Remember Rolan Adams

Only recently I wrote a blog post about the racist murder of Kelso Cochrane in 1958 here. I didn’t think that I would be writing on anything similar for some time.

Then at the beginning of the week I received an email reminding me that last Monday, 21 February, marks 20 years since the racist murder of Rolan Adams in Thamesmead, South East London.

Rolan, and his brother Nathan, were standing at a bus stop after going to a local youth club when they were 
confronted by a gang of more than a dozen white youths, between 16 and 26 years old, who hurled racist abuse at them.

They then stabbed Rolan from behind. He started 
running, and shouted for his younger brother to run. The two were 
separated as they ran for their lives. Rolan was fatally wounded and did 
not survive the attack.

Nathan, having been chased across Thamesmead, 
including under some of the elevated bypasses and roundabouts, got away. 
When he went back for Rolan, he found him dying in a pool of blood. 

Many of the attackers were already known to the police as they 
regularly terrorised the local black community. So it 
was easy for the police to identify who they were and they were quickly 

One youth was tried and convicted for murder. Of the 
other 14 perpetrators: four eventually faced trial, but for the lesser 
offence of violent disorder. After much plea bargaining by their 
defence team they were convicted of the offence and sentenced to 120 
hours community service.

Whilst the motivation for the attack was put 
forward as “territorialism” the judge in his summing up rightly 
identified that the murder was racially motivated. 
In the meantime Rolan was buried on what would have been his 16th 
birthday (21 March 1991). 

The murder of Kelso Cochrane was well before my time, but by the time Rolan Adams was killed in 1991 I had been active in the anti-fascist movement for quite some years. So I remember the aftermath well. Unfortunately, we were used to marching behind banners led by the relatives of victims of racist murders.

In the wake of Rolan’s murder there was a march and a small group laid wreaths at the spot where he was killed. Along with his family and friends, I laid a wreath on behalf of Searchlight. It was a deeply moving occasion.

But there are some that can only be moved by bigotry and the day turned into running battles between the BNP, British Movement, the riot squad and us anti-racists.

The fascists had a whole day out planned and many of them intended to go to a League of St George meeting later that day in a meeting room they had booked at Kensington Library. Unfortunately for them anti-fascists took over their own meeting room and Oswald Mosley’s former right hand man, Jeffrey Hamm, and assorted other old fascists looked on as they lost their venue to the enemy.

There were quite a number of arrests on our side, but I’ll leave that for another blog post sometime.

Dozens of fascists were severely beaten. Nazi skinheads were lying on the floor outside the library. It reminded me of this song.

As time passed the Rolan Adams Family Campaign played an important role not only in trying to secure justice for Rolan, which was no mean feat in the racist climate that pervaded the area, but in also creating a legacy for him.

The family campaign was an integral part of efforts to close down the British National Party’s headquarters, which were based in nearby Welling. The family never gave up campaigning against racism. Next month they will be launching a legacy trust in Rolan’s name. I can only wish them good luck.

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