We Remember... Frank Crichlow

By Toyin Agbetu | Wed 15 September 2010

Frank Crichlow: 13 July 1932 - 15 September 2010

On 15 September 2010, Elder Frank Crichlow joined the Ancestors after passing peacefully in his sleep.

Elder Frank Crichlow was born in Trinidad in 1931 and moved to Britain at the age of 21. He was widely respected and admired for his community work against inequality and injustice as well as his persistent resistance against police oppression.

From as early as 1970 there are newspaper reports documenting the savage assaults by police on Frank’s Mangrove Restaurant based at All Saints Road, London W11. It was a community hub for advice, education and healing and well known by artists and activists internationally. Its conscious mix of debate and African Caribbean cuisine attracted many supporters including the likes of CLR James, Nina Simone, Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley, Sammy Davis Jr, Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Four Tops, Sarah Vaughan, Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Gifford. T

Racist officers opposed to community empowerment sought every excuse to close the Mangrove down and in one instance even charged ‘[Frank] Critchlow, [Roy] Hemmings and a third man, John Cabussel... a total of £345 in fines and costs – for serving food [sweetcorn and tea] at the Mangrove Restaurant after eleven o’clock at night.'

Frank’s actions provided a clear demonstration of strong leadership and through his example taught many not to be afraid to stand up for their rights. The British authorities hated this message and continued launching malicious raids on the Mangrove including one which resulted in Frank being arrested and charged with assaulting PC Frank Pulley, a thoroughly corrupt and racist officer whose statement later revealed that he viewed the African people who dined at the Mangrove as ‘criminals, ponces and prostitutes’.

His view was typical of the many police officers who out of spite wanted to shut down the restaurant and between January 1969 and July 1970 raided the venue on twelve separate occasions. Fortunately Frank had much grass roots support and after one arrest a young Darcus Howe who worked the Mangrove tills at the time called for a protest against the continuous harassment. Darcus at the time also worked for the community newspaper, the Hustler which was edited by Courtney Tulloch and produced on the Mangrove premises.

The Independent newspaper writes; ‘Together, Howe, Critchlow and the local Panthers organised a March. On 9 August 1970, 150 protesters took the streets, flanked by more than 700 police. Police intervention resulted in violence and Critchlow, Howe and seven others were charged with inciting riot.’

Police corruption and brutality struck again leading to Frank, Darcus and seven others being arrested in dawn raids on their homes and charged with inciting members of the public to kill police officers alongside the spurious charge of ‘riot and affray’ leading to them subsequently becoming known as the Mangrove 9.

After a laborious 55 day trial at the Old Bailey where up to 36 police officers lied on oath, seven of the nine were eventually acquitted by a jury of the main charges, the remaining two who were convicted received suspended sentences. Even the judge ‘publicly acknowledged that there was "evidence of racial hatred" within the Met‘, an accusation that caused much anger high up in police ranks following their public shaming.

Still smarting from its humiliating defeat the Police took the vexatious step of arresting Frank again in 1985 after constructing a bogus charge of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. He was initially held in custody but later freed on bail and ‘banned from going anywhere near his business for about a year’.

By now Frank had established the ‘Mangrove Community Association, which continued the work begun by the restaurant, organising demonstrations against apartheid in South Africa, institutional racism, and supporting national liberation movements from Africa to the Middle East. Critchlow was also instrumental in establishing and running the Notting Hill Carnival.’
This alone was reason to target him again and in 1988 Frank spent six weeks in prison awaiting trial until once again acquitted by a jury. As the Independent writes;

‘Police persecution of the Mangrove never wholly ceased. In 1989 Critchlow was in court once again, this time accused of drug-dealing, and again, church leaders, magistrates, community leaders black and white, all spoke out in his defence. Again he was acquitted of all charges. The final victory was Critchlow's; in 1992 he sued the Met for false imprisonment, battery and malicious prosecution. The police refused to admit fabricating evidence but paid him a record £50,000. Speaking at the time, he said that the money would help "in a small way. But it is no compensation for what they did. Everybody knows that I do not have anything to do with drugs. I don't even smoke cigarettes. I cannot explain the disgust, the ugliness, not just for me but for all my family, that this whole incident has caused."’

Frank was a true grass roots community leader. He is survived by his children Knowlton, Lenora, Amandla and Francesca.

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