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Voice 35 Years: Families' relief and anguish

RELIEF: The Home Office agreed to let Hallmat Babamba reside in England permanently

THE INQUEST into the mysterious death of Colin Roach inside the foyer of the Stoke Newington Police Station finally got under way in early June 1983 but was quickly adjourned amid speculation about the state of the young man’s mind.

This story made the front page of The Voice newspaper’s 40th edition, published on June 18 that year, under the headline: ‘Suicide – sheer speculation’.

The 21-year-old black man from Hackney, east London was found dead from a gunshot wound inside the station in January and questions had swirled around the cause of his death. The police claimed it was suicide, while his family and friends did not believe it was self-inflicted.

The Voice reported that when the much-anticipated inquest got underway, Michael Mansfield, the barrister acting on behalf of the Roach family, asked the most direct of questions, including: How were the police able to identify the body of Colin Roach so quickly for them to issue a press release two hours after his death when neither Colin’s father or any of his friends were asked to identify his body?

James Roach had told the court that when he was finally told of his son’s death, three hours after he had arrived at the Stoke Newington police station, he was refused permission to see Colin’s body and was not allowed to identify the body until two days after the incident.

The comprehensive article written by The Voice reporters Gina Morely and Sharon Ali began on page one and continued on to page seven of the same issue and went into detail about Colin’s mental state before the incident and how his short experience in prison had badly affected him.

At the inquest it was revealed that the police had not been able to trace where the sawn off shot gun found next to his body had come from and there were no fingerprints on it nor were there any fibres from the bag it was carried in.

It was demonstrated at the inquest that it was impossible for the gun to have been carried in the bag without protruding, but the witness who drove Colin to the station on the night of his death said “nothing was sticking out of Colin’s bag”.

BIG STORY: The Voice’s 40th edition ran a story on both the front page and page seven on the death of Colin Roach

A Scotland Yard firearms expert told the packed courtroom, including five black jurors, that the shot was fired with the muzzle of the gun inside the mouth of the deceased due to the absence of gun powder on his face.

The evidence of the Scotland Yard forensic expert could only suggest the theory of suicide was speculation.

He said: “We have never come across a death whereby a sawn off shotgun had been used in this manner, either by suicide or murder.

“Our experience, therefore, is absolutely zero, so anything would be very speculative.”

The court heard that Colin had been suffering from anxiety, depression and restlessness after his release from Pentonville Prison a few weeks earlier where he had been sentenced for a minor offence, his first one, spending three weeks inside over Christmas.

The Voice article also revealed that an emergency doctor had been called to the Roach family home two weeks before Colin’s death because he was in an highly agitated state, threatening to jump out of the window, restless and unable to sit still saying that he was hearing voices and that the house was cursed.

He was prescribed Largactil, a drug usually given to people suffering schizoid tendencies or aggression.

The court heard that after Colin’s death it was discovered that he had not taken all of his medication and his doctor, Dr Elizabeth Cox, said that if that was the case, his symptoms could have returned.

However, the doctor saw him two days before his death and felt that “his behaviour had changed as there was less restlessness and anxiety”.

Addressing his son’s mental condition, Mr Roach told the court: “Colin was a happy boy until he went inside. He never had occasion to see a doctor.

“When he came out of prison, he was a bit depressed and not keeping still.”

Another story which featured on the front cover was news that international reggae singer Gregory Isaacs was granted bail in Jamaica after he was arrested and charged with the illegal possession of a firearm along with his girlfriend. This story was accompanied with a picture of Isaacs.

Over on page three, the lead story carried the headline: “Home Office decision on Mrs Babamba’s plight” which revealed that Nigerian motherof-two, Hallmat Babamba, who had been fighting for 11 months to stay in Britain heard that the Home Office had finally agreed to let her stay permanently.

Ms Babamba made her home in Leeds but knew that if she was sent back to Nigeria, her husband would get custody of the children. The Voice had carried the story of her plight and on hearing the news she was allowed to stay, she told the newspaper: “I feel happy and relieved. I always believed my home is here and my children’s home is here.”

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Share your The 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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