25 years ago Handsworth and Lozells erupted in death, destruction, fire and looting. Anuji Varma looks at what sparked the violence and how the area has transformed since.
As the police officer slapped a fine onto the illegally parked car little did he know his actions would lead to such death and destruction.
The vehicle had pulled up outside the Acapulco Cafe, in Lozells Road, Lozells, at 4.45pm on September 9 – on closer inspection the officer noticed there was no tax disc.
But it was the driver’s actions which sparked one of the worst nights of violence Birmingham has ever seen, leaving two dead and millions of pounds worth of damage to property.
The man resisted arrest and fled into the cafe. When officers arrived to assist they were pelted with stones, bottles and staves. Eleven were left injured and the seeds of the riot were sown.
What ensued over the next 32 hours was an orgy of violence, with two brothers murdered, shops burned to the ground, looters raiding their local stores and police under attack.
Gangs were secretly manufacturing petrol bombs in retaliation in an illegal gambling den overlooking the Villa Cross Bingo Hall. The bombs were distributed to the Night Spot Cafe, and the Villa Cross pub, both in Lozells Road.
A series of hoax calls were made to police attempting to lure them into the area and ambush officers and just moments later the bombs were pelted at the bingo hall. When officers arrived they found themselves under fire and were forced to retreat.
A mob of 200 rioters gathered in Villa Road but officers were helpless to break them up because they were not equipped with the correct gear.
It was at about 9pm when fire officers became aware of the Moledina brothers’ decision to stay put in their Post Office to protect their property. It was a decision that was to cost them their lives.
As the buildings burned in Lozells Road, the looters were out in full force raiding their local shops.
A police log at the time recorded: “An air of excitement is noticeable among the looters – one man pushing a trolley-load of stolen property shouts: ‘I’m shopping early for Christmas’.”
But there was a more sinister side. Another log chillingly recorded: “Riot leaders emerge. One tall Rastafarian is seen ordering a group of between ten and 15 blacks to loot shops then set the premises alight at the command of ‘fire’.”
Witnesses at the time told how they saw looters carrying away plundered goods, and then being mugged themselves.
Ann Conway, a voluntary worker, said: “The owners of the shop were obviously very distraught and some of the people had been customers days before.”
It wasn’t until 11.45pm that police finally regained some sort of order with the help of residents.
Local Rastafarian Nigel Heath appealed for calm and walked up and down the streets pleading through a loud hailer for black people to “cool it” and return to their homes.
But the following day trouble was still brewing with the first reports of children looting on their way to school at 8am. Anarchy had moved on to Handsworth where a mob of 500 gathered in Heathfield Road.
Many were decked out in crash helmets and masks and carrying bin liners to stash stolen goods. They rampaged through Birchfield Road shopping centre and the Post Office in Rookery Road was raided.
Douglas Hurd, the Home Secretary at the time, was pelted with missiles and abuse when he arrived at the riot scene. The police struggled to contain the rioters until later that night but the damage was done as both Handsworth and Lozells burned.
Afterwards the blame game began with the police bearing the main brunt. West Midlands Police Chief Constable Geoffrey Dear was quick to quash allegations that officers were slow to respond.
An inquiry was set up to determine the cause of the rioting, which mirrored the riots of July 1981.
Four years earlier, Handsworth had suffered similar violence, but on a much smaller scale. Also in 1981, Toxteth, in Liverpool and Brixton, in London, were out of control with rioting. The motives were related to racial tension and inner-city deprivation, a distrust of the police and authority.
However, in 1985 a variety of organisations were blamed, including the Church of England, with one minister saying “white-led churches had hardly learned to care properly for their black members from the first generation of immigrants”.
A lack of black people working within social services was also used as an excuse for the riots as well as jealousy of the successful Asian businessmen.
But eventually Geoffrey Dear, now a Lord, told how the root causes were down to five factors: massive social deprivation, inadequate housing, unsuccessful education, mass unemployment and racial discrimination.
Figures showed how unemployment in the area was running at 36 per cent, three times the national average, and the worst in inner city Birmingham.
It was also claimed that drug dealers had feared for their livelihood after police were carrying out raids in the area. It was this that initially orchestrated the disorder, Lord Dear had said.
He added: “The police are all too often seen as the only readily identifiable representatives of local or central government and can become the target for hostility from those frustrated by the state of their society. What is certain is that the start of any riot or serious disorder almost always involved a police officer who may very well be carrying out his duty in the most thoughtful and sensitive way possible.”
Figures released afterwards showed that more than 420 people were arrested in connection with the event, including two for the murder of the Moledinas, 18 for arson and 115 for burglary. Eventually it emerged that 236 had been convicted of looting. Goods worth more than £75,000 were recovered.
Just under a year later, Lord Dear warned that there was still a risk of further riots in the area. “The conditions for people living in Handsworth are the same, and life is just as difficult. There is no way we can expect the position to change overnight and it will be a long slow haul for both the police and the people of Handsworth.”
That change has finally come – but not without further rioting.
Just five years ago the area was once again subject to unrest when rumours of an alleged gang rape of a teenage black girl by a group of Asian men surfaced. Again, the troubles were sparked in Lozells for two nights, starting on October 22 – and they left two dead.
Isiah Young-Sam, 23, was stabbed to death. Waqar Ahmed, Azhil Khan, and Afzal Khan were originally convicted of killing Mr Young Sam, but were cleared on appeal, and walked free in February this year after a retrial.
A second man, Aaron James, aged 18, was accidentally killed when he was shot by his friend Dowaine Maye, as they fled the police during the riots. Maye is serving eight years for the killing.
Earlier this year Waseem Zaffar, a community worker in Lozells, said of the 2005 riots: “The relationship between the police and community has never been better. It was people who came into Lozells that caused the riots in 2005.
‘’And back then the community leaders said nothing. We’ve learned from our mistakes and think it’s important to emphasise there is no tension within the community.”
>Handsworth Riots 25 years on: The innocent brothers who died protecting their Post Office
>Handsworth Riots 25 years on: The aftermath and decades of rebuilding
>Handsworth Riots 25 years on: How regeneration helped to heal the wounds