Michael Jarrett Lowe was at the Highbury Crescent children’s home. At 17 years old he went missing and years later his body was found upside down in a shop chimney on Upper Street.
‘Body in chimney: Pal seeks justice 36 years on’ Islington Gazette, 15.10.2020
The following article is from the Institute of Race Relations website:
Written by Harmit Athwal, 9th September 2010
IRR News revisits the suspicious death, over thirty-five years ago, of a 17-year-old young black teenager who was found dead in a chimney at a disused shop on Upper Street in September 1974.
The IRR was recently contacted by Bill Goodrham, a friend of Michael’s, who told us he had serious concerns as to how Michael died and that his death had been playing on his mind in recent years. He told us how Michael, whom he knew as ‘Jarrett’, was one of the few black faces around the Kings Cross area when he was growing up and that he was regularly beaten by local police officers.
Bill describes Jarrett as ‘like Eddie Murphy – a big smile with gleaming white teeth’ going on to say ‘Michael was a dear friend not only to me but many others, he was well respected and well liked and I constantly think of him, he did not deserve to die like this. Police at the time were extremely racist and violent towards Michael.’
Bill told IRR News about a particular incident: ‘I remember it as if was yesterday, it was in Kings Cross, there were three of us walking down the street, me, another white boy and Michael, and a police officer on the beat was coming towards us. He beckoned over Jarrett and took him round the corner where no one could see (at the back of the Southern Street and Calshott Street junction) and then we heard a commotion. Jarrett came out and he was crying and screaming at the policeman. As we walked off the policeman looked over his shoulder and laughed at us. It was heart-breaking and still is for me, over thirty years later, I will never forget those memories. On numerous occasions I went running with Michael because we were scared of what the police would do to him and for those reasons I need to find out if anyone else was involved in Michael’s death. I myself witnessed police brutality to someone who was just a young boy, evil beyond belief, from those who abused their powers and it was because Michael was black.’
Bill told IRR News about another incident with Jarrett and the local police: ‘We must have done something because the police were after us and he was really scared. Jarrett was petrified of the police and they were quite brutal at the time and Jarrett was an obvious target because he was black. He was particularly vulnerable when it came to the police … I have no doubt that they [the police] killed Jarrett’.
With the passing of time, Bill hopes that someone will come forward to provide something definite as to how Michael met his death in the chimney of a derelict wallpaper shop. Were the police involved in his death? Was he being chased over roof-tops?
And it has to be remembered that for black people in run-down inner-city areas the police were more often than not ‘the enemy’. Police racism, especially towards young black men, was overt and found its expression in persistent harassments, stops and searches and the use of the notorious ‘Sus’ offence (when police suspicion that you might be about to do something would suffice). It was only a few years before Jarrett’s death that police officers in Leeds had been found guilty of harassing, beating, urinating on and ultimately driving to his death in the River Aire, Nigerian, David Oluwale.
And Islington had its fair share of problems with the police. In 1977 a special inquiry was set up into police brutality and the position of black youth in Islington, following the many complaints received, especially over the violence used during the arrest of eighteen youths on a total of ninety charges relating to the Notting Hill Carnival of 1976. One social worker filed a complaint against police for assaulting a 14-year-old boy who was in their custody. He had been stopped by police no less than thirty-eight times within twenty-eight days.
Jarrett’s death was reported in the local Islington Gazette, 20 September 1974, and an inquest was held on 23 January 1975. However, it is not clear whether the police carried out a separate investigation in to Jarrett’s death or if their inquiries were limited to the statements collected that are included in the inquest file. After examining the inquest records in to Jarrett’s death, the IRR has been able to piece together something of what happened to Jarrett in the last few years of his short life.
Michael Jarret Lowe was born in Kingston, Jamaica on 7 October 1956 to Delores McDermott (née Lowe) and Witton Jarrett. Michael never knew his father as he left his mother while they were in Jamaica. Michael arrived in London in 1961 aged five. The family first lived in a house on Liverpool Road, Islington N1, before moving to Rockby Road, Brockley SE4, for two years before moving to Northdown Street in Kings Cross. Michael’s mother remarried in 1966 to Levy McDermott and Michael had a younger brother and sister. He attended Highbury Grove School in Islington and left around Easter 1972. It was then that Michael started getting in trouble at home and on the street, according to the statement provided by Thomas Fletcher, who was the play leader at a playground in Cumming Street, N1 which many local children attended: ‘The last year he was at school, he started having troubles at home and was regularly locked out of his home. This he explained to me as that he had been told to be in by a certain time, and when he didn’t, he would be locked out. On one occasion I picked him up at the Angel when it was raining. It was about 11pm. I dropped him at his door and heard him knock. I saw him next day and he told me that he hadn’t been let in and had slept in the sheds underneath flats in Rising Green [probably Priory Green, N1]. He was also getting into trouble with police for various things.’
Michael seems to have been popular with local youth, many of whom were friendly with him, playing football, attending school, socialising at a disco at York Way Court, eating ice cream at De Marco’s cafe in Chapel Market and even getting into scrapes together.
Jarrett’s friend Mark Preston told police investigating the death: ‘He would come home with me and stay with us. Sometimes he would stay for a week. He used to tell me that he would be locked out by his father.’ Another friend, George Booth also told police: ‘He stayed with me some nights. This was when his father locked him out. He stayed with us one Boxing night when he got a bit drunk.’ Booth last saw Jarrett in about August 1973 and thought that at that time he was living rough.
In 1973, Michael’s life seems to have started to disintegrate further. In January he was arrested with another friend and charged with burglary. It is unclear if Michael was already in the care of social services or was taken in to care following his arrest. But either way, when he appeared at Old Street Magistrates Court on 9 January 1973, he was in the care of social services at a children’s home in Highbury Crescent. It is not clear if he was found guilty of any charges or was remanded to the children’s home prior to his trial. On 9 February 1973, according to his mother, he appeared at Islington Juvenile Court, this was the last time he was ever seen by her. Two days later he absconded from the children’s home. There are then various ‘sightings’ of Michael before his body was found over a year later in September 1974.
In May 1973, Jarrett’s social worker reported to police that she had been told he had been seen at the Old Cinema in Kings Cross which held a dance every Saturday. Just after Christmas 1973, Thomas Fletcher (playground leader) saw Jarrett ‘in Pentonville about 5pm … and spoke to him. I asked him how he was and he said alright. I asked where he was living but he didn’t want to tell me. He was reasonably dressed but not looking as fit as I had seen him. He also told police that he had been told by ‘some of the younger ones … that he had been seen, and that he was working and living somewhere in some old flats in the St John Street area.’
The next apparent sighting of Jarrett, although it does not appear to be a confirmed sighting, is the rather odd statement from 52-year-old Bessie Bonney who stated that: ‘About February this year  I went into a pub opposite Riddley [sic] Road Market to use the toilet. As I went through the bar I notice a coloured boy drinking with some coloured friends. He stood out because of the way he was dressed. I didn’t speak to him on that occasion because he was with his friends. Later that month I saw him again in Stoke Newington High Street. He looked down like as if he had something in his mind. I asked him what was wrong, I suppose he was afraid to tell me, seeing what’s happened to him … I haven’t seen him since. I’ve no idea what his name is, or where he lives.’
There is one final confirmed sighting of Jarrett, without a specific date, but between February and April 1974, Jarrett was seen by a friend, John Haven and his mother, in Collier Street. He did not speak to Jarrett and saw him walking down the street.
In the coroner’s file there are two statements which could possibly explain Jarrett’s disappearance. Between February and March 1974 PC Andrew Maybury from Islington police station reported searching the rooftops in the vicinity of 67 Upper Street along with other officers after receiving an emergency call about a ‘suspect on roof’ but they reportedly found nothing. This statement is particularly interesting in conjunction with further evidence from Elizabeth Yeats, Jarrett’s social worker, who told police: ‘I did not hear anything of him until just before August 1974, when a youth Michael P, who told me that there had been a chase over the roof-tops and he then disappeared. He wouldn’t say anymore.’ In his statement to police in October 1974 Michael P denied saying anything to the social worker about Jarrett.
Police investigating the death also took statements from people who lived either side of 67 Upper Street. Some might have heard Jarrett’s last hours as he struggled to free himself from the chimney.
Janet Evans, a publicity officer who lived at number 68 told police: ‘One night about five months ago [approximately April 1974] I was in my living room during the evening when I heard the sound of what seemed like heavy footsteps climbing upstairs. This was followed after a short time by what sounded like someone banging on a wall. The noise lasted altogether for about an hour.’ Emmanuel Maridakis, a student, who also lived at number 68, said ‘I remember I was studying one night for my exams, it was after 11 o’clock and I was in the lounge. It was sometime after Easter and before June. I heard the sound of banging, it was though someone was banging the wall. The reason I remember the banging was because it was irritating for my studies. The banging went on for about 1 hour. The next day I went over the road and stood by the statue [on Islington Green] and looked into number 67, and I saw it was empty.’ Mair Jones, a teacher, who lived at number 66 told police: ‘On more than one occasion I heard banging from number 67 late at night sometime this year, but I cannot say when. Some weeks before I left [8 April 1974] I moved my bed from the wall adjacent to the wall of 67 to the opposite wall. This was because of the smell.’
On Wednesday 11 September 1974, Michael’s body was found on the second floor by builders renovating the disused property (that was previously a wallpaper shop, Blakey Morris) at 67 Upper Street, Islington, one of the builders, Norman Owers, told police: ‘I moved a mirror that was leaning against the fireplace and saw a human head upside down in the fire grate. The main lower part of the trunk and the legs of the body were still up the chimney. There is a hole in the chimney breast above the fireplace and that is how you can see the legs.’ Pictures of the room show it as derelict, with overturned furniture and other debris strewn all over it.
Jarrett was found upside down in the chimney on the second floor and how he came to be there is unknown as the upper floors of number 67 were not in use and the stairs to the upper floors had actually been blocked off by a builder (with sheets of corrugated metal) from the first floor in August 1972, so the only access to the upper floors seemed to be via the roof.
Also apparent from the inquest file is that the police seemed to be aware for some time that the suspicious death that they were dealing with was that of Jarrett (he was identified on 27 September 1974 through dental records). However whether they informed Jarrett’s family speedily is another matter. This is confirmed in a statement from 13-year-old Lenny Lowe, Jarrett’s brother, who told police officers: ‘Two or three weeks before you came to see my mum I met a boy at the newsagents in Caledonian Road. It was a Saturday about 6pm. He was white and in a group of white boys and 2 girls. He started looking at my paper. He just said, “The police said your brothers’ dead.” I said, “How do you know”. He didn’t say any more but walked off.’ Another statement from a young schoolboy suggests that local gossip had already identified the body in the chimney and that the police also knew and seemed to be canvassing the local community for information.
The inquest into Michael’s death was apparently unusual as it was held before a jury and a visit to the location where Michaels’ body was found was carried out which was attended by the coroner (Dr Douglas Robert Chambers), pathologist and numerous other police personnel.
The inquest was held on 23 January 1975 and lasted just over two hours, heard from twenty witnesses, and recorded an open verdict. The longest any of the witnesses was on the stand to give evidence was about ten minutes, the other witnesses’ evidence ranged from a minute to six minutes. A post mortem found ‘no fractures or other injuries’, his body had been in the chimney for at least three months and probably six or even nine months and that the cause of Michael’s death was unascertainable. Michael did not appear to be carrying any personal items on him, money or identification. He was wearing clothes fashionable at the time, knee-high boots, pink corduroy trousers (the back right leg was ripped), a brown polo neck and a jean jacket that was inside out with red buttons. Michael probably died between January and May 1974.
But how Jarrett met his tragic death in Upper Street remains a mystery.