The Big Life poster 2005
Apollo Theatre in London’s Shaftesbury Ave – The Big Life, the first ever major Black musical in London’s West End. One evening the venue became the stuff of nightmares for one Black family. The reason? The incorrigible Met Police’s usual overbearing ‘intervention.’ Their excuse? ‘Drugs.’
The Apollo, Shaftesbury Ave, London
On the night of 27 July 2005, “the theatre stage door was awash with family and friends in the middle of Soho and police mistook the carnival atmosphere for something else.” (Bill Kenwright , former Corrie actor)
Bill Kenwright (Pic from Twitter)
“The incident marred what should have been a joyous end to a joyous production.” (Kenwright)
Tameka Empson (Twitter profile pic)
Many actors & staff from the show saw what happened and offered to stand as witnesses, including Olivier Award nominee Tameka Empson who is now a regular on the Eastenders cast.
Bill Kenwright CBE, the leading West End theatre producer and owner of Everton Football Club who had backed the musical, paid for the family’s legal fees. Kenwright recounts, “They didn’t have any money, and I was so incensed by what happened that I funded their legal costs.”
“Leading theatrical figures mounted a protest after the arrest of O’Neil Crooks, a builder, his son Divanio, 23, and a family friend, Yasmin Adbi, 21, outside the Apollo Theatre in Soho last July.” (Guardian 23 March 2006)
“The group was accused of threatening behaviour and assault after Mr Crooks refused to submit to a police search, having been accosted at the rear of the theatre by officers who wrongly accused him of drug dealing.” (Ditto 23 March 2006)
Mr O’Neil Crooks and his wife Patricia, had organised a number of trips for their local Black community to see The Big Life. They eventually went to see the show themselves and the day they went was the show’s final night. Mr Crooks spotted a colleague in the orchestra, a friend whom he had not seen for ages. They agreed to meet outside at the stage door, where unfortunately they became victims of this Met Police nightmare.
Patricia Crooks, who is disabled and suffering cancer, was injured by a Met officer who struck her with a police baton. Her husband & carer Mr Crooks was arrested and taken to the police station and in that process his wife was left to fend on her own for over six hours.
Apollo stage door, Archer St, Soho
Mr Crooks says of the experience: “We went out as a family to the theatre to have a good evening, I wasn’t expecting what was going to happen next.” He says of the Met Police: “they were basically on a mission.”
Philip Headley CBE, The Big Life’s associate producer told the media: “This family had eight months of torture and all they wanted to do was go to the theatre. This show was unusual in that the audience every night was more than half black. Justice has been done but the toll on them has been terrible.” (Guardian 23 March 2006)
Brona McManus, the police officer who was said to have assaulted the Crooks family and their friend Yasmin Adbi, was described by the judge presiding over the case as an ‘incredible witness.’ Apparently the officer had been involved in previous and very similar fracas for which her testimony amounted to a ‘credibility matter,’ something which the Met Police’s Department of Professional Standards refuted.
Guardian headlines July 2009
The CPS dropped the case against the Crooks family on 22 March 2006 in the light of what were clearly unreliable witnesses, including those Met Police Officers who had been at the scene and suspected of being economical with the truth – despite the Met’s refutations.
An apology was four years in the making, but it finally came – an unspecified amount of compensation was paid to the Crooks family in July 2009. The Met Police said at the time: “We can confirm that the MPS has settled a claim brought by O’Neil Crooks, Patricia Crooks, Divanio Crooks and Yasmin Abdi… The MPS has apologised for the events of that day, and regrets the upset and distress that this must have caused to all concerned.”
The racist element of the case (as well as attacking a defenceless person with a disability) appears to have been kept a low profile, however upon reading the case one would not be in any doubt as to what the police’s actual intentions were.