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Standing up for our rights

DEDICATED: Russell Profitt, left and Phil Sealy featured in a spread on London’s black councillors in The Voice’s 34th edition

THE SAD story of a 13-year-old Vietnamese girl found hanged in her family’s council flat in Greenwich, south- east London, four years after she arrived in the country as part of the boat people who fled conflict in that region, was the dramatic front page story in The Voice newspaper’s 34th edition published on May 7, 1983.

IMPACT: The Voice’s lead story focused on the tragic discovery of a youngster who had committed suicide, while page one also reported on Marcia Johnson’s
contest triumph and legendary blues musician Muddy Waters’ death

The Voice headline simply read ‘Girl, 13, found hanged’ but the story revealed that Nquyen Mau Phung’s body was discovered by her mother in the lavatory of their third floor flat and police and council officials said her death was indicative of the loneliness suffered by boat people all over the world.

The Voice article said the family were penniless when they arrived in Britain in 1979 and were installed in the two- bedroom flat on Heathside Estate. Nquyen had attended Greenwich Park School where she was learning English, but her father died of cancer the year before and it was thought to have affected her.
Her uncle told the police that she had been depressed since his death.

Britain was one of the countries that absorbed the political refugees from Vietnam who fled their homeland because of the worsening political climate brought on by the ending of the Vietnam War.

Most had to leave their possessions and, in many cases, their families behind to set sail in ramshackle boats with few provisions and slim hope of landing at a safe shore.

Many ended up in countries where they continued to live in army-style barracks while many like, Nquyen and her family, were successfully reha- bilitated.

The Voice article concluded with a note from a spokesperson the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) stating: “Naturally we are deeply sad if anybody in this country commits suicide if they are depressed.”

Also on the front cover was a report of the death of Muddy Waters, the legendary American rhythm and blues singer at the age of 68.

The Voice story said he was accredited with influencing several modern day pop groups including the Rolling Stones who adopted their name from one of his songs.

Marcia Johnson, wearing The Voice sash, was also pictured on the front cover as she took part in the Miss Black and Beautiful Model of 1983 con- test, in which she placed third.

Turning over to page three, a variety of news stories were featured here with the main one focusing on a campaign against the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill which was going through parliament.

The Voice reported that the leader of Hackney Council, Anthony Kendall and Lloyd King, chairman of the Hackney CRE, headed a list of prominent figures, including Tony Benn and Michael Foot, who had pledged to fight against the bill. The Voice listed some of the new measures the bill would introduce including: The police can stop and search anyone if they think you look suspicious; You can be detained for four days without a charge on warrants obtained in private from a magistrate; Anyone with a criminal record, however old, can be compulsory fingerprinted.

PAGE THREE: Stories include the threat of deportation for nurses, and council leader Anthony Kendall fighting against a police bill

Another story on the page, headlined ‘Newham nurses face deportation’, revealed that a group of nurses from Africa, the Caribbean, Malaysia and Hong Kong faced the prospect of being sent back to their countries because the Newham Area Health District refused to employ them after they had qualified.

A spokesperson for the nurses told The Voice: “The nurses concerned spent three years of their lives serving this community in an underpaid profession only to be told at the end of it that they are no longer needed and must return home.

“They will be unable to ever use their qualifications because of lack of essential post qualifying experience.”

The article concluded that the ‘Save the Newham Nurses’ campaign was gaining support from both the GLC and a number MPs.

The centre pages of the newspaper, pages 12 and 13, were dedicated to highlighting the increasing number of black councillors who were taking up positions in London boroughs after the 1982 Local Government elections.

Among the names was Diane Abbott who said she was offered a producer’s job at TV AM if she resigned as a councillor for Westminster Council. She refused and continued fighting for the rights of black people in the borough.

Other notable names were Russell Profitt, a Labour councillor who earlier failed to win nomination for MP for Battersea North which could have made him Britain’s first black MP and Phil Sealy, a Labour councillor for Brent who had represented the borough since May 1978.

The Voice gave a full list of the elected councillors and their telephone numbers and urged its readers to contact them on any issues which are important and of concern in their boroughs.

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Share your Voice memories, comments and birthday wishes on social media, using the hashtag: #Voice35Years. Each week we will be digging into The Voice archive and publish a front cover from its first year of publication as we look back over 35 years.

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