The firebombing of Anna’s house

An event that happened in 1987 has been buzzing around in my head today. That event is the firebombing of Anna Sullivan’s house in Islington by local fascists.

Anna was an art teacher, an anti-racist, and a former leading local activist in the Anti-Nazi League. Politics was – and is – in her blood. Her father was Bob Darke, a former Hackney Communist Party councillor, who turned on the Party. In 1951 he had a Penguin Special book ghost-written and published in his name called The Communist Technique in Britain. I am looking at a copy now and its contents have certainly not improved over the years: for the sake of our continued friendship me and Anna don’t really discuss it much!

Anna is her own person though. She had been a member of the Socialist Workers Party until she was expelled with the rest of its anti-fascist core when the SWP shut down the original Anti-Nazi League. She was one of the founder members of Red Action although didn’t remain long in that organisation.

Among many other things, in 1985 Anna had led a campaign to get local nazi skinheads such as Nikki Crane and Skrewdriver lead singer Ian Stuart Donaldson evicted from their squat in Avenall Road.

Using the squat as a base the nazi skinheads terrorised the local community.

A year to the day after an anti-racist march on the squat took place three petrol bombs came crashing through the basement bay windows of Anna’s house. It so happened that she was sleeping downstairs as her room was being decorated, so she had early warning as the place exploded into flames.

Anna got out of the house with her son and pet dog which they rescued from a burning room. Virtually everything she ever owned was destroyed in the fire. When she talks about it she particularly mentions her photos that were consumed by the flames.

I first met Anna when she was speaking at a meeting shortly after the firebombing. The sense that I got from what happened to her – that fascist barbarism was a current evil and not just a relic from the past – has stayed with me ever since.

The day after the firebombing, which totally gutted the house, the local nazis stood across the road admiring their handiwork. Nobody was ever convicted for what, after all, was attempted murder.

The police told Anna that “if you get mixed up with this sort of [anti-racist] activity, what do you expect?”

The trauma of the event led to Anna contracting ME and she never worked again as a teacher. Anna remained a fighter though and continues to write, paint and dispense political advice.

Sometimes events and people won’t go out of your mind, so I thought I would write about it here. I spoke to Anna earlier to let her know I planned to write something. I hadn’t spoken to her in a long while but we pretty much carried on where we had last left off, as happens with old friends.

She says she doesn’t use the internet, so it remains to be seen whether she will find out how much those events of nearly 25 years ago still resonate with me.

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3 Responses to The firebombing of Anna’s house

  1. Martyn says:

    I just came across this post. I don’t know what you have against Bob Darke’s Communist Technique! I read it almost forty years ago and found it prescient in its study of the sort of ‘entry-ism’ that the Labour Party faced in the seventies and eighties.

    • Steve says:

      Well am glad you found the post Martyn. It’s interesting that you found it useful with regard to entryism in the Labour Party because in the book he says that he didn’t believe witch-hunts worked as communists used their persecution successfully for propaganda purposes.
      I suppose the book’s one saving grace is that it isn’t as bad as Douglas Hyde’s.

  2. Nadavya says:

    Anna Sullivan is my grandmother. I am so glad I found this I’ve been told about all this but reading it in someone else’s words makes me think even more about my family and all the fighting they did. I am so proud to be part of it, it’s alot of pressur knowing how amazing and brave your grandmother great grandfather, aunt and mother were and still are. So I just want to say thank steve you for writing this and putting this up, and next time I see my nan I will show her this.

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