Unseen riots photos go on display
Previously unseen photographs of the Toxteth riots are now on display – 30 years after the rioters took to the streets.
The vivid black and white pictures, taken by residents and journalists at the height of the disturbances, are now on show at Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum.
The riots were sparked by the stopping, searching and arrest of a young black man on suspicion of taking a motorbike without consent.
When officers attempted to put the man in a police van, a group of youths came to his assistance and released him.
Three police officers were injured in the incident which sparked days of violence and anarchy.
Over the week that followed riots broke out on the streets of Toxteth, with looting and pitched battles between police and youths throwing missiles, including petrol bombs and concrete slabs.
Police did baton charges and used CS gas for crowd control for the first time on the British mainland.
The disturbances involved primarily black and white youths against the police and made headlines around the world.
During this period, Toxteth was blighted by poor housing, high unemployment and a general mistrust of police preceded the troubles. Sonia Bassey-Williams was a teenager when the riots started.
She said: “It was quite terrifying. The police didn’t know what to do or how to react. I think they were out of their depth.”
She said: “My house was raided because my mum had bought me a ghetto-blaster. They thought it was stolen but my mum had the receipt for it.”
Mrs Bassey-Williams, who as former chairman of the Merseyside Black History Month Group helped put the exhibition together, said the riots were the only way the community could express what was going wrong in society.
She said: “The 1981 Toxteth Riots was a significant moment in the history of Liverpool.
“A time that brought national press to the city, highlighting the oppression of local people and the environment they were living in, while also creating a platform to open dialogue with national government about how best to support the Toxteth community in relation to issues like unemployment, housing and use of the ‘sus’ laws in the community.”
She said seeing the photographs on display was an “emotional” experience.
Richard Benjamin, head of the International Slavery Museum, said: “The poignant images in our latest exhibition Toxteth 1981 go on display some 30 years after the violent clashes on the streets of Toxteth, a socially and economically disadvantaged area of Liverpool, made headlines around the world.
“It has been a thought-provoking and informative collaboration with members of the Liverpool black community which has made this exhibition possible as well as offering a personal community perspective of these events.”
Toxteth 1981 runs until July 1 2012.