Too Black? the case of the Oval 4 revisited
November 11, 2010 — Review
Written by Harmit Athwal
A gripping new autobiographical book has been published on the case of the ‘Oval 4’.
The book, Black for a cause … not just because … the case of the ‘Oval 4’ and the story of Black Power in 1970s Britain, written by Winston Trew makes for compelling reading especially where the author describes the events as they actually happened to him. This is possibly the first book on the British Black Power movement written from the inside.
The ‘Oval 4’ were a group of young Fasimbas, members of a political organisation representing the interests of black people in London, who were fitted up by police, arrested and charged with theft from persons on the underground and then, when they resisted arrest, for assaulting police officers.
Trew graphically describes the altercation at the Oval tube station in March 1972, where he and his friends were cornered by a gang of police officers, led by the notorious detective sergeant Ridgewell, and falsely accused of robbery. (Ridgewell was truly a ‘bent copper’ who died in prison in December 1982 while serving a sentence for conspiracy to steal.) According to the author, once at the police station they were all brutally beaten and then ‘forced’ to sign admissions of guilt. All four were then tarred with the then new label of mugger (a term imported from the US).
Winston Trew paints a vivid picture of the time, with lyrics and poetry from the 1970s providing an evocative ‘soundtrack’ in your mind as you read the narrative of what happened to the four. Apparently he was unable to find a publisher willing to publish his book and as a result has funded it himself. This is truly depressing when you consider the number of bad memoirs out there. You can guarantee that if such a book had been written by a white man – about his experiences of the criminal justice system – he would have no problem with getting a publisher.
My only criticism of the book is that some of the political theory that Winston uses to contextualise the experiences of the Oval 4 is a little heavy-going. Nonetheless the frank retelling of their stories as black activists and victims of police racism makes the theory worth ploughing through. This is an excellent book and well-worth buying to educate anyone about Black Power in Britain and past experiences of racism and brutality that are still as valid today.
Black for a cause ... not just because ... The case of the 'Oval 4' and the story of Black Power in 1970s Britain is available at the Black for a cause website.
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.