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1981 Toxteth riots: Wikis


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The Toxteth riots of July 1981 were a civil disturbance in inner-city Liverpool, which arose in part from long-standing tensions between the local police and the black community. They followed the Brixton riots earlier that year.


The Merseyside police force had, at the time, a poor reputation within the black community for stopping and searching young black men in the area, under the "sus" laws, and the perceived heavy-handed arrest of Leroy Alphonse Cooper on Friday 3 July, watched by an angry crowd, led to a disturbance in which three policemen were injured. The existing tensions between police and people had already been noticed by local magistrate, Councillor and Chair of the Merseyside Police Committee, Margaret Simey, who was frequently critical of the tactics used by the then Chief Constable Kenneth Oxford. She said of the rioters "they would be apathetic fools ... if they didn't protest."[1], although was unprepared for the personal criticism that followed.[1]

One main cause of poverty in the area was containerization at the nearby Liverpool Docks, destroying thousands of waterfront-type jobs which had been associated with the city of Liverpool for generations. Unemployment in Britain was at a 50-year high in 1981, and Toxteth had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.


Over the weekend that followed, disturbance erupted into full-scale rioting, with pitched battles between police and youths in which petrol bombs and paving stones were thrown, and the police employed CS gas for the first time in the UK outside Northern Ireland. In all, the rioting lasted nine days, during which one person died after being struck by a police vehicle attempting to clear crowds, there were 468 police officers injured, 500 people arrested, and at least 70 buildings damaged so severely by fire that they had to be demolished. Around 100 cars were destroyed, and there was extensive looting of shops. Later estimates suggested the numbers of injured police officers and destroyed buildings were at least double those of the official figures[2].

The riots, like those around the same time in Brixton, Handsworth, and those in 1980 in Bristol, were generally seen as "race riots", but there are many reports of similarly frustrated white youths travelling in from other areas of Liverpool to fight alongside Toxteth residents against the police. Blaming "race problems" allowed many people, including then-Merseyside Chief Constable Kenneth Oxford, to ignore the possibility of broader social origins for the violence.

Complaints made afterwards against the local situation, such as when the riot started, included shops in the area with "glittering displays" of goods expensive beyond hope of the local population being able to afford them, plus all money taken in those shops being banked and then spent out of the area, benefiting none in the area. A news report said that even elderly women joined in the shop-looting.[3]

One property-victim of these riots was a sports club called the Racquet Club [1], which was opened in 1877 on Upper Parliament Street, when Toxteth was an upper-middle-class area. When the riot started, the clubhouse included 3 squash courts and 12 bedrooms. During the riot, the clubhouse and all of its facilities and records was burnt and destroyed, and it did not reopen until 20 May 1985, in another building.

Dozens of terrified senior citizens in the Princes Park Hospital were caught in the middle of the pitched battles.[2] [3]


The subsequent Scarman Report (although primarily directed at the Brixton Riot of 1981) recognised that the riots did represent the result of social problems, such as poverty and deprivation. The Government responded by sending Michael Heseltine, as "Minister for Merseyside" to set up the Merseyside Task Force and launch a series of initiatives, including the Liverpool international garden festival and the Mersey Basin Campaign.

Toxteth Riots in popular culture

The riots feature prominently in Liverpool native Kevin Sampson's novel Stars Are Stars. The book's protagonist helps the rioters/protestors by taking photographs of police brutality before and during the riots.

  • Rapper Braintax mentions the Toxteth riots in his song Open Titles, "I've been rapping since the Toxteth riots / So you newjack American wannabes need to stay quiet".

See also


  1. ^ a b "Guardian Obituary". 29 July 2004. Retrieved 2009-01-19.  
  2. ^ Toxteth riots remembered BBC
  3. ^ BBC TV television news at the time

External links



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