Lacking conviction: Inquiries and trials after Bristol

in Race and riots in Thatcher’s Britain
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This chapter charts the divided response to the St Pauls disturbance, through rejected appeals for a public inquiry and the authorities’ alternative reaction, which attempted to divert attention onto law and order and away from governmental policies. There was a clear division of local attitudes between moderates, who desired the societal legitimisation of a public inquiry, and radical or younger groups, more likely to have been involved in disturbances, who believed it would be a diversion or ‘whitewash’. Other government measures that were implemented – such as select committees turning their focus to the city – were thus boycotted by various groups, who thought their attendance would imply satisfaction with this limited response; similarly, attempted left-wing inquiries were snubbed by local people who rejected attempts to introduce party politics. This chapter lastly examines failed court trials to convict twelve locals under the serious charge of riotous assembly; influenced by criticism directed towards Bristol police for their temporary withdrawal during the disorder, authorities continued their focus upon law and order to the detriment of wider social or political issues, attempting to obtain criminal sentences to reassure the public and deter future violence.

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