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Our man in the 1981 riots

Panic on the streets of Toxteth. Larry Neild was there, but what have we got to show for Hezza's millions?

Written by . Published on July 7th 2011.


Our man in the 1981 riots

THIRTY years on from Britain’s worst mainland rioting for generations, the question has to be asked …. was it worth it? 

Look around Liverpool 8 in 2011 and it’s clear the area is still in desperate need of a major regeneration. 

Seconds after police realised a
journalist was clocking events,
the scene went silent. Even the
dog barking stopped and so did
the screaming man.  No charges
were ever laid against him

Wastelands, streets of empty houses, the one-time amazing shopping Mecca that was Granby Street is now a scene of dereliction. 

Yet since the uprising of July 1981, hundreds of millions of pounds have been poured into the area. But what is there to show for such a bounty? 

Granby St todayGranby St todayIn 2006, work was under way on the Paradise Street Redevelopment project – now known as Liverpool One. The project’s price was quoted in 2006 as £800m. 

In the years after Toxteth, around £400m – or the cost of building half of Liverpool One – was invested in the area. Where did all that money go? Because when I look around Liverpool 8 I don’t see much evidence of money well spent. 

Toxteth erupted because people in the area, particularly the young, were sick and tired of the way they were being treated by the police. 

A year or so before the riots, I was driving home from the Echo office late one night. 

As I headed along Princes Avenue I saw a crowd had gathered on a street corner and a load of blue cars. Inquisitive as I am as a journalist, I stopped. The crowd on the street corner were in a state of distress.  In front of them a young man was being dragged by the hair along the pavement by a group of policemen. The man was screaming in pain. 

They opened the doors of a police dog van and threw the man inside. The bystanders became even more agitated as he screamed out against a backdrop of barking German Shepherds. 

I walked across the road, notebook in hand, and started to note the numbers of police officers who had been involved. One asked me, in choice language – he actually said “What the fuck are you doing?” – and I explained I was just doing my job and not in any way hampering their work. 

Thin blue line: Upper Parliament StThin blue line: Upper Parliament StSeconds after the police officers realised a journalist was clocking events, the scene went silent, even the dog barking stopped and so did the screaming man.  No charges were ever laid against him. 

The riots started in what was a classic case of the straw breaking the camel’s back. 

A motorcyclist is stopped, a crowd gathers and from that small incident in July 1981, the area was engulfed in an orgy of burning and destruction. Over the next nine days around 500 people were arrested, almost as many police officers were injured and one man, a disabled guy, died. 

Among the 70 buildings burned down were the original Racquet Club, the Rialto, the Nat West Bank and dozens of shops and businesses. 

Opportunists, not from L8, invaded the area, attracted by the prospect of some serious looting. 

I was told at the time the then chief constable Ken Oxford was determined to contain the riots; the last thing he wanted was the troubles to reach the city centre. Toxteth’s burning was the price to pay. 

Watching the riots had its lighter moment. Like when a boy of seven or eight  approached me and a press photographer to ask if we had a match. 

I told the youngster he was too young to smoke. He replied: I don’t smoke mister, it’s for this,” and from beneath his coat he produced a home-made petrol bomb. 

Over in Park Road a line of officers, with crude riot shields, stood in front of the row of shops, all exposed to the elements, with doors and windows kicked in. Suddenly the officers withdrew and a crowd of several hundred quickly realised it was pay day and Christmas rolled into one.  

Many looked in disbelief as the coppers went back. Then the watching public charged towards the exposed shops. In front of me a young couple were arguing – she wanted to head for Ethel Austin’s, he wanted ciggies from the Kwiky. They realised that the shelves would be clear within minutes and didn’t know which way to turn. 

Heseltine On A RecceHeseltine on a recceI tapped them on the shoulder and suggested that they guy should aim to get the fags  whilst the love of his life should grab some clobber. 

Ace mate, ta, said the young chap giving me a thumbs up, as he and his girl ran in different directions to join the throng. 

Maybe on reflection, when Michael Heseltine swung to action as the Tarzan saviour of Liverpool, he should have included Granby and Toxteth within the boundaries of the Merseyside Development Corporation which he created as a result and which so successfully salvaged the Albert Dock.

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousJuly 8th 2011.

Some of the houses pulled down as part of the regeneration of Granby were beautiful. I think they (the establishment) were determined to break the backbone and the spirit of L8 so they sent in the bulldozers. Shopping in Granby Street in the 70s was brilliant, foods not a vailable anywhere else. It truly was a world in one part of the city.

Champagne socialistJuly 8th 2011.

Riots changed nothing really, just an excuse for trouble makers to have a go, following on from the Brixton wave days earlier. Toxteth is only remembered in the national media because it had a funny name, Tox-TETH as Craig Charles used to say

AnonymousJuly 8th 2011.

CS, riots changed things but not for the better, the establishment just decided to attack in another way, no investment just decay and more broken promises.....

AnonymousJuly 8th 2011.

look at the city council it cares more for outsiders than its own people liverpool1 at the expense of Bold st etc etc... a fruit and veg stall removed for tesco.. the council have wrecked everything that made us great...

Prof ChucklebuttyJuly 8th 2011.

I should thank Harry Neild for rescuing me that night I was having a fight at the Drive-In MacDonalds on the corner of Princes Road as they were refusing to serve with nuggets and chips. Turns out it was the Nat West and Harry pulled me out of the way just as a JCB went crashing through the serving hatch...loot me a family bucket I shouted, but to no avail.

Harry suggested we take refuge in the Gladray, but I was suspicious as I knew it was time for the stripper to come on. What's she like I kept asking, and suddenly Lady Margaret Simey walked on! Well I nearly fell off my chair! No, she is appealing for calm he said, as I
shouted "keep 'em on" Fine woman though.

Anyway, we headed off to Lodge Lane as there seemed to be a big sale on. Saw a lovely woman who'd driven up form Netherley, wearing 12 toasters round her neck like a garland.

Duffy's Electric was open and Harry said he could do with a new freezer. I said don't be daft, get one from the Kwik Save, they're already full! Anyway, we tried to get into the Rackets Club for a nightcap but they were having a blazing row. Harry said, listen Professor, you should get home and get to bed with some hot milk. And as if by magic a burning milk float trundled by and we had a pint each. Cheers we said, what a riot!

Reader XxxJuly 10th 2011.

Now that I have stopped laughing at Professor Chucklebutty's contribution I would like to make a serious point. I have always thought that Michael Heseltine's appointment as "Minister for Merseyside" was Margaret Thatcher's response to the riots, and that he started the regeneration of the city, beginning with the revival of Albert Dock. If that is the case, will history eventually show that the city - but sadly not Liverpool 8 - benefitted from the riots?

Another point - I was once told that Thatcher sent Heseltine to Liverpool expecting him to fail. This is believable knowing the rivalry between them, but is it true?

Absinthe & TurksJuly 12th 2011.

Champagne Socialist, the name 'Toxteth' was unheard of in Liverpool 8 until the media used it in riots coverage - then every knobhead going suddenly claimed to come from "Tox-TETH". The Liverpool Echo started decribing everywhere between Mossley Hill and Scottie Road as 'Toxteth'.

Of course Craig Charles would say it like that he's a middle-class richboy from the then posh and leafy Childwall. I heard that he went to Liverpool 8 with the BBC as the supposed 'voice of local youth' and the real locals threw stones at him.

Absinthe & TurksJuly 12th 2011.

Toxteth is of course mid-way between Dingle and the Pier Head. Referring to areas such as Windsor, Edge Hill, Princes Park, etc. as 'Toxteth' is the mark of the incomer, the neophye and the ignoramus.

Champagne socialistJuly 12th 2011.

That's very true about posh boy Craig, I was there!

AnonymousJuly 12th 2011.

Wr used to live on Ducie Street which was a pleasant little street, now all boarded up and awaiting demolition. Only ever disturbed by the occasional knob head trying to pinch my Ford Escort van and watching an exotic white Rolls Royce.

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