Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On The Roof

I'm loving the new series of 'The Reunion' on Radio 4, which this week brought together several men who'd been present at the Strangeways Riot in 1990. I can't believe it was so long ago. I was a reporter for Radio Manchester at the time; it was the biggest story I'd ever been involved in covering.

I remember the day it started really clearly; it was just at this time of year, a really warm Sunday and there was a feeling of Summer in the air. I'd been walking in Lyme Park which lies to the South of Manchester and as we drove homewards we heard there'd been a 'disturbance' at Manchester's Prison.

It was a lot more than a disturbance. I went into work that evening for a late shift and ended up doing 2 ways for radio stations calling from all over the world. The BBC is on Oxford Road, but you could see the glow in the sky from all the arc lights shining at the jail. I also seem to remember parts of the building were on fire. The 'disturbance' lasted twenty odd days, and developed into a social protest about prison conditions. Crowds gathered while men on the roof gave speeches, which the authorities drowned out with sirens. Occasionally there'd be music; I recall some guys dancing on the tiles to Snap's 'I've got the Power', which seemed rather appropriate since the Home Office was clearly at a loss. Later there were big changes in prisons nationally as a result of Lord Woolf's report into the causes of the trouble.

The producer tracked down Paul Taylor who had been one of the ringleaders. I'd watched him on the roof, been fascinated, and then attended his trial, but never heard him in interview before. He was articulate and genuinely sorrowful for the harm people had come to, but unrepentant for the most part about the things he'd led others to do. It's a brilliant programme and it's here.

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