The Black & White Cafe St Paul's... and its troubled history
This article reviews the troubled history of The Black & White Cafe in the district St Paul's Bristol England.
2003 - The owner of the Black and White Cafe says it is; a family business selling Caribbean food. The police claim it is the focal-point for drug dealers in St Paul's and that it has been raided more times; than any other premises in Britain.
Now the city council is trying to force the sale of the building and turn a dilapidated terrace into affordable homes.
Steven Wilks' family has owned the Black and White Cafe for more than 30 years. Its reputation has spread far and wide — but not for the quality of the traditional Jamaican food, such as. curried goat, served there.
The rundown building in the middle of a row of derelict houses is in an area notorious for drug dealers. Police have made hundreds of arrests either inside or just outside the cafe over the last two decades.
An incomplete log of incidents, operations, raids, complaints and arrests formed part of the evidence presented to a public inquiry in 2003 which will determine whether Bristol City Council can compulsorily purchase the Black and White Cafe.
The inquiry will decide whether compulsory purchase order proceedings should be allowed to go ahead on the terrace in Grosvenor Road in which the cafe stands.
The council and Knightstone Housing Association want to redevelop the terrace into seven three-bed low-cost family homes. Planning inspector Robert Sexton will draw up a report and submit it to the Secretary of State, who will announce a decision later in the year.
The log shows 54 dates on which police went into the cafe to carry out searches and make arrests for offences ranging from drug dealing to assault and robbery - There were another 164 on which police made arrests or were called to incidents outside the cafe.
One was the murder of Gary Mignott on May 1,1999, which still remains unsolved. The cafe first hit the headlines in 1980 when rioting broke out after police raided the premises and seized alcohol. During the riots a bank and a post office were attacked and a row of shops and a warehouse in Brighton Street were set alight.
Twelve police cars and several fire engines were damaged or set ablaze and more than 50 people were injured.
Since then, there have been many incidents linked to the Grosvenor Road area, none more terrifying then when members of the Aggi Crew stormed in to the Black and White Cafe, armed with guns and demanded a 'tax' from a rival gang of Jamaican drug dealers.
Avon and Somerset police learned about the potential bloodbath and took the unprecedented step of putting armed officers on 24-hour patrol in St Paul's and Easton.
Most of the Aggi Crew are now back in prison and last summer police turned their attention to the remaining Jamaican dealers.
There were 41 arrests in three days of raids and since then those convicted of dealing have been receiving sentences of about five years.
Mr Wilks, who also owns a house in Redland and a restaurant in Whiteladies Road, Clifton, told the inquiry that drug dealing was rife and it would only move somewhere else if the cafe closed.
He said: "We want the chance to be in the rejuvenation programme of St Paul's.
"I don't want to sell my business for £500,000 or £600,000. For 30 years we have provided black food for the black community. If you want to relocate me, you will have to relocate me in Clifton but I don't want to lose my roots."
He said the city council and Knightstone had tried to paint the most negative image they could of the cafe to get it closed. "I've seen this document showing all the incidents that happened in the cafe," he said.
"If somebody gets stabbed in Ashley Road, then the newspapers will say they got shot outside the Black and White Cafe. Anything that happens always get re-directed so that it happened outside the cafe but the taxman is still taking his money"
He said: "I don't sell drugs. I've got a business in Whiteladies Road and if you were to ask if there were drug activities up there in Clifton, 'I don't think so' because they would never allow it. The cafe has been subject to negative press since day one but closing the cafe is not going to change the drug situation in St Paul's. St Paul's is rife with drugs.
"Crack cocaine has mashed up the community and we have all felt that, myself included."
Hidden behind deeply tinted windows, the Black and White Cafe in the St Paul's district of Bristol has a tiny formica counter where you can buy traditional Caribbean fare such as ackee, saltfish, curried goat and jerk chicken. But no one comes here for the food.
In a society where open dealing is no longer out of the ordinary, the Black and White Cafe stands out from the crowd as the biggest and most blatant hard drug den in Britain.
This run-down building in the middle of a row of derelict houses has been raided more times than any other premises in the country, according to Avon and Somerset police. Last weekend alone saw three separate raids which resulted in 17 arrests and the recovery of thousands of pounds worth of crack cocaine. The scene of countless shootings, stabbings and armed robberies - many of which have never been reported - the cafe is also at the epicentre of increasingly violent gang activity.
Closed down and boarded up by the city council last year, the cafe re-opened two weeks ago and ever since has been at the heart of a battle between Bristol's indigenous drug gangs and an influx of Jamaican dealers who are attempting to take over the trade. Bristol is the latest in a long line of cities to be hit by an explosion of Yardie activity as drug gangs move their activities outside London in search of new markets.
A report presented to Cleveland police last month noted that in 2001, just one Jamaican dealer was arrested in Middlesborough for selling Class A drugs. Last year the figure was 32. Jamaican dealers have also been arrested in North and South Wales, Hull and Aberdeen but nowhere have the problems been more apparent than in Bristol. Last month officers attached to Operation Atrium, a major initiative against the city's crack trade, arrested 56 people, 36 of whom were Jamaican nationals.
Last year the same team uncovered a bogus college in the St Paul's area - scene in the 1980s of race riots sparked by drugs raids - which had provided long-term visas to more than 300 Jamaicans. Of those 'students', 45 have since been charged with drug offences, 11 with weapons charges, one with rape and another with attempted murder. A further 121 are being detained on immigration offences while 148 remain on the run.
In many cities the arrival of large numbers of Jamaicans has resulted in violent confrontations and many detectives believe it is only a matter of time before one area erupts into all out warfare. Police in Cleveland are bracing themselves for a rise in gun crime as a result of the Yardie invasion and similar fears have been expressed in Scotland and Wales. These same clashes are at the heart of the problem in Bristol and at the centre of it all is the Black and White Cafe.
During the Nineties, the city's drug trade was in the hands of a local gang known as the Aggi crew, an acronym formed from the surnames of the founding members, but in 1998 six of the Aggi crew were jailed after being caught dealing drugs worth more than £1 million. They had been arrested in raids involving more than 300 police officers who uncovered an arsenal of firearms including shotguns, handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Last month several key members of the Aggi crew were released on probation and emerged from prison to discover that in their absence the city's drug trade had been taken over by a Jamaican gang known as the Hype crew. Arming themselves, the Aggi crew stormed into the Black and White Cafe and demanded the Jamaicans pay 'tax' to them if they wanted to continue dealing in the city. Then, as a final mark of disrespect, they robbed every person in the cafe at gun point.
As they handed over their money and possessions, the Jamaicans told the Aggi crew that they would not be paying them a single penny and that the only way to resolve the argument would be with guns.
It didn't take long for Avon and Somerset police to learn about the potential bloodbath. They responded by taking the unprecedented step of placing armed officers on 24-hour foot patrol in the most volatile areas - the streets around the Black and White Cafe and Stapleton Road in the neighbouring district of Easton. They also launched a series of raids on the homes of the Aggi crew who, as a result, have now been returned to prison.
The move has significantly reduced the threat of gang warfare but has left the drug trade solely in the hands of the Jamaicans. Often dismissed as 'disorganised' rather than organised crime, Jamaican dealers in Bristol have actually brought a new level of cunning to the drug business. Instead of holding wraps of crack in their mouths, the dealers on Stapleton Road placed the drugs in old Coke cans which would then be left in the gutter. After handing over their money, customers would then be directed to the nearest can. The scam made it almost impossible for police to link batches of drugs to specific dealers and gave some degree of protection from prosecution.
To prevent their merchandise being swept away, the dealers also launched a massive campaign of intimidation against the council's utility workers. Refuse collections halted altogether in many areas as did road and pavement repairs (dealers were also hiding drugs in the cracks in the pavement). The dealers then turned their attention to the workers attempting to install CCTV systems. Within weeks Stapleton Road had become known as the 'street of fear' with dealers, prostitutes and muggers operating with virtual impunity. In a seven-month period, 915 crimes were recorded along a 150-metre stretch.
Although Avon and Somerset police have poured massive resources into dealing with the problem and made great progress, they admit that they are far from finding a solution. 'We have made more than 800 arrests in the past 18 months but on the streets the problem remains as bad as ever,' Detective Chief Inspector Neil Smart, head of Operation Atrium, told The Observer. 'There is a lot of gun crime that we do not get to hear about and we suspect there have been drive-by shootings at the Black and White Cafe that have never been reported. The place is known around the world. Two of my officers were on assignment in Jamaica and they overheard two locals talking about the Black and White being the place to go to get drugs in Bristol.'
When The Observer visited the cafe last week it was business as usual. The air was thick with the cloying smell of cannabis and the sounds of hard reggae. A dozen people were milling about close to the pinball machine while the main room was dominated by two snooker tables, both of which were in constant use. According to local detectives the players are often the main dealers. Drugs are taped to the base of the snooker tables allowing easy access but again frustrating police efforts to link drugs to particular dealers.
An attempt to prosecute the cafe's owner, Stephen Wilks, for allowing drugs to be sold on the premises ended in failure. Last week the city council pushed through a compulsory purchase order on the cafe which will now be demolished, though it will be at least a year before the bulldozers move in. Wilks was not available for comment.
DCI Smart believes the way forward is to introduce what he describes as 'joined-up thinking', ensuring his officers work alongside the probation service, Customs and the Immigration department to find ways of dealing with each new threat.
While the demise of the Black and White Cafe is unlikely to produce tears among the police force, locals are less sure. Christine Boulton, 50, works with the homeless in Bristol and has lived close to the cafe for 31 years. 'The cafe does have a negative effect on the community but then again, if you are looking for the local bad lads, sooner or later they will always end up there. If you shut it down, all you are going to do is move the problem. If it's not the Black and White, it will just become somewhere else.'
TWO DECADES OF TROUBLE
Some of the incidents at Black and White café recorded by police over 23 years many go un-reported:
In the 1950s and '60s immigrants from the West Indies were encouraged to come to Bristol to live and work, and many settled around the areas of St Paul's and Montpelier. Nightlife there took off in the Seventies, with blues clubs and all-night shebeens soon popping up (St Paul's festival is still an annual summer event, mellow and relaxed, like a smaller, less frenetic Notting Hill carnival). In 1980, following a police raid on the popular Black and White Café, the St Paul's riots erupted, the first of the decade's civil disturbances.
1980: Bristol riots after police raid Black and White café.
1984: Three officers attacked by customers after going into café to arrest a man.
1986, February: Two-day riot outside café after car chase.
September: Raid at café followed by three nights of rioting.
1992, February: Person seen to leave café and conduct a drugs deal, arrested and drugs seized.
August: Two suspected drug dealers stopped by police after leaving café and drugs found.
November: Drugs seized from pool table inside café.
1995, 8 February: Known offenders seen leaving café. Found with CS gas and drugs.
1996, 3 January: Two brothers shot in a disturbance outside the café. One later died.
1997, 25 July: Police raid, £20,000 worth of drugs seized, two arrests.
13 October: People arrested for supplying drugs inside café.
1999, 1 May: Murder of Gary Mignott outside café.
6 May-summer: 32 arrests for drug dealing.
21 June: Report of hostage at café.
2000, 31 May-10 August: Numerous arrests and drug seizures at the cafe.
14 December: Sock containing drugs found inside café.
2001: Immigration arrest.
2002: 1 January: Stabbing outside café. Man seen outside café pointing a gun at a woman.
12 February: 29 arrests for drugs and immigration offences.
14-15 May: Three people convicted of conspiracy to supply controlled drugs.
22 October: Drugs seized from hole in wall inside café.
27 November: Assault on officer inside café.
2003, 13 January: Aggi Crew gang stage hold-up inside café.
23 January: Café searched by consent, drugs seized from a hole inside toilet unit and also from inside an electronic bar game.
23 April: Report of 50 people fighting outside the café.
2 May, Drug dealing reported outside cafe.
13 May: Report of dealer working day & night inside cafe, also report of people with guns inside cafe.