Death of Kevin Gately
Kevin Gately (18 September 1953 – 15 June 1974) was a second year student of mathematics at the University of Warwick who died as a result of head injuries received in the Red Lion Square disorders in London. He was the first person to die in a public demonstration in Great Britain for at least 55 years, since the British Army shot two looters dead in Liverpool during the riots caused by a police strike in August 1919.
Gately was born in England to parents of Irish descent. He had red hair and was approximately 6' 9" tall; contemporary photos show him standing out above the crowd because of his exceptional height. He became a mathematics student at Warwick University, and was in his second year in June 1974, three months before his 21st birthday.
He was not a member of any political group or party, and had no experience of demonstrations before Red Lion Square, although he was aware of the nature of the demonstration against the National Front and wished to take part. His girlfriend also attended the demonstration.
Red Lion Square disorders
The Red Lion Square disorders arose from a counter-demonstration against a National Front march through the West End of London to a meeting at Conway Hall, in the north east corner of Red Lion Square in Bloomsbury near Holborn tube station, on Saturday 15 June 1974.
The National Front had been formed in 1967, and by 1974 its racist policies were gathering some electoral support, with the National Front winning 10 per cent of the vote in some areas of London, particularly where unemployment was high. The National Front march and meeting on 15 June 1974 was itself a protest against the Labour government's proposal to grant an amnesty to illegal immigrants. The National Front planned a march from Westminster Hall, handing in a petition as they passed Downing Street, to their meeting in Conway Hall. The National Front had been using Conway Hall for meetings during the previous four years, but anti-fascist pickets began in October 1973. On 15 June 1974, they planned a meeting entitled "Stop immigration - start repatriation".
The primary organisers of the counter-demonstration were the London Area Council of Liberation (formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom), with participation from the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), the International Marxist Group (IMG) and the International Socialists (later the Socialist Workers Party) and other left-wing groups. Liberation booked a smaller room at Conway Hall for a separate meeting, to be preceded by a march along a route agreed in advance with the police, starting at the Thames Embankment to avoid the route of the National Front march, but the police agreed that both marches could end at the same destination: Red Lion Square. An open-air meeting was planned on the north side of the square, to the west of the National Front meeting in Conway Hall, with an address by Syd Bidwell, the Labour MP for Southall. The edition of the Morning Star on 15 June 1974 encouraged support for the counter-demonstration, including messages from trades union leaders. After the event, the Honorary President of Liberation, Lord Brockway, stated that he had opposed the potential for a confrontation and violence from groups that joined the counter-demonstration.
The Liberation march of around 1,200 people came from the east, moving westwards along Theobald's Road and turned left (south) at Old North Street to enter Red Lion Square about half way along its northern edge, before turning right (west) to where a platform was set up for the meeting. A police cordon blocked the way to the left, east of Old North Street, to allow the National Front march to reach Conway Hall.
Disorder broke out when the counter-march arrived at Red Lion Square at around 3:30 pm. Some demonstrators from the IMG group at the rear of the march attempted to block the route by which the National Front march would reach Conway Hall, and challenged the police cordon intended to keep the two groups of marchers apart. Gately was marching with IMG contingent, which included other students that came from Warwick by bus. The police cordon was reinforced by members of the Special Patrol Group and by mounted police, who eventually forced the demonstrators back and then cleared the square, with liberal use of police truncheons.
The National Front march of around 900 people approached from the west, marching down Bloomsbury Way to the west side of Southampton Row, accompanied by an Orange Order fife and drum band. The march arrived at Southampton Row around 20 minutes later, at around 5:50 pm, where they were stopped by the police. There were other altercations nearby close to Southampton Row.
The body of Kevin Gately was found on the ground among the fighting, and taken to a St. John Ambulance crew. His friends from Warwick only realised that he was missing when they met after the demonstration ended. A student who enquired at University College Hospital was shown Kevin's body and asked to identify him.
Fellow students who were with Gately said that he was injured after several charges and counter-charges involving mounted police, foot police and demonstrators. Many others were injured, including 39 policemen. Clive Bloom, author of Violent London: 2,000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts, asserts Kevin Gately "died under a police horse". An inquest at St Pancras Coroner's Court later concluded that his death was caused by a brain haemorrhage resulting from of a blow to the head from a blunt instrument. His exceptional height led several newspapers of the time to allege that his death may have been the result of a blow from a mounted police truncheon. Neither a coroner's inquest nor a public inquiry headed by Lord Justice Scarman were able to find evidence to prove or disprove this claim.
Inquest and public inquiry
A post-mortem examination gave inconclusive results, it was reported on 17 June, but it quickly became clear that he had died from a blow to the head. The coroner's inquest heard that the cause of his death was a subdural haemorrhage caused by a modest blow to his head, and the jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure on 12 July 1974 by a majority of 10-1. He was found to have a small oval bruise behind his left ear, and had collapsed shortly afterwards, only 10 feet (3.0 m) from the edge of the police cordon. Possible causes for the injury were a blow from an implement, such as police truncheon, or from a projectile, or from being kicked after falling to the ground.
The inquest was followed by a public inquiry led by Lord Justice Scarman, under rarely used power under section 32 of the Police Act 1964 to order a local inquiry into policing in a particular area. Similar powers were used for another inquiry by Scarman (by then a member of the House of Lords) after the 1981 Brixton riot. By contrast, there was no inquiry after the deaths of Liddle Towers in 1976, or of Blair Peach or Jimmy Kelly[disambiguation needed] in 1979.
The Scarman inquiry spent 23 days receiving evidence from police and marchers, and another 4 days reviewing written representations. The IMG leaders on 15 June – Brian Heron and David Bailey – initially denied charging the first police cordon, but later admitted doing so to the Scarman inquiry.
Scarman's report was published on 27 February 1975. Scarman accepted that Gately was not a rioter, but had been carried along by the surging crowd, and stated: "It was possible, though very unlikely, that in the melee he was struck by a police truncheon." Scarman concluded that Gately was a victim, not of the police, or of a criminal demonstrator, but of the situation in which he found himself. He apportioned some of the blame to riotous protesters, and attributed the injury to a "minor unnoticed accident - a fall or an apparently minor glancing blow".
Gately was buried in Surbiton on Friday 21 June, after a funeral at St Raphael's church in Surbiton, where he had been baptised. Also on 21 June, 500 students marched through Coventry with black armbands. The following day, Saturday 22 June 1974, thousands joined a silent march retraced the route of the Liberation counter-demonstration from the embankment to Red Lion Square. The march was led by personal friends of Gately, followed by University of Warwick students and then by students from many other universities and colleges as well as contingents from many of the left wing groups that had taken part in the original march. This march also received widespread media coverage.
Gately's death led to a major campaign by Warwick students against the National Front. A Kevin Gately Memorial Painting by Maureen Scott hangs in the Warwick University Students' Union, and was restored in 2004. It is displayed alongside contemporary telegrams of support from many other students' unions and a copy of Socialist Worker from the week following Gately's death. The painting is symbolic of the anti-fascist struggle and contains neither a representation of Gately nor of the events of June 1974. In 2009, it was suggested that a new student bar at Warwick University could be named after Gately, but the name "The Dirty Duck" was chosen instead.
Demonstrations against the National Front continued through the 1970s and into the 1980s. Blair Peach was killed at an Anti-Nazi League demonstration which turned violent in Southall in April 1979. Sid Bidwell said in Parliament that Peach, together with Gately, would be "regarded by history as a martyr and a young courageous campaigner against Fascism and racism".
Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe referred to Gately's death, and the aim of preventing similar deaths, in the House of Lords consideration in 2009 of the justification for the Metropolitan Police's policy of "kettling" protesters at Oxford Circus on 1 May 2001.
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