It has been suggested by some that this image played an important role in Jeremy Corbyn’s rise in popularity amongst the younger voters and hence his recent leadership and electoral successes. It’s authenticity has been questioned repeatedly on social media, particularly by right wing commentators. So here I’m going to answer the questions and tell the story.
No it has not been Photoshopped, yes it is exactly as it happened, and yes London police in the 80s only had one leg. Each.
I had been documenting the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group’s picket of South Africa House in Trafalgar Square for some time. I was a strong supporter of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and was disappointed, to say the least, when City AA were expelled from the national organization, in part for taking direct action outside South Africa House against the wishes of the executive.
It was clear to me that the demonstration was creating a huge amount of publicity and getting support from visitors from all over the world. This was evidently also clear to Margret Thatcher’s government, because when it was announced that the South African president, PW Botha, would be visiting London, the government instructed the Metropolitan Police to turn the public pavement in front of South Africa House into a ‘no walk’ zone. This would ensure that the demonstrators were not visible and would therefore cut down on the bad publicity and prevent the activities of the demonstrators from being a thorn in the side of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
This was against the law and a violation of the democratic rights of the British people, and on the day of the visit the demonstrators marched from their new position on the steps of St Martin in the Fields in ones and twos onto the pavement, promptly to be arrested.
Even though I was working as an accredited journalist with a press card I was told to “go and join your friends on the steps or you will be arrested too.” I backed off, waiting for Jeremy Corbyn MP to walk over, and when he did I ran back onto the pavement, grabbed two shots and disappeared before the police could get hold of me.
That night the picket moved to the police station where the demonstrators were being held. At one point a scuffle broke out between the police, who were trying again to remove the demonstration, and some of the demonstrators. As another photographer and I tried to get the photographs three police stepped in front of us to block our sight, and one grabbed my colleague’s camera, snapped the flash off and threw it under the police van. As he did so I got this one shot over his shoulder (below).
I felt that this image was symbolic (if properly captioned), not only of the abuse of police power on the day, but of the domination of the black majority by the white Apartheid regime in South Africa.
Later, in court, one of the policemen in the semi-circle of white shirts in the picture stated under oath that he was not there on the night and could not answer questions about what had happened. The defense team produced this photograph and he was forced to admit that he had been lying. The judge called the police’s behavior ‘idiotic’ threw the case out and released the defendants. The police officer was not charged with contempt of court.
To my knowledge all the people arrested that day were released without charge – a vindication of the claim by City AA that the banning of walking on the public pavement was an illegal and politically motivated act.
I supplied the arrest image, amongst others, to a research project at the University of Leicester called ‘Non-Stop Against Apartheid’, and while I was trying to market the image to the press during the first Labour Party leadership battle in 2015, the Daily Mirror lifted it, stripped the metadata and my credit and used it on their website.
The HuffPost took it from there and ran it with a picture of David Cameron and Boris Johnson at the Bullingdon Club at Oxford Universtity (an exclusive club for rich male students) and this went viral on twitter with the headline “What they were doing in the 80s’.
At this point I had effectively lost control of the low res image. It has since been all over twitter, Facebook, and all shades of political blogs and sites. I did manage to keep control of the hi-res image however, which has only appeared in print with my agreement – so far. I invoiced the Mirror, threatening them with legal action, and they paid up immediately.