Broadwater Farm

One common question about London on the web site Quora, largely frequented by citizens of the USA, concerns the safety of London streets, particularly after comments by people on right-wing American media about ‘no-go’ areas in London. According to some of them (and doubtless their President) there are large areas of London where it is unsafe to walk, parts which the police fear to go, areas that are under Sharia law.

Broadwater Farm seen from the large park to its north

It is of course total nonsense. London remains one of the safest cities in the world. There is not a single ‘no-go’ area in the whole of the city.  Sharia law hardly exists and is simply used to resolve some disputes between Muslims who opt to use it, mostly over marital issues – and similar tribunals exist in the Jewish community and possibly some others.

The River Moselle runs through the park and under the estate

Not that London is crime-free. Gigantic frauds and illegal money laundering are common in the City of London, probably the world centre for both, as well as being a base for some of the least principled companies that despoil resources around the world. And we do have pick-pockets, muggings and handbag thieves who operate in even some of the most popular areas, and tourists are often rather careless and may carry large amounts of cash as well as expensive cameras, phones, i-pads etc. Cycle rickshaws are a total rip-off, as are some other tourist attractions including sleazy clubs and bars. And if you are a teenage gang member you stand quite a chance of getting stabbed.

Because of the danger of flooding from the Moselle, the ground level is car parking

And we have had occasional riots, mostly provoked by police behaviour.  Broadwater Farm in Tottenham was a modern estate built in the late 60s, with blocks connected by walkways above ground level. Shops and other facilities for the roughly 4,000 inhabitants were also at ‘deck level’.  But it soon became apparent that these decks had many isolated areas and there were many minor crimes. The buildings also deteriorated rapidly, partly due to poor construction and a lack of proper maintenance by the local council, and many of the original tenants quickly moved out, with the council replacing them with people with various social and mental health problems, and it rapidly became a ‘sink estate.’

You can still see the remaining walkways, though many parts were demolished

Police adopted a robust ‘saturation’ approach to policing, with frequent stop and searches particularly for the young Black residents on the estate. And in 1985, after arresting a young man for driving with a false tax disk four officers visited his mother’s home on Broadwater Farm for a search – during which his mother, Cynthia Jarrett, died. Her daughter said at the inquest that she died after a police officer pushed her and she fell. News of her killing spread through the area; there were protests outside the local police station the following day when very unusually a gun was used with two officers and three journalists being wounded. Later in the day a police van going in to Broadwater Farm was attacked; police reinforcements went in, residents set up barricades and a shop was set on fire. Firefighters who arrived were attacked and more police came in, but left due to overwhelming opposition. Two officers became separated from the rest and were attacked; one was killed and the other seriously injured. But as the rioters realised a man had been killed the riot came to an end.

All the blocks were named after wartime airfields – this is Marston

Police investigating the murder picked on three men, who were convicted of the murder but the conviction was quashed a few years later when scientific evidence showed that the police had fabricated the three men’s statements. One, Winston Silcott, had been convicted for another murder where he had been attacked by his victim in what seemed to be a clear case of self-defence – and where  police had withheld evidence which would have proved this.  He was out on remand  before the trial when the Broadwater Farm killing occured, and it seems clear that this other case was the reason police picked on him and framed him.

The riot changed things for Broadwater Farm, bringing in a  £33 million regeneration programme which dealt with many community issues and demolished the decks which had caused many problems. By 2005 Broadwater Farm had become a popular estate with a long waiting list, and one of the lowest crime rates of any urban area in the world, with the police actually disbanding its unit there as there was nothing for it to do.

Despite this, the old prejudices linger on, and if you ask Londoners who don’t live in the area if there are any no-go areas, this is probably one of the more likely estates they will mention. And it has come back into the news again, in part because of another killing – the shooting of Mark Duggan who grew up there by police in  August 2011 elsewhere in Tottenham that led, after police failed to respond to local questioning, to the 2011 riots, and more recently because of the London Borough of Haringey’s controversial proposals, The HDV (Haringey Development Vehicle)  which would handed it and other council estates to private developer Lendlease for demolition and replacement by high-price private  housing.

More pictures at Broadwater Farm Estate


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