Murder of Kelso Cochrane

Kelso Cochrane (26 September 1926[1] – 17 May 1959)[2] was an Antiguan expatriate to Britain whose unsolved murder led to racial tensions in London.[3]

Kelso Cochrane
Born(1926-09-26)26 September 1926
Died17 May 1959(1959-05-17) (aged 32)
London, England
Cause of deathStabbing
Known forVictim of unsolved murder

Life

edit

Cochrane, who was born in Antigua, had a failed marriage while living in the United States;[4] following this, he was deported back to Antigua on the grounds that he had stayed longer than allowed.[5] He made the decision to move to England in 1954, arriving at the port of Plymouth before boarding a train to Paddington, London, where he made his home in the Notting Hill neighbourhood.[5] He was a carpenter by trade and wanted to save enough money to go to law school.

Death

edit

After fracturing his thumb in a work accident, he attended Paddington General Hospital. While walking home, shortly after midnight on 17 May 1959,[2] the 32-year-old Cochrane was set upon at the junction of Golborne Road and Southam Street by a gang of white youths, who stabbed him with a stiletto knife. Three other men arrived on the scene, and the youths ran off. The three men took Cochrane to hospital, where he died an hour later.[2]

His funeral procession on 6 June 1959, from St Michael and All Angels Church along Ladbroke Grove to Kensal Green Cemetery, was attended by more than 1,200 people.[2][3][6][7]

Context

edit

Notting Hill was at the time a stronghold for Oswald Mosley's Union Movement and Colin Jordan's White Defence League. The previous year, race riots had broken out in that area. The detective investigating the cases was initially convinced that the youths' motive was robbery, but Cochrane's lack of money was explained by his fiancée, as Cochrane himself had emptied his wallet that morning. The police were believed to have been complacent in their investigation and there were some accusations of a cover-up. Searchlight magazine claimed in 2006 that the police's public denial of any racist motive "was almost certainly a misguided attempt to ensure calm in the area".[3][6]

Local Union Movement member Peter Dawson later claimed to the Sunday People that it had been a group member who was responsible for the murder. Mosley himself later held a public meeting on the spot where Cochrane had been murdered.

Witnesses were likely to have seen the incident; however, they were reluctant to report what they saw to the police because they were concerned about possible reprisals. Although the killers were well known in local circles, they were not named publicly until 2011 and no one was ever charged with the murder. In his 2013 memoir This Boy, Alan Johnson writes that his mother witnessed the prelude to the murder and recognised one of the gang.[8]

His murder was emblematic of the racial tensions that existed at the time but also a desire to unite a community[clarification needed]. More than 1200 people attended Cochrane's funeral from all sections of the Notting Hill community, white and black. Following the murder, the British Government organised an investigation into race relations, chaired by Amy Ashwood Garvey.[3][9]

Aftermath

edit

From 1959, activist Claudia Jones organised events to celebrate Caribbean culture "in the face of the hate from the white racists", which are seen as forerunners of the first Notting Hill Carnival in 1964.[4]

A BBC Two television documentary broadcast on 8 April 2006[2] covered the first visit by Stanley Cochrane to England that year to try to find out more about his brother's death and ask for a police re-investigation. Steve Silver, who was in contact with the BBC researchers and wrote an article in Searchlight coinciding with the programme, later reported that he had heard from Kelso Cochrane's daughter in the U.S. and was able to put her in touch with her uncle.[4]

Cochrane's murder is believed to have led to a decline in support for Oswald Mosley, who was planning a return to politics in the UK. Mosley polled under 3,000 votes in Kensington North in the general election in October.[10]

In the wake of a 2021 petition by Cochrane's family demanding an apology for alleged failings in the investigation of the murder, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that it was assessing historical material in connection with the case.[11][12]

Legacy

edit
 
Blue plaque commemorating Cochrane's murder

On Sunday, 17 May 2009, to mark the 50th anniversary of Cochrane's death, a blue plaque[13] organised by the Nubian Jak Community Trust was unveiled at the Golborne Bar & Restaurant, now "Cha Cha x Sister Jane" (36 Golborne Road, London W10), just opposite the place where he was attacked.[3][14]

In May 2023, a building in a North Kensington new homes development was named Kelso Cochrane House in his memory at a ceremony attended by his family, friends, campaigners and local community members.[15]

See also

edit

References

edit
  1. ^ The National Archives (formerly known as the Public Records Office), Kew, UK. CO 1031/2941; The Criminal Investigative Divisions of Antigua’s background check of Kelso Cochrane June 20, 1959 submitted to the “Secretary of State”.
  2. ^ a b c d e Raphael Rowe, "Who killed Kelso Cochrane?" BBC News, 7 April 2006.
  3. ^ a b c d e The Long View documentary, BBC Radio 4, 17 January 2012. Comparison of the racist murders of Stephen Lawrence and Kelso Cochrane.
  4. ^ a b c Steve Silver, "The murder of Kelso Cochrane – a postscript", stevesilver.org.uk/, 17 January 2011.
  5. ^ a b Olden, Mark (7 September 2011). "Profile: Kelso Cochrane, carpenter whose murder helped change the face of race relations". The Telegraph.
  6. ^ a b Steve Silver, "Who killed my brother?", Searchlight, May 2006.
  7. ^ Olden, Mark (3 January 2012), "Stephen Lawrence and echoes of the past", Murder in Notting Hill.
  8. ^ Johnson, Alan (2013). This Boy- A Memoir of a Childhood. Bantam Press. p. 90. ISBN 9780593069646.
  9. ^ "Black History in Westminster"
  10. ^ Bradley, Lloyd (2001), Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King, Penguin Books, (ISBN 0-140-23763-1), p. 114.
  11. ^ Pettifor, Tom (30 May 2021). "Police probe 'first racist murder in Britain' 62 years after original claim". Mirror.
  12. ^ Hamilton, Fiona (1 June 2021). "Britain's first racist murder: Met Police re-examine 1959 stabbing of man from Antigua by white youths". The Times.
  13. ^ Open Plaques.
  14. ^ "Kelso Cochrane Honoured With A Blue Plaque", itzcaribbean.com, 27 April 2009. Archived 27 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ "Kelso Cochrane remembered in North Kensington new homes development". The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. 18 May 2023. Retrieved 9 August 2023.

Other sources

edit
  • Mark Olden, Murder in Notting Hill, Zero Books (rpt 2011)
edit