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Red Lion Square disorders

The Red Lion Square disorders were an event in 1974.

On June 15 of that year, the National Front marched through London's West End; their march was to finish with a meeting in Conway Hall, Red Lion Square. The London Area Council for Liberation conducted a counter demonstration which consisted of a march through London ending with a public meeting in Red Lion Square. Warwick student Kevin Gately was killed during the demonstrations and a public enquiry was conducted by Lord Scarman into the disorders at Red Lion Square.

Introduction



The British neo-nazi organisation, the National Front booked Conway Hall in Red Lion Square for a meeting to take place on 15 June 1974. A counter-demonstration was called by the London Area Council of Liberation (formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom). This counter-demonstration attracted support from groups not directly under the control of Liberation, including the International Marxist Group, the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) and the International Socialists (later the Socialist Workers Party). The counter-demonstration assembled on the Embankment and marched to Red Lion Square without incident. They planned to hold an open-air meeting on the north side of the Square, away from Conway Hall.

Clash in Red Lion Square

The front of the Liberation march came westwards along Theobald's Road and entered Red Lion Square by Old North Street before turning right where a platform was set up for the meeting. A police cordon blocked the square to the left of Old North Street.

A substantial number of marchers passed this cordon peacefully and assembled in front of the platform where the Labour MP for Southall Syd Bidwell was to address them.

The cordon was then charged by the small CPE(M-L) contingent who were closely followed by the larger contingent from the IMG. Several minutes of pushing and scuffling followed. There were several charges and counter-charges. The police cordon was reinforced by members of the Special Patrol Group and by mounted police who eventually succeeded in forcing the demonstrators back. Photos show the use of truncheons by some police officers. At least one demonstrator reported being knocked to the ground and trampled by a police horse. Many demonstrators were forced back up Old North Street but a few retreated into the square.

The police then forcibly cleared all remaining demonstrators from the square whether they had taken part in the original confrontation or not. A large number of demonstrators had passed the police cordon peacefully before the charge. Demonstrators from the International Socialists were specifically instructed by their stewards to withdraw from the area of fighting. Nonetheless, the police aggressively forced all the Liberation marchers from the square, in spite of the remonstrations of Syd Bidwell MP.

Clash in Vernon Place

Soon after this, word spread among the Liberation demonstrators that the National Front were approaching. Many demonstrators regrouped at the junction of Vernon Place and Southampton Row where they were held back by a police cordon on the east side.

The National Front, accompanied by an Orange fife and drum band, marched down Bloomsbury Way to the west side of Southampton Row where another police cordon stopped them. Neither side attempted to breach the cordons that separated them. After a few minutes mounted police came up Southampton Row from Red Lion Square and moved straight into the Liberation crowd without warning. Supported by foot police, they used truncheons on demonstrators in an apparently indiscriminate manner. Another police cordon behind the crowd effectively prevented their escape and a large number of arrests were made.

A large number of demonstrators were arrested. Photos show that many who were arrested had their hair pulled or were otherwise treated with what appeared to be excessive force by police.

While this was happening the National Front were allowed to turn right into Southampton Row and escorted round the south side of Red Lion Square into Conway Hall.

Clash in Boswell Street

A small remnant of the IMG contingent went up Boswell Street in an attempt to disperse. They were followed and trapped by police who detained the group while they were attempting to arrest Brian Heron, one of the IMG leaders. They eventually succeeded but he escaped from them a few minutes later.

This incident was overlooked in most of the media coverage but was reported in the following week's edition of Time Out.

Death of Kevin Gately

Kevin Gately was a student at Warwick University who accompanied fellow students to the counter-demonstration. Kevin was not a member of a political group and had never been on a demonstration before. As some of the Warwick students were supporters of the IMG, all of them marched with the IMG contingent and were caught up in the initial clash in Red Lion Square. Photos show Kevin moving through the crowd, possibly trying to escape from the tight press of bodies during the pushing at the police cordon. His unconscious body was found by police after the crowd was driven back and taken in an ambulance to University College Hospital.

Kevin's fellow students only realised that he was missing when they met after the demonstration ended. A student who enquired at University College Hospital was shown Kevin's body and asked to identify him.

A coroner's inquest at St Pancras Coroner's Court concluded that Kevin's death was the result of a blow to the head from a blunt instrument. Left wing newspapers at the time blamed his death on the mounted police though this was based on supposition and conclusive evidence has not been forthcoming.

Kevin Gately was the first demonstrator to be killed in Britain for 55 years.

Aftermath

There was widespread press and media coverage of the disorders in Red Lion Square

Warwick University students held a march and vigil in Coventry during the following week.

The next Saturday 22 June 1974 a silent march retraced the route of the Liberation counter-demonstration from the embankment to Red Lion Square. The march was led by personal friends of Kevin Gately, followed by University of Warwick students and then by students from many other universities and colleges as well as contingents from many of the left wing groups that had taken part in the original march. This march also received widespread media coverage.

The Inquest into Kevin Gately's death was followed by a public enquiry headed by Lord Scarman which considered a wide range of evidence from police and marchers. Representatives of the IMG leadership initially denied charging the first police cordon but later admitted doing so.

The sabbatical officers of University of Warwick Students' Union commissioned a Kevin Gately memorial painting which still hangs in the student union building. It was restored in 2004.

References

The Warwick Boar 22 June 2004 http://www.sunion.warwick.ac.uk/boar/?article=4164

BBC News website "On This Day - 15 June 1974" http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/15/newsid_2512000/2512725.stm

Only One Died: Tony Gilbert (published by K. Beauchamp 1975) ISBN 0-9504283-0-2

The National Front: Martin Walker (Fontana Paperbacks 1977) ISBN 0-00-634824-6

Witness statements and correspondence from the inquest and the Scarman Tribunal are now available from the National Archives

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/search/quick_search.aspx?search_text=kevin+gately

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