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