written by: Harmit Athwal
published: 16 April 2014
A reflection on deaths that took place on 15 April 1989 and the state’s response.
As a teenager I watched the Hillsborough tragedy unfold on the telly. It was a Saturday afternoon and my sisters and I were doing our chores or homework. I remember one of my sisters calling us and we crowded around the TV to watch the grim scenes. Later that same night, events were happening ninety miles away in Small Heath, Birmingham, which would have a lasting impact on our family.
PC Tony Salt was on duty with another officer, PC Mark Berry, supposedly observing an ‘illegal drinking den’ at 274 Green Lane, Small Heath. Instead, Salt and his colleague abandoned their duties and got drunk at a pub further down the road. In the early hours of 16 April 1989, a drunk Salt, still on duty, returning to his post, fell over, hit his head and died. But these facts did not emerge until some time later.
The now defunct West Midlands Serious Crime Squad (notorious for its corruption, revealed in miscarriages of justice involving the Birmingham Six, Keith Twitchell, Derek Treadaway, the Bridgewater Four and many others) sprang in to action and three black men (Peter Gibbs, Mark Samuels and Tony Francis) were duly arrested. Confessions were extracted and the men were charged in connection with Salt’s death.
The facts of the case were later laid bare by Chris Mullin in a debate at the House of Commons in December 1991. Our dad, Gurnam Singh Athwal, was also charged in connection with Salt’s death – he happened to own the ‘illegal drinking den’.