Monday, October 17, 2005

For Orville and the others

The picture shows south London mother Clara Buckley (centre) with Women Against Pit Closures. It is part of an online exhibition from the Workers Press photo library published by Index Books as a contribution to Black History Month. I trust Index won't mind an ex-Workers Press journo borrowing it.

If you haven't met Clara Buckley personally, you've most probably met many like her, working, or laden with shopping in Brixton, Shepherds Bush, Harlesden or Moss Side, looking forward to Sunday when hatted in her finery she propels junior and his sister, spotless in their Sunday best, to sing with her in that chapel.
Maybe that was where godfearing Clara, an elder in her congregation, gained the confidence to fear no man when she stood and told people about her son Orville and how he died, and asked people to sign her petition for justice. That was how I first met her, in the corridor outside a meeting at Brixton town hall one evening. I forget what the meeting was about, maybe it was Lambeth Trades Council, but I couldn't forget about Clara and her son Orville.
Later she would stand with a stall on a Saturday morning near Brixton tube, and though a couple of my friends would help, they, seasoned political activists, could only watch in admiration at the way Clara could make a bunch of raucous passing youth stop, shut up, and listen to her story.
Orville Blackwood, 31, had a bit of a breakdown. He took the tube to the end of the line, Walthamstow, .held up a bookies with a toy gun for some paltry sum, then before he left, paused to write his name, Orville, on the board.
He was sentenced to prison, but then diagnosed as mentally ill, and transferred to Broadmoor.
The media seem to have a split personality vision of Broadmoor. Sometimes they talk as though the place was full of horrific monsters like Moors murderer Ian Brady. But the other day I saw the Guardian correcting itself for calling Broadmoor a prison when they should have described it as a "hospital". Yes, but as a comrade who was a nurse at Prestwich hospital, Greater Manchester, pointed out when we were discussing the Orville Blackwood case, the staff at Broadmoor are not members of a nurses' union like Unison, they are represented by the Prison Officers Association.
I don't know whether they are told that everyone brought into their institution is a monster, or perhaps they just come to work with the nervous assumption that the patients they deal with are highly dangerous.
Orville seems to have got through ribbing from the warders (jokes about Orville the duck, see?) without too much bother. He did not have much of his sentence left when one day he asked to be excused work saying he felt tired, and, as was standard practice, was taken back to a cell and left to rest.
He was lying down on his bunk when half a dozen screws, sorry nurses, came into his cell and held him down while a qualified member of staff was called to administer what proved a lethal injection. Orville was given a cocktail of tranquilisers, three times the recommended dosage.
Why a man who is lying down in his room needed to be restrained and tranquilised, we don't know. I have not seen any explanation offered. But it killed him.
Orville joined the statistics of black men dead in custody, three of them while in seclusion at Broadmoor. Despite Clara's campaign, which led to the original verdict of "accidental death" being quashed, a subsequent inquest returned to the same "accidental death" verdict. There have been various reports citing Orville Blackwood's death as an example of the need for changes in the way prisoners/patients are treated. But I would not say there has been justice.
Despite greater awareness, the number of deaths in custody has gone up steadily over the years, and those that are classed as suicides have been overtaken by others. (see Deaths in psychiatric institutions are not even monitored.
On October 29, United Family and Friends will remember those killed in custody, like Orville and the victims of police shootings, like Harry Stanley, Jean Charles de Menezes, and Azelle Rodney. They will rally in Trafalgar Square, at 1pm, then march silently down Whitehall, before raising their voices in protest at Downing Street. The notice says to wear black if you can, and bring your banners but not placards.

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At 12:52 AM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

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At 11:54 PM, Anonymous NJ said...

Hi Charles,

This is a very interesting article about my Father, Orville Blackwood.

It would be great if I could get in contact with Charlie Pottins.



Nathan John

At 11:57 AM, Blogger ellis said...

this woman was amazing.she was very good to her children including christine mclean. the last time I visited them they were living in hubert grove;
I am not sure if the family is still living there,but would like to hear from christine (


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