CHIEF CONSTABLE JON MURPHY – POLICING THE TOXTETH RIOTS
Merseyside Police’s present chief constable, Jon Murphy, was a PC at the time of the Toxteth riots. Here he recalls the role of the Operation Support Division.
We were the reserve which was brought out to try and relieve the pressure on the police who were behind the shields. Most of them were young lads, in a uniform, in shock. They were stood behind the riot shields.
We would form behind them at a point. An instruction would be given and bear in mind we didn’t have mobile phones then [and] the radios didn’t work as well . . . the line would part.
I remember one night in particular. We were on Upper Parliament Street. There was a line across Upper Parliament Street facing towards Smithdown Road and a bit would be at the end of Grove Street junction – Grove Street, I think it’s Kingsley Road the other side.
The Wootton Centre is a bit farther up on the right, and it was the night the dairy was broken into, and all of this stuff was coming over on fire. There was a huge group gathered there, and the instruction we were given was to go and disperse that group of people.
The shield line split.
We came out with the vehicles. There were probably three or four other Land Rovers with us, and a couple of personnel carriers – so maybe 20 of us.
I was actually the acting Sergeant in the group, because my Sergeant had been injured.
We got out of the van, and we had batons, and my wooden baton is about 18in long.
Then we just sort of ran at these people and I remember chasing a particular guy across some wasteland, and I remember distinctly because I’ve got all this heavy-duty kit on which wasn’t much use, but weighed me down.
I remember at the time we used to call it rioters’ gear, because they [the rioters] would be in training shoes, track shoes and a vest, and a baseball bat, or some other big stick of wood. That was exactly what this guy had.
He was a black guy as it happens, and I remember chasing him across the wasteland, and he turned around and he confronted me, and I looked around me and there was no one anywhere near me, and I’ve got this little stick, and he’s got this big long stick, and I’ve just thought “Oh dear, this is it”.
My response was “I’ll see you again”, and I just retreated, and went back and managed to get back to the vehicle.
Cars had their accelerator pedals tied down, the cars [were] being set on fire, and driven straight at the police lines.
I remember javelins being thrown. I remember a school being broken into, and javelins being taken out of the school sports cupboard and being thrown at the police cars.
I remember one went straight through the hood of a personnel carrier, and hit the engine block. I remember axes being used and going through the sides of [vehicles]. We were in the back of the Land Rover and people trying to open the [vehicle]. It was pretty frightening.
The clear view of the chief constable at the time was “if I don’t do this, some of my officers will die”. Having been there on the ground, I thought that was gonna happen anyway. I thought it’s a miracle a police officer didn’t die.
EXTRACT from Liverpool ’81: Remembering the Riots published by Liverpool University Press in paperback, priced £14.99. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the Merseyside Black History Month Group.