In the aftermath of the Toxteth riots, Liverpool University became the target of community anger over a decision to invite Chief Constable Kenneth Oxford to speak on the campus.
The Law Society took the decision to have Oxford address law students at the Moot Room. This was a part of the university precinct that bordered right on to Toxteth. So the local community organisations didn’t have to walk very far to make their feelings known.
We had all arrived at the university for the new term of 1981/82 with full knowledge of the violence that had gripped Toxteth during the riots. Coming in from the halls of residence on the college bus, you couldn’t miss the widespread damage along Upper Parliament Street and down the side streets. I certainly didn’t!
Kenneth Oxford and the Toxteth riots
Kenneth Oxford was a taciturn figure whose relationship with Toxteth and the local Labour Party – which would soon take over the city council – was dire. Quotes attributed to him, that he denied, suggested he had a less than sympathetic view of the ethnic minorities living in Toxteth.
The university was, it must be said, much more socially exclusive in the early 1980s. There were BAME students but the balance was still overwhelmingly middle-class and white. A much lower percentage of the population went into university education at that time. This might, in part, explain a certain insensitivity towards holding such an event at that time.
Before Oxford spoke, a spokeswoman from the Liverpool 8 Defence Committee was allowed to make a statement. She proposed that Oxford be turned away because he was responsible for the ‘murder’ of David Moore (a disabled youth who died during the riots after being hit by a police van), the use of CS gas (first time on the British mainland – it had been used in Northern Ireland) and the report he himself had done on the riots was, the spokeswoman opined, a ‘whitewash’. Her motion was rejected “with a loud ‘no’ from the floor” and no vote needed to be taken.
Oxford got on with his speech saying that the police didn’t go out of their way to recruit racists and he felt the main problem facing him was a lack of finance and the attitude of the community. It was noted that he didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong within the force itself.
DISCOVER: July 1981 – when Britain went a bit mad
Toxteth riots aftermath at the university
He hadn’t concluded his remarks when about thirty members of the L8DC burst in to the Moot Room, where the meeting was being held, screaming “Fucking burn the police!”, “Fucking University”, “Burn the Place Down!” and “Students are guests in this city”. Carl Chapman, vice-president of the Law Society, tried to encourage the protestors to leave but only when Oxford himself departed early, did the room empty out.
Buildings around the precinct were subsequently daubed with comments to the effect that the student body was racist. This wasn’t the only time that the university was subject to spray can comments from locals. Professor Patrick Minford in the Economics Department was one of Thatcher’s key advisers and his call for massive public expenditure cuts met with a graffiti response in jumbo-sized letters all over the faculty exterior.