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Obituary: Frank Crichlow, founder of Mangrove Community Association

Mangrove Community Association

Frank Crichlow, born in Trinidad, founder of the Mangrove Community Association Notting Hill, West London, once the godfather of black radicalism throughout the 70′s and 80′s has passed away after a long struggle against prostate cancer.

This tribute to Frank comes from Lee Jasper who cut his political teeth over a 10 year period working at the Mangrove.

I worked at Mangrove along with Jebb Johnson, Carol Scott, Trevor Carter and people like Dr Richard Stone for over a decade.

Frank Critchlow, the man who 40-odd-years-ago set up the Mangrove Community Association, initially as a support and welfare centre for newly arrived migrants from the Caribbean quickly became a national symbol for civil rights and black power.

Dealing with the racism faced by black people the Mangrove morphed into community cafe and gathering place for both black and white radicals; also attracting the rich and famous from the world of fashion and politics.

Frank’s outspoken politics and charisma attracted artists, authors and musicians who loved him and his passion for the local community.

Christine Keeler, Mandy-Rice Davis and Stephen Ward were all regulars. As were Jimi Hendrix, Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley, Sammy Davies Jnr. Most notably the Mangrove was frequented by John Profumo, the War Minister, during his affair with Miss Keeler in the early Sixties.

The power and magnetism of the Mangrove acted as a key meeting point for a politicised black community. But started attracting police attention as the Mangrove began to organise the community against the brutal reality of routine and indiscriminate police violence, so the police and local press began to target both Frank and the Mangrove.

The Mangrove was raided regularly by the police on the flimsy pretence of looking for drugs. The raids were racist, violent and criminal with officers assaulting black people, smashing up the restaurant and offices. On one occasion the Mangrove was raided 6 times in three months and on each occasion the police found nothing.

In 1971 he organised a protest march against police brutality. Frank took the march to Notting Hill police station where he demanded an end to racist police brutality.

He and others, including Darcus Howe, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot. The case became known as the Mangrove 9 trial.

However the trial became a political show trial and the case attracted the support of people like Lord Gifford and Vanessa Redgrave who were among those who gave evidence for defendants, all of whom were acquitted.

This was a turning point for black police relations in the UK. It was the first time that police racism had been successfully challenged in the courts.

Frank’s win generated confidence in black youths across the country who started to fight back and challenge police brutality and racism. Mangrove toured the country urging communities to make a stand.

This was followed by the Mangrove 6 trials for the supply of drugs, once again the police were defeated. There followed a tense decade of raids, beatings, arrests . Frank fought everyone one of those cases however big or small to a standstill. He utilised medical reports of victims of police brutality by Dr Richard Stone, he used Birnberg solicitors to fight every case to a standstill. He never gave up he never gave in.

Throughout the late 70s and 80s Mangrove became one of the UK’s leading black organizations, organising demonstrations against Apartheid in South Africa, institutional racism, colonialism and supporting liberation movements from Palestine to the Congo.

He and others like Trevor Carter taught us the complexity of the struggle for race equality and the need to build alliances with others. Working at the Mangrove was like attending university every day taught you so much.
On one occasion in the late 80s in a swamp police operation, 4000 officers occupied a quarter of a mile radius surrounding the Mangrove. They were trying to prevent Mangrove Cafe from opening and customers had their food searched as the left. The policing was brutal and oppressive.

In 1988, a raid on the premises by 48 officers in full riot gear led by a then ruthlessly ambitious Inspector Paul Condon, who later went on to become Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Condon saw it as a matter of principle to destroy the Mangrove who he and his local officers saw as a perennial thorn in their side.

Frank and 11 others faced charges of supplying heroin and cannabis. At first he was held in custody and when freed on bail, banned from going anywhere near his business for over a year. I joined the Mangrove and worked as part of a unique team that challenged the efforts of the police to fit our people up.

What the police had not taken into account was that Frank was a hugely respected black community leader.
Churchmen, local magistrates, Lords and ladies and local people such as Dr Richard Stone and others who worked among the black and white communities in West London knew Franks hardline anti-drugs stance, he did not smoke and rarely drank. All were aware of his complete disdain for drugs and were aware of our work on delivering a range of anti-drug projects. The local joke at the time was that Frank did not know what weed looked like much less heroin.

The corrupt officers made a fundamental mistake. They had planted 11 members of Mangrove with small packets of 100% pure heroin and cocaine. They messed up their timings with the raid and allowed a police photographer into to picture; those arrested lying on the floor with no drugs in sight. Seven minutes later another picture shows small bags if drugs scattered all over the premises. All the bags had no fingerprints on them at all. At the trial we were told that the drugs purity suggests that they came from a laboratory.

This evidence was ruthlessly exposed by a legal team that consisted of Gareth Pierce, Mike Mansfield QC and Courtney Griffiths QC.

Despite evidence being given under oath by no less than 36 police officers, including Condon himself, in 1989 the jury acquitted him of all charges. Our defence was that we were politically targeted and that the police had sought to take Frank out by planting drugs on him. He and 12 were acquitted by 12 different juries.

While not admitting that officers had fabricated evidence, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner agreed to pay damages to Mr Critchlow in settlement of his claim for false imprisonment, battery and malicious prosecution. It was at the time the highest ward ever made in British legal history £50,000.

Franks other abiding passion was Carnival. The All Saints Road became the political epicentre of radical black politics during Carnival. African National Congress banners and other African liberation movements adorned the street. Stalls from all progressive campaigning movements were line up from one end of the street to the other.
For Frank there was no difference between black culture and black politics. He railed at the ‘McDonaldisation’ of Notting Hill Carnival, urging the Carnival committee not to abandon the political beating heart of Carnival.

I had the pleasure of working with Frank from the1980sfor a period of 10 years. I came to love the man, his tenacious pursuit of justice, his compassion and his commitment to his community. He taught me all I know about campaigning in my community. He was considered by most to be our father; a passionate family man with an abiding commitment to justice. He was a radical – a shining black prince.

By Lee Jasper

18 Responses

  1. As a young black PC on the streets of Wembley in the early 90s I had the pleasure of having many conversations with Mr. Crichlow and he gave me a lot of wise words that have formed the foundation of who I am today and the work I now do. He will be deeply missed but assured that he has left a rich legacy in the hearts and minds of those blessed enough to have touched by his spirit. May he rest in peace.
    G

  2. Beautiful article, Lee. Really inspiring. Rest In Peace, Frank.

  3. Uncle frank may God take your soul under his wings and caress your family in London in his arms and carry them through this very difficult time that they must pass. I am very sorry that my children did not have the pleasure of meeting you. but i shall make sure they meet your children. Franka, Lenore,Knolly,Amanda… Love you always never to be forgotten.

    • My deepest condolences to the Crichlow family, friends near and far for losing a father, uncle, brother and giant in the Mangrove community. His passing will not be in vain as long as the historical legacy of struggles and triumph are passed on ….thanks Lee

  4. Uncle Frank, I will miss you! It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other but the time we did spend together talking and laughing, I will never ever forget.
    I love you!

    Rest in peace

    Tisha

  5. I never met the man, but, I wish his family well and hope he rests in peace. Mr. Crichlow, thanks for making my life a bit easier in the United Kingdom.

  6. Frank Criclow I salute you as a champion of the Black community. You will live on in the memories of all those whose life you touched in London,Birminham, Bristol ,Wolverhampton leicester, Kingston Portospain and many other locations. Frank you were true champion of the people.

  7. Frank Crichlow was a great man, he was a champion of the black community. Iuse to visit the Mangrove from Birminham, and it was inspiring to be in his presence. My sincere condolencies to his family and to all the Mangrovites who will surely miss him.

    Raggy Joe.

  8. Frank was my friend for 45 years, from Rio, Mangrove till the end.. His lifetime work towards racial harmony was essential and affected the lives of many other people. He was respected and loved, what more can a man ask of his life.
    Margaret

  9. Mr Crichlow was the ultimate peoples soldier, i owe my current way of life to him and the things he achieved. his legacy lives on in his beautiful children and every immigrant who is able to walk these streets with their head held high. thank you

  10. On behalf of the family, thank you for the comments. For those wanting to know, the funeral will be held on Monday 27th September 2010, 11.00am at St Marys of the Angels in Moorhouse road W2 5DJ followed by a procession to West London Crematorium and a reception at the Tabernacle.

  11. Rest in peace Mr Crichlow. Blue plaque on All Saints Road, back at the old Mangrove shop front.

  12. I’d never heard of Frank Critchlow – until yesterday 23rd Sept, when I read his obituary in the “The Independent”. I am Black British, of West African parents, and, like another contributor said earlier, thanks for making my life that little bit easier in the UK. I am here today because you came, fought and against all the odds, won. Barack Obama is President of the USA today because Martin Luther King and other Black civil rights leaders who came before and after him fought, fought, and fought, and never gave up. Thank you for fighting the good fight. Thank you for not given up. May your soul rest in Peace.

  13. Although I never personally knew Mr Crichlow, I know his son pretty well and I know through him that the family are inspirational and aspirational. Mr Crichlow’s legacy is far reaching and ongoing and will never be forgotten. I thank him for the legacy his has left us, both myself and my family. Thank you Mr Crichlow, may you rest in peace knowing that the momentum you started is still rolling on.

  14. Frank Chrichlow… My first memories of All Saints Road, Mangrove Community Asscociation and Mangrove Steelband are all down to Frank Chrichlow.. Although only 14 at the time, I knew somehow I was in the prescence of someone with a great deal of knowledge and authority.. He was a gentle man, always very warm to me.
    Because of his determination, fight for Civil Rights, his involvement and founding of the NottingHill Carnival, he has managed and continues to touch the hearts of many Young Blacks ,the first British Borns in particular.( Many of whom have no clue, about the struggle that happened for them to be able to simply ‘Walk down the street’)….
    I am very appreciative of having the experience of feeling on the contrary ‘So Safe’ on All Saints Road, there was a sense of self and identity that was felt by all who visited.. Id never seen soo many black owned businesses and learnt what a Community really was..
    ‘Many are called but few are chosen’.. Frank was definetly one of the chosen few. He stood for what he believed in and is embedded in the tapestry of Black History in England..
    I couldnt attend his funeral, Im sure he was given the Heroes send off he truly deserved..
    May Your Soul Rest in Peace Frank.. Thanks for being you.xx

  15. I joined Frank Critchlow, Victor, Lee, Jebb, Blue, Daddy Vgo, Mitch and all the others at the Mangrove and on All Saints Road during the daily battles against racism and police brutality that raged there and in North Kensington through the 70s and 80s. Kim said Frank was the ultimate peoples soldier. That he was. But more – Frank had a vision to change race and community relations here and in the UK, and he did it. The police and the state did bad things to Frank and the “Mangrove 9″, but Frank won out in the end. Farewell Frank, it was an honour to stand with you.

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