The Hounding of Delroy Lindo
When his best friend Winston Silcott was convicted of murdering a policeman in the Broadwater Farm riots, Delroy Lindo campaigned successfully to clear his name. Since then, he claims, the police have subjected him to a harrowing series of arrests and charges. Now the Met has announced an inquiry into the alleged harassment. Simon Hattenstone and Diane Taylor report
Race issues in the UK: special report
Simon Hattenstone and Diane Taylor
Thursday July 13 2000
Sonia Lindo's face is stained with grief and exhaustion. She says she and her husband Delroy hardly sleep. Nobody sleeps well in the Lindo household these days. Seven-year-old Chacelle and nine-year-old Jerome are woken by nightmares of police batons and handcuffs, of officers screaming at their parents. Sixteen-year-old Tyrone creeps into their bed in the middle of the night, stiff with unspoken fears.
To their friends they are a delightful family. The children are polite and popular at school and to the people living in their quiet north London street they are model neighbours. Delroy paints the outside of their home white once a year to keep it looking fresh. The front garden with its carefully tended plants and jolly gnomes is his pride and joy, and when the man next door needs some gardening done or the woman across the road needs a lift to the hospital they turn to Delroy.
But for some of the police the Lindos are trouble. They are the kind who breach the peace and commit public order offences. The kind who helped clear Winston Silcott's name of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. The riots proved a watershed in the fraught relationship between black Britain and the police. Many black people still feel criminalised for their blackness, and many officers are yet to forgive Silcott for the crime he did not commit - despite the fact that last year he was paid 50,000 compensation for wrongful arrest and imprisonment.
As soon as Silcott was charged Delroy started campaigning for his release. The two had grown up together in Tottenham, they ran around together, set up a mobile disco, became community leaders. Delroy and Silcott were known to the police for two reasons. They had a couple of convictions to their name - though it is almost 20 years since Delroy was convicted of an offence. They were also vocal in their campaign against police harassment, relentless in their pursuit of better facilities for local kids.
Silcott was best man when Delroy married Sonia 18 years ago. Delroy says they made for an odd couple, what with Silcott towering well over 6ft tall and Delroy tiny, pittering about in his size six shoes. But they were best mates, and you have to fight for your best mate. That's when life took a turn for the worse.
Last December Delroy was arrested and charged with three offences, most seriously the assault of two officers. That took the number of charges to 19 since Silcott's imprisonment, including two against Sonia. All the previous 16 have been defeated, but at a cost. "I lost so much weight because of all this. I used to be a size 10 and dropped to below an eight," Sonia says. "I was too sick to do my job, I just wanted to stay in bed. Sometimes it's really hard to face another day. When I start to think what's happened to us, I just break into uncontrollable tears"
"Sometimes she just breaks down," Delroy says. He apologises for finishing Sonia's sentence for her, but says it just happens that way when you live and work together as a team.
Sonia, a housing manager for Haringey council, had been off work for six months suffering from stress and was due to go back just before the family were hit with the latest court case.
Like all the incidents, it is as mundane as it is implausible. Delroy says that the Lindos and their two youngest children were at the library on December 13 when an SOS call came through on his mobile. Their oldest son Tyrone told his dad he was being attacked by a middle-aged white man a couple of roads away. The family jumped in their car and rushed to the scene.
Delroy says he was angry but calm and repeatedly asked the white man why he had hit his son. When the police arrived, Delroy claims they ignored the assault on Tyrone and simply insisted that Delroy hand over his car keys so they could move his car. When Delroy refused, saying he would move the car himself, PC Michael Aldridge drew his extended baton and moved towards him. In short, Delroy says the police attacked him, while the police allege that Delroy attacked them.
Now Sonia is nursing physical injuries too. She claims she was punched by a policeman, fracturing the bone underneath her eye. "When I blow my nose there is still blood there under the bone," she says baldly. The injury will need plastic surgery. Delroy came out of the incident with injuries to his knees, ankles, shoulder, hand and ribs. The Lindos have taken out a civil case, charging the police with malicious prosecution, assault and false imprisonment. But it cannot be heard until Delroy's criminal case is sorted.
After Silcott was convicted for the murder of PC Blakelock, Delroy went on the road. He talked to anybody who would listen, told them that not only was Silcott innocent of the Blakelock murder but that he had also been wrongfully convicted of the murder of Anthony Smith - Silcott has always insisted that he stabbed him in self-defence after being attacked. He told meeting after meeting how, following the riots, the Metropolitan police went round Broadwater Farm breaking down any number of doors in the name of justice, scaring the life out of innocent people. They needed a culprit. When they arrested Silcott, who is still serving a life sentence for the murder of Smith, Delroy knew they had convicted the wrong man. "I knew I had to do something, but when I started the campaign I had no idea it would lead to all this."
After Silcott's arrest the police came looking for Delroy, first of all at the jobcentre. "I was with my child who was one at the time. They took me to Chingford police station which was about 10 miles away. They just kept me there, no charges or nothing . . ." Eventually he was released. The police then came to his house, tried to beat the door down, but a crowd of friends had gathered to make it impossible.
Although he proved he was not at Broadwater Farm that day, he claims the police continued to harass him. "They just kept saying, 'We're going to get you like we got Winston.'"
Before long Delroy was talking at meetings about his case as well as Winston's. Tonight he explains to a crowd of around 100 at the local leisure centre how the two are inextricably bound. Many people know him, and share his quiet outrage. He believes life could have been different if he'd kept his opinions to himself. "Other people who face this kind of thing just shut up about it, whereas I'm probably different. I say well, let's have a march, let's picket Hornsey police station or whatever, so they see me as a voice they need to shut up."
By the late 80s life had become unbearable for the Lindos. The council transferred them from Tottenham to neighbouring Hornsey, but he claims it made no difference and the police continued to shadow and taunt him. In 1988, the Lindos left England for Florida, where they lived with Sonia's mother for three years. But without friends and work it wasn't life. After three years they moved back to Britain.
Delroy claims at the meeting that in the past two years police harassment has escalated - at the same time as William Macpherson was completing his inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the Met promised to tackle institutionalised racism within the force. Delroy acknowledges the irony without a smile.
He says the only reason he has defeated the 16 charges is because he and Sonia have scrupulously investigated all the evidence themselves. In effect, they have become their own briefs. Delroy has had to give up full-time work - he also used to be a housing manager, before becoming an information officer for the Spinal Injuries Association. Some of the charges have been dropped before court, some have changed into lesser charges with no explanation (a "threat to kill" became a vague "threatening behaviour") before being thrown out of court. The day before the last arrest, the Observer printed an interview with Winston Silcott. As Delroy was walking from the newsagent with his paper, he was stopped by a police officer who asked "Reading about Silcott are you? Hope it makes good reading."
Highgate magistrates court: Six months have passed since Delroy was charged. His smart suit and easy smile fail to mask his anxiety. Even innocent men need luck. The courtroom is cramped and stuffy, too small to contain the family's friends. Outside, supporters sing songs of anger.
Four uniformed policemen give evidence. None of them mentions investigating the attack on Delroy's son Tyrone. Delroy is alleged to have assaulted PC Aldridge, who describes him as "the most violent man I have encountered in 11 years of policing". There are murmurs of disbelief from the supporters at the back of court.
The defence asks the police how Delroy could have kicked them, as they claim, when there were four officers holding him down - two on his arms, two on his legs. They ask what he was wearing on his feet. The police cannot remember. Delroy says he was wearing trainers.
Throughout the two-day trial, he sits taut in the dock. Giving evidence, he states and restates that he neither abused nor assaulted the officers. "I know the consequences of assaulting an officer and wouldn't do it."
"Why didn't you call the police if you thought your son was in danger?" the prosecution asks.
"How could I call the police? The amount of harassment I've had outside my house. I didn't trust the police."
Every time he alludes to his history with the police, his barrister winces. It could prejudice the magistrates against his case. Delroy says he thinks the police are mistaken in their account of the incident. He refuses to say they are lying. The prosecution asks how every policeman can have made exactly the same mistake. It's a crucial blunder. The clerk is forced to correct her. He tells the magistrates that's the trouble, the police have not made the same mistake - all four have told different stories: PC Aldridge's colleague PC Martin Lycett says he saw no physical violence or assault by Delroy.
A defence witness confidently tells the court that she has worked closely with the police and judiciary in her job as a criminal journalist, is not a great friend of the Lindos but knows them to say hello to. She says she saw the whole incident, her professional curiosity aroused by the jam of police cars: "I saw Mr Lindo face down on the floor. He was stationary. I kept up observations for a full hour and witnessed everything. I saw Mr Lindo being placed in the police van. He was perfectly calm, he walked in there without a struggle and sat down. At no time did he resist arrest."
The three white middle-aged magistrates retire to decide Delroy's fate. A fine sheen of sweat forms on his lips. Sonia, who as a witness has had to wait outside court for most of the hearing, looks ashen. An hour passes. She talks about the old days, growing up in what seemed a more innocent world. Yes there was prejudice, as it was then called, when white women would shout at her to give up their seat for them. But she also remembers the way the local police popped round to her mum's house for a cup of tea and to gossip about the local crimes. In a strange way, she says, the world seemed more colour blind then.
The Lindos' friends distract themselves with talk about Tottenham and Bernie Grant and New Labour, but the words soon peter out. For an hour we share a tiny bit of the ghastly uncertainty of the Lindos' daily life.
On their return the magistrates look sombre. "We find no evidence to prove you are guilty of these charges. You are free to go." Sonia's mother flings her arms in the air. She looks straight at the orthodox Jewish magistrate and cries out joyfully "Thank you Jesus! Thank you!" He looks bemused. Delroy and Sonia smile with relief. Charged 19 times, cleared 19 times.
We ask the police about their treatment of the Lindos. Aren't they embarrassed about the number of times they have brought him to court? Is there a vendetta? Why was the officers' evidence so inconsistent despite the fact that they admitted sitting in the canteen and writing their notes together? Will there be an inquiry?
A police spokesman says afterwards that they can't comment on the case because of the civil action taken by the Lindos. As for the issue of poor police evidence, the man from the Met says failings "sometimes come down to something as simple as nerves". If there is a problem with an officer's evidence "it may be that a senior officer speaks to him about it".
A few days later we see the Lindos. Delroy says it's funny, he thought he'd be able to sleep better now, but there are so many things going through his head. Anyway, he says, "last time we thought it was all over, and the time before that we thought it was all over. How do we know they won't come for us again?" It will certainly be harder if they win their civil case. But, in the end, says Sonia, a financial settlement or an apology cannot erase the horror of the past 15 years.
In the corner of the room, Chacelle is playing with friends. "You know, the other day Chacelle was playing with her Cindy dolls and Action Men," says Sonia. "She had some toy cars in the game too, and after a couple of minutes I realised that she was acting out Delroy's last arrest which she and Jerome watched from our car with the police surrounding them. I looked at her and I thought, 'My God this is really horrible.'"
Three weeks after the court case Delroy Lindo was stopped by the police again. His custody record stated that he had been arrested for "sucking his teeth" in the presence of a police officer. Delroy was held for five hours at Tottenham police station before being bailed, pending inquiries. After a complaint by Lee Jasper, race adviser for the Greater London Authority, the Metropolitan police told him there would be no charges and announced a full-scale inquiry into the alleged police harassment of the Lindo family.
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited