Toxteth Riots

1981: Surrey Constabulary support to police in Liverpool following the Toxteth riots:

Chris Farmer: Another of my "battle honours", but one that sadly only provides me with hazy memories. We were accommodated in halls of residence at the university, and operated out of the Admiral Street police station.

The first night we arrived was a real eye-opener to us soft southerners, and we were stunned by the devastation visited upon the local area: most of the shops had been looted, with all their windows shattered and doors destroyed; every conceivable bit of street furniture, including paving slabs and kerbstones, ripped up or torn down to be used as missiles or implements of destruction. Litter and all kinds of rubbish lying everywhere so all in all, a thoroughly depressing place.

My unit was deployed in pairs to patrol on foot in one area, which provided the only moment of light relief that I am now able to recall. I was on foot with PC 544 Mick Finch, a stalwart of the Shere Section (also represented by the irrepressible PC 1351 Len West, whose outrageous humour kept us all in stitches and was a real tonic when morale started to flag; later to become a dog man) and we were patrolling in what later became apparent to be part of the red light district.

At one point, an upstairs sash window of a dilapidated looking Victorian terrace was opened, and a young (-ish!) local female enquired of us if there was anything she could do for us. Quick as a flash, young Mick said "I don't have any cash on me, do you accept plastic?" which prompted the equally quick, and classic response "Only sideways!"

Simon Nelson: These riots were sparked after general dissatisfaction with the Thatcher Government and an increase in unemployment particularly in Toxteth. I remember watching TV news film of riots with petrol bombs and things being thrown at the police, overturned vehicles and burning buildings.

The next thing I knew was that I was on a coach as a member of the Guildford contingent of the Surrey Constabulary Police Support Unit (PSU) on my way to Liverpool. This was the first of three major PSU deployments by Surrey Constabulary giving mutual aid to other Police Forces around the country during the first five years of the 1980s.

On the journey up I sat wandering with some trepidation (after seeing the TV pictures) about what would be in store for us. I had been in the police five years by then and married less than a year and I was thinking it was going to be all over for me so soon. We were met at a service station on the A562 just outside Liverpool by Merseyside Police Traffic cars. I think they were Ford Escort RS2000, very nippy, and they escorted us to our accommodation at the university campus.

Conditions were good and there was plenty of food. The next morning we were met again by Traffic and they escorted our coach to the main Police Station in Toxteth. From what I remember no Surrey Constabulary personnel carriers were taken up to Liverpool. On the way in through the surrounding area you could see devastation everywhere and the streets were almost devoid of people.

After a briefing we were deployed in pairs to walk the surrounding area. It was just like a scene from the London Blitz of World War Two with burnt out buildings and cars everywhere and rubble all over the streets. When members of the public were walking past us we would automatically greet them with a smile and say "Hello" as if we were on the beat in leafy Surrey.

At first they were a bit wary of us but most people stopped to chat. Many good comments were received from them saying they were pleased to see police walking the beat and we were so approachable and friendly. There were no other riots while we were there. I think the rioters had run out of things to burn and had made their point.

The following day Surrey Constabulary PSU was deployed in a very thin blue line across the front of Liverpool Town Hall where the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was due to meet the city Mayor. Directly in front of us the street and square was packed with thousands of people. We were wearing our usual uniforms and helmets and no NATO Riot Helmets or riot equipment was carried. The members of the public who were standing next to us were all very inquisitive when they could see our Surrey Constabulary helmet plates and they entered into friendly conversation with us.

When the Prime Minister arrived there was a lot of shouting and booing their main chant being "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie; Out, Out, Out"! After she had been driven away the crowds slowly dispersed without any trouble. I think it was the same day that we got on the coach and started on our journey back to Surrey.

We had just travelled out of the city when our coach broke down. I can't remember if we all divided ourselves between the other coaches in the convoy and continued or we waited for our coach to me mended. We got back to Surrey in the end.

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