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REPORT TO SHAME BRITAIN: ESTATE OF HATE; Brian Reade walks the streets where racism is a way of life - and death. He finds that even the young have been poisoned.

THE boys were no older than eight. White faces, cropped hair, decked out in top class Nike and Reebok gear, they whacked a ball against a garage door and chanted "Shea-rer" every time they hit the metal goal.

A typical Saturday morning sight played out on council estates the length of Britain.

But something caught my eye about that goal.

No matter what angle the ball was struck, it hit a swastika. There were 17 of them daubed on the garage next to the words PURE NAZI.

Below was a huge Union Jack with the letters "NF" scrawled at its heart.

After a while the lads took a rest from being Alan Shearer.

The biggest one slumped against a grey electricity control box, his eyes sweeping around for a subject to kill the boredom.

They went full circle then focused on the jumbled mass of black graffiti below his arm. He started to read it slowly, taking in every word. These words:

"I stabbed Stephen Lawrence."

"I hate niggers like Aaron."

His eyes were roaming around the box now, mouthing the slogans slowly in a self-conscious whisper, as though he was reading to his teacher:

"Kill coons at birth."

"I will kill every coon in the world."

And then, getting the hang of the vocabulary, he read faster and out loud: "Niggers should be hanged by the balls."

"If they're brown knock 'em down. If they're black stab 'em in the back."

Silence. He looked away bored, then strode impassively back to the game of football without flinching.

There was no look of puzzlement at what he had just read. No confusion or discomfort.

He understood it. He breathed it. He lived it.

Welcome to the Brook Estate in Eltham, south east London. The breeding ground of four of the five men accused of stabbing Stephen Lawrence to death as he waited for a bus a short walk away on the eve of St George's Day six years ago.

Five products of a twisted philosophy drummed into them from birth. "If they're black, stab 'em in the back."

Written on walls, signs, bins and playgrounds all around the Brook Estate by authors who defiantly sign themselves "Eltham Boyz".

A way of life passed down from father to son. You see the link emerge in the fading white graffiti sprayed 30 years ago on the walls of the old railway bridges around the estate, written by the last generation of Eltham Boyz. In three feet high letters: "SKINHEADS."

Middle-aged dads who were once shaven-headed boot boys with a penchant for "Paki-bashing".

Lads whose fathers had moved to Eltham in the 60s to escape the black migration into south London.

Lads who married their own, shed the Doc Martens and braces, had kids and passed on the benefit of their "wisdom".

And on and on the poison spreads.

Give me the father and I'll give you the son who will give you the son who will abuse, persecute and even kill another human being for committing the heinous crime of not being born white.

What chance does that eight-year-old have when he reads that the big lads on the estate wish they had stabbed Stephen Lawrence?

What chance do any of us have when six years after Stephen's

murder little has changed in Eltham? There may be more awareness. The racist issue will be discussed more openly but, underneath the surface, the ugly boil of racism still festers.

And who among us can say Eltham is radically different from parts of our own towns or cities? Because what is so ominous about spending a day in Eltham is just how ordinary, how nondescript it is.

The district which gave us Bob Hope, Frankie Howerd and Boy George lies in Greenwich, a borough proud to proclaim itself as the symbol of peace, racial harmony and understanding as we enter the next millennium. But this cosy image of a multi-cultural society at ease with itself could not be further from the truth.

The High Street is neat to the point of quaint, bustling with respectable shoppers who climb from their Renault Lagunas to flit into Next and M&S.

But something disturbs you. Why in an area of inner London are there virtually no black or Asian faces? Why on a busy Saturday, did it take me 10 minutes to spot a black face? Why on estates like The Brook do you see fewer black faces than at a white South African's wedding?

I asked an Asian shop-owner in Well Hall Road, where Stephen Lawrence was killed, that question.

At first he refused to speak to me. He had spoken to a journalist once, he said, and his windows were bricked next day.

Eventually, with one eye on the door, he said this to get rid of me: "White people like Eltham. They feel safe. It is a white area. People like me have to watch our backs. Now please leave."

His reluctance to talk was echoed by two other Asian shopkeepers. All had three things in common. When they saw my unknown white face enter their shop they averted my eyes. When asked if there were race problems in Eltham their knee-jerk reaction was to say "no".

And all said they had to keep their mouths shut for their own safety.

I understood because I've seen the crime figures. In 1997, 143 serious racist attacks were reported in the borough. Last year it had climbed to 150.

Statistics that fail to show the pain behind all the brick attacks, the arson, the smashed shop windows, the rubbish set alight and pushed through letterboxes. And they are just the reported ones.

More disturbing is the fact that in the first nine months of last year the police only managed a 10 per cent clear-up rate.

Mahran Bajwa, chairman of Greenwich Action Committee Against Racial Attacks, which monitors violence said: "There is a great fear of reprisals which explains why not many people come forward.

"And certainly that is why the police tell us the clear-up rate is poor. But maybe there is another reason. Maybe racial attacks are being taken less seriously than other forms of crime."

So why, I ask, are there so few black faces in Eltham?

Mahran replies: "Because it is a good, respectable white area, the local authority tends not to allocate property to black and Asian people. Maybe that is why the racists feel safety in numbers.

"If more blacks lived there they might feel less safe attacking them."

So is this an unofficial no-go area for ethnic minorities? "I can't ever admit we have no-go areas for blacks and Asians in this country," says Mahran. "If I do I am saying the fascists have won."

Back on the Brook estate though it looks like the fight is well lost. This is White Man's Gulch.

Entering the estate you see a declaration of intent outside the door of 5 Carnbrook Road. A big, white stone bulldog. A symbol of John Bull's supremacy that rears its head throughout.

This is E-reg Escort-land. Many of the council houses have been bought under Thatcher's great Emancipation of the Masses scheme and now they proudly display hanging baskets, Sky dishes and some stone-clad fronts. Those are the ones with taxis outside and skips. But there are others which have fallen into disrepair, whose residents are clearly living off benefits.

There are few For Sale signs because when people move here they feel at home and stay. Unless their skin is not white.

This was where four of the Lawrence accused were brought up. Neil and Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight and Gary Dobson. It was the manor they claimed as their own from their early teens. They called themselves The Firm and ruled the estate with fear.

They would strut the streets - drunk or stoned - wielding knives and daring anyone to take them on, mouthing racist abuse and threats at any black or Asian who crossed their paths.

At the Orchards Youth Club, Neil Acourt and Norris were expelled when they were 13 for painting the letters "NF" six-feet high on the wall.

Today at the club there is a different mural. It is full of faces. All white.

Just two miles from the BNP HQ in Welling, the Brook Estate is fertile ground for recruitment to right-wing causes.

Near the youth club is the estate's only shop. Run by an Asian. I asked a young Asian outside if he encountered trouble from racists. He shook his head. I asked if he felt he couldn't talk. He just looked at the shop, shrugged his shoulders and said: "Sorry, I don't want to talk to you." Then walked away.

Behind him, on a bin I spotted another Union Jack daubed in black.

Signifying what?

I knock on a few doors to ask locals about Stephen's suspected killers. Two said they didn't know them and shut the door. Another employed finest Anglo-Saxon to order me off his property. A fourth broke the silence.

The middle-aged man, who clearly detested the four, said: "You never see them on the estate. I think they've moved.

"They used to run this estate. Everyone feared them. We know they killed that boy but who's going to do anything about it?

"You still see them together in Eltham pubs. Loud with vile mouths, shouting out abuse about niggers and Pakis.

"They always seem to be on drugs. Managers have tried barring them but they ignore them.

And the police let them do what they want. It's anarchy."

I went to their High Street drinking haunts. The Greyhound, The Banker's Draft, The Rising Sun and The Post Office - but they were nowhere to be seen.

The pubs were doing brisk trade. Mainly serving groups of men and the occasional couple.

The lads drank bottled lager and had Tommy Hilfiger jumpers tucked into Calvin Klein jeans.

I spent all afternoon in the four pubs and saw no black or Asian faces among the customers.

In The Post Office, a radio traffic bulletin advised people to avoid central London as there was a Bloody Sunday memorial march in progress.

It drew a loud response from three men in their 30s. One yelled: "F*****g cheeky Irish. Who fancies going into town and making it a Bloody f*****g Saturday?"

There was much laughter and this riposte from his friend: "Why don't they f*** off back to where they came from. Coming over here whinging about how our boys killed a few f*****g gippoes. Never mind the peace process. We should send the Army over there tomorrow and finish them off."

I then decided to look at Stephen's memorial which lies on the spot where he died.

I asked an elderly man for directions. He said: "Go back towards the church, son. No, hang on, Stephen Lawrence? He's the other way isn't he. Sorry, I was getting mixed up with another black lad who got killed."

That said it all.

The memorial is hard to find. It is 100 yards away from the bus stop where he was stabbed - over the road. He had staggered there vainly trying to stifle his wound. And there his young life ended.

At the spot lies a grey marble paving slab with the words: "Stephen Lawrence 13. 9. 1974 -22. 4. 93 May he rest in peace."

Next to it lay a lone bunch of cheap flowers with no message. It looks like a pauper's grave.

Elly Witte, Dutch and in her 40s, who showed me to the spot, lives in Eltham and is married to a black man from the Seychelles.

She tells me that apart from heightened awareness of racism nothing has changed. How a friend of hers, white but married to a black man, was forced out of her house after a barrage of attacks and abuse. She now lives in Plumstead where she feels much safer among black faces.

Elly said: "You see it in the graffiti but I would never move away because of racism. I would never let them win.

"When I am out with my husband we get treated differently because I am white and he is black. It is ridiculous because I am the foreigner.

"I fear for my daughter because she is of mixed race. This sounds bad but she is lucky because she is not black but half-black. It's a dreadful thing to say. But it is true. How sad it is I should have to say that. How stupid." I look at Stephen's paving slab and the lone flower and imagine his life draining away down the cracks in the pavement of this leafy, middle-class road.

And I am overwhelmed by the immense sadness of it all.

I leave Eltham in a hurry, and driving past some old skinhead graffiti I am re-visited again by the sins of the fathers.

And four scenes spring to mind: Doreen Lawrence and her brave speech at the inquest: "When my son was murdered he was investigated as a criminal. His crime was waiting for a bus to take him home. Our crime is living in a country where the justice system supports racist murderers against innocent people.

"But still we followed all the steps open to us and one by one the doors slammed in our face."

I think of Stephen. A bright, quiet lad studying hard to gain the A-level grades which would enable him to train as an architect. A lad who is now six foot under in a Jamaican graveyard.

I think of five arrogant killers swaggering around wallowing in their notoriety and the knowledge that they will never lose their freedom.

And I think of that eight-year-old kid on the Brook Estate who, through no fault of his own, has had these words hammered into his brain for good: "If he's brown knock him down. If he's black stab him in the back."

And I can't decide which scene should make our country weep the loudest.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Reade, Brian
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 24, 1999
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