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'The Devil' calls for slavery linked Penny Lane name change

DEMAND: Stephen French wants Liverpool’s famous Penny Lane to change its name

A FORMER Liverpool drug dealer turned successful businessman has called for Liverpool’s famous Penny Lane to be renamed because of its links to the slave trade.

In a recent documentary called British Gangsters: Faces of the Underworld broadcast on Quest, French revealed that he had written to Liverpool city council on several occasions for the street, immortalised by the Beatles, to be renamed.

French, who earned the nickname ‘The Devil’ because he struck such fear into the drug dealers he tortured, wants the street renamed Freedom Lane.

Penny Lane is among a number of streets in Liverpool believed to have been named after figures linked to the slave trade, such as Clarence Street and Tarleton Street.

HISTORIANS

It is believed that Penny Lane is named after Liverpool slave ship owner James Penny who opposed the abolition of slavery. However, some local historians dispute the claim.

The reformed drug dealer, who became well-known in the city’s underworld as a ‘taxman’ for robbing other drug dealers of their money, told the programme that Liverpool had played a prominent role in transatlantic slave trade and that the legacy of racism which stemmed from it was still being felt in the city today.

French, who was jailed in 2013 for pistol-whipping a man, said he was a product of both the slave trade and the Irish potato famine, and had “grown up in a society clouded by racism”.

However, his calls for the street to be renamed have been strongly been criticised by Liverpool residents.
In an online poll conducted by the Liverpool Echo, 94 per cent of readers said the name should stay. One reader, Cobain Schofield, argued that if Penny Lane had a link to the slave trade, then it was important that the name should stay.

He wrote: “So what it has links to the slave trade? The entire city was built on the back of suffering and human rights abuse. If you start covering things up then things get forgotten. Street names, buildings, statues, memorials - all over the city there are reminders of a past that no one is proud of, nevertheless we acknowledge what went on, and we as a society are better for it.”

Another reader, Sarah Hughes, agreed. She wrote: “What, no way! The best way of remembering how horrendous parts of history were is to keep the reminders alive. Penny Lane is an integral part of Liverpool’s history”.

For Nick Clee, “when I hear Penny Lane I think of the Beatles not the slave trade.”

PROPOSALS

The calls from French follow a 2006 debate prompted by Liverpool councillor Barbara Mace who asked her fellow councillors to consider proposals to rename a number of streets in the city which had links to slavery. However, the idea was later withdrawn without being debated.

French’s life story has been documented in a best-selling book called The Devil written by author and journalist Graham Johnson. As well as detailing French’s violent past, the book documents his efforts to turn his life around.

A former kickboxing champion, French graduated from Liverpool University with a degree in psychology in 1988.

“I did some terrible things,” he admitted. “But that was the Stephen French of then, not the Stephen French of today.Things happened to me and to friends and loved ones around me which made me take stock of my life and where it was going.”

He described the birth of his daughter, Abbey, in August 1994, as a “moment of epiphany”.

He said: “I knew that the way things were going I was either going to end up spending the rest of my life in jail or, worse, dead. I had this little bundle of joy in my hands and I knew I had to stay out of prison and safe from harm if I was to be able to give her the chance in life she deserved. It really was a moment of epiphany for me.”

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