Baptism of Fire – first week of work covering Toxteth Riots

In 1981, I started my first job after school as a Trainee Press Photographer at Mercury Press Agency in Liverpool. I’d not bargained for my first week in employment to involve the coverage of some of the worst rioting on mainland Britain.

I’ll always remember the phone ringing late at night after the family had gone to bed. I was told that another photographer would pick me up (I didn’t have a car) and would take me to Toxteth, where there were some sort of disturbances.

The first pictures that I took were of police dragging away an injured colleague as buildings burned around them. It was scary – but exciting for an 18 year old who had dreamt of being a press photographer. It was what I’d wanted to do throughout my adolescence.

My mum and dad were concerned – especially when I didn’t arrive home for another 20 hours (that meant I had worked through the night and had no sleep for 30+ hours). I’d photographed the aftermath of people trying to put their lives back together after the riots.

I was back out in Toxteth the next night – and for many more nights over the next month. I witnessed CS Gas being used to quell a riot on the streets of mainland Britain for the first time; photographed a policeman stabbed in a related demonstration; and recorded a protester run over by a police van and then dragged in to the back of the vehicle with his back broken.

I also photographed “Minister for Merseyside” Michael Heseltine being pelted with food by children. It was a baptism of fire for a young photographer – but remains a Wow experience in my life.

[My sister, Sandra, a skilled sub-editor has kindly taken on the role of editing these “Projects & Tales”. On this piece she commented “Just been reading the Toxteth riots piece and it took me back. I remember you coming home with a huge bruise on your ribs where you’d been hit by a brick – and you begged me not to tell mum and dad.”]

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