been unfairly arrested by police under the dreaded ‘Sus’ law. Dr Richard Stone would often be called by Frank at two in the morning to come and check the injuries of people who had been brutally beaten by constables. Stone later sat on the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry.

None of this activism sat well with the local police who were known for their racism but also their acceptance of protection money, which Mr Crichlow refused to pay. This led to police raiding the Mangrove 12 times in 18 months to search for drugs. No illegal drugs were ever found.

A frustrated Crichlow considered taking legal action as his loyal clientele were scared off by the police. Barrister Anthony Mohipp, secretary of the Black Improvement Organisation, sent a letter of complaint to the Home Secretary and various Caribbean High Commissioners.

Darcus Howe, who worked in the Mangrove and was associated with the Black Panther movement, convinced Frank to organise a demonstration. They would march to all the local police stations stating, ‘Hands off the Mangrove’.

The demonstration took place on 9th August 1970. 150 to 300 marchers were met with 700 police officers, including a counter-terrorism unit.

The demonstrators were attacked by police while marching. Days later, nine people were arrested and charged with a variety of crimes including incitement to riot, a crime that carried a 10-year prison sentence. The nine were Godfrey Millett, Rothwell Kentish, Rupert Boyce, Frank Crichlow, Anthony Carlisle Innis, Rhodan Gordon, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Darcus Howe and Barbara Beese.

The case was thrown out at the Magistrates Court as parts of the officers’ statements were inadmissible and clearly biased. That should have been the end of the matter.

However, the Director of Public Prosecutions reinstated the charges and the case was heard at the Old Bailey, a venue that normally hears high-profile cases of murder, kidnap or terrorism.

It later came out that the heavy-handed policing was part of a deliberate strategy by the Home Office to eviscerate the growing Black Power movement. The Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, had even considered deporting Frank Crichlow to Trinidad but could not get around the fact that Crichlow had been resident in the UK since the 1950s.

Facing serious jail time, the defendants had a very unusual legal strategy.

Darcus Howe’s lawyer told him to plead guilty and that he would do him the ‘favour’ of getting a reduced sentence. Mr Howe reached over the desk grabbed his files and ran off through Trafalgar Square. The lawyer ran after him accusing him of theft to which Howe replied, ‘These papers are mine and you’re fired!’. From that time on, Howe represented himself as he was a law student who had passed exams at Middle Temple.

Althea Jones LeCointe, leader of the Black Panthers, had co-organised the march. She also defended herself in court. She had no legal training and was studying at University College London for a PhD in biochemistry. She was also pregnant during the trial.

Barbara Beese engaged the services of the brilliant lawyer, Ian McDonald of Garden Court Chambers. He represented her but also liaised with the other lawyers and defendants to guarantee a united front. Defendants representing themselves can ask questions in court that a barrister cannot, so there was a great deal of co-ordination required. Other trained barristers involved were Michael Mansfield and Gareth Pierce.

Tom Falthorp was the editor of Up Against the Law, a publication based in Kings Cross. The magazine gave legal advice and specialised in knowing the names of corrupt police officers and where they operated. They assisted Howe in being aware and taking advantage of a very interesting 1970 Queens Bench Division divorce case, McKenzie v McKenzie.

This case gave rise to ‘McKenzie Friends’, a person who attends a trial as a non-professional helper or adviser to a litigant who does not have legal representation in court.

Another legal strategy was to demand an all-black jury. This was spearheaded by McDonald and Howe and based on the Magna Carta. It also linked to the US Black Panthers invoking the 14th Amendment in their fights with the US legal system. The presiding Judge Edward Clarke threw that request out, but Howe and Lecointe-Jones challenged each juror selected. They ended up with two black jurors while rejecting numerous jurors who appeared to have racial bias.

The Mangrove Nine won their case and made an indelible impact on the British legal scene.

The story did not end there, however. The police still harassed the Mangrove and in 1988, raided the restaurant to accuse Crichlow of being a heroin dealer. Crichlow beat the case because the police, in their eagerness to frame him 17 years after the Mangrove Nine trial, planted 100% pure heroin in his restaurant and pure heroine only exists in a laboratory. Crichlow took the police to court in 1992 and won £50,000 in damages.

Black History Walks and Nubian Jak put up a blue plaque to Frank Crichlow at the site of the Mangrove in 2011.