Policing the Cypriot community in London: Creating a “suspect community” in the inter-war period

Last year I announced that my colleague and I had been awarded a Faculty Research Grant to begin a project titled ‘Monitoring a “suspect community” in the UK: The colonialist origins of the national/border security nexus and interwar London’s Cypriot community’. While in the UK recently, I attended the Crime and Deviance in the 20th Century Conference at the University of Lincoln and presented this paper on our initial research. Please find below an abridged version of the conference paper. As usual, we welcome any feedback, criticisms or questions.

In January 1933, Michael Kyriakides, a Cypriot chef in Soho, was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. The magistrate, R. E. Dummett, wanted to convict Kyriakides, who had a prior conviction for assault, and asked the detective-sergeant: ‘There is no means by which we can get these men [Cypriots] out of the country?’ When the detective-sergeant answered that they were British subjects, Dummett retorted: ‘The British Colonies do not hesitate to send back anyone they do not want to this country. This is the tragedy. They are doing no good to themselves, and they are a perpetual menace and a nuisance’.[1] The magistrate was clearly airing a widespread notion amongst the police and the judiciary in London that the local Cypriot Orthodox Christian community was a ‘problem’. Deportation, Dummett’s solution to the problem, was not at a legal option, but the British authorities adopted other strategies, such as police surveillance and the control of immigration, which certainly bent the laws.

This paper aims to explore why during the 1930s the British authorities focused on the relatively small Cypriot community in London as one of deviance that needed to be monitored and controlled. We argue that Cypriots were seen as a particular problem for the British because of their criminal activities as well as their links to communism and anti-colonialism. For these combined reasons, the British authorities viewed the Cypriot migrant population as a ‘suspect community’, resulting in intense surveillance by the police and the security services, as well as controls on Cypriots trying to enter the country.

Taking the terminology coined by Paddy Hillyard,[2] and developed by Christina Pnatazis and Chris Pemberton, a ‘suspect community’ can be defined as:

a sub-group of the population that is singled out for state attention as being ‘problematic’. Specifically in terms of policing, individuals may be targeted, not necessarily as a result of suspected wrong doing, but simply because of their presumed membership to that sub-group.[3]

This concept is not only useful for contemporary analysis of counter-terrorism policing, but can also be used to analyse how various ethnic minority groups have been policed in earlier times. We would argue that the Cypriots in London were precisely singled out for their criminal and communist deviancy in the inter-war period and that this led to extensive monitoring and control over the relatively small community.

Cypriot crime in inter-war London

John Solomos and Stephen Woodhams wrote that the British characterised the Cypriot migrant as ‘a young single male, unskilled, poorly educated, of suspect morality and prone to petty crime’.[4] However it was not just petty crime, with several high profile murders occurring in the early 1930s amongst the migrant community and the establishments of the community becoming increasingly notorious for forms of organised crime, such as gambling and prostitution rackets. By looking at newspaper reports from the period, between 1931 and 1934 no less than three men were sentenced to death after being found guilty of murder, while in a fourth murder of the prominent Cypriot, Dr Zemenides, committed in 1933, the accused, also a Cypriot, was acquitted. Meanwhile a Metropolitan Police report from October 1933 stated that in the past 12 months the Marlborough Street police Court had seen Cypriots charged with the following offences: murder, breaking and entering, larceny, possessing a revolver, assault, indecent assault, living on immoral earnings, indecency, cruelty, obstructing footway and drunkenness.[5]

Charges against Cypriots brought before the Marlborough Street Police Court (Oct. 1932 – Oct. 1933)

Murder   1

Breaking and entering  2

Larceny  5

Possessing revolver   1

Assault and wounding   3

Suspected person   1

Indecent assault on female  2

Living on immoral earnings  2

Indecency  3

Cruelty   1

Obstructing footway   16

Drunkenness  4

(Letter from C.E. Campton to W. Collins, 8 October, 1933, CO 67/260/7, National Archives, London)

The accusation that Cypriots were involved in organised crime was also widespread amongst the authorities and the press, particularly with regards to prostitution. The location of Cypriots in London’s red light district caused concern for police in the capital,[6] with the Metropolitan Police reporting:

There is no doubt… that venereal disease is rife amongst these Cypriots, and strange to say they seem to have some fascination for white women, and they can often be seen in their cafes in the company of white women, usually of the prostitute type.[7]

The most significant case involving Cypriots in the 1930s was the assasination of a leading figure within the Cypriot community, Dr Angelos Zemenides, in January 1933. Zemenides was a prominent spokesperson for the community and had formed, with British government support, the Christian Cypriot Brotherhood of St. Barnabas, which had been established for the purpose of counteracting the appeal of communism within the Cypriot diaspora. While Zemenides supported British rule in Cyprus, after his death the Colonial Office became concerned that the Brotherhood had become a safe-house for right-wing enosis supporters[8] and was a source of tension within the Cypriot community. Zemenides was a supporter of the exiled Greek monarchy and a staunch anti-communist, with the newspapers speculating as to whether he was involved with the security services. The Daily Express stated:

It was common talk among a certain section of Greeks in London that Dr Zemenides was a secret service agent. He had great ideas for the return of the monarchy to Greece.[9]

On the other hand, the Daily Worker (the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain) called him ‘an agent of imperialism’, claiming:

The dead man was a notorious imperialist and known as such to Cypriots and Greeks the world over. In Cyprus itself his activities on behalf of the British there so enraged the Cypriots that he was forced to leave hurriedly.[10]

Zemenides was shot in his home in Hampstead and a wide investigation amongst the Cypriot community followed. The widespread investigation into this supposedly politically motivated murder by the Metropolitan Police led many left-wing and anti-colonial sympathisers within the Cypriot community to believe that the murder was being used as a cover for stricter monitoring of communists amongst the Cypriot population.

The threat of communism and the monitoring of the Cypriot community

DW2

Alongside the perceived criminality of the Cypriot community in London, the British authorities were very concerned about the number of communist sympathisers there were amongst the Cypriots and the championing of anti-colonial activism in this diaspora community. In the case of Cyprus, the Communist Party of Great Britain, as a representative of the Communist International (Comintern), surprisingly supported the notion of enosis (the joining of Cyprus to Greece) – a position later associated with right-wing politics.

Although a minority of Cypriots joined the Communist Party because of its support for enosis, the majority of those who did join the CPGB were committed communists. This was influenced by the type of migrant that was leaving the island, mainly men from the peasant and labouring class, who were then employed at the lowest levels of the food and other industries in London. Meanwhile, the deportation of leading Cypriot communists in 1931 swelled the ranks of the Cypriot communists in London. Cypriot communists in London were very active in both the Cypriot Branch of the Workers International Relief and in the League against Imperialism, both of which were affiliated with the Communist Party of Great Britain.

The prominence of communists in the London Cypriot community was a more intensive watch placed upon them by the authorities, particularly the Metropolitan Police Special Branch and MI5. The Daily Worker frequently reported on the police and Colonial Office persecution of Cypriot workers in London. For example, in January 1933 (at the start of the Zemenides case) the Daily Worker reported on British ‘attempts to muzzle Cypriots’ in London by breaking up protests against the Governor of Cyprus and establishing the Brotherhood of St Barnabas.[11] The police persecution was linked to the growing anti-Cypriot feeling, which the Daily Worker took the lead in condemning. On 6 November 1933 it reported on ‘Cypriots Hit Out at Slanders: Dirty Yellow Press Attack on Workers’. Cypriot workers in London were indignant, the newspaper claimed, at the report in a Sunday newspaper that claimed the Cypriots in London were so bad that a ‘special squad of detectives’ was involved in rounding them up and searching them for arms.

As mentioned before, archival records from Kew show that both the Metropolitan Police and the security services were involved in policing the Cypriot community in London and kept them under considerable monitoring throughout the 1930s. The small geographic area that the Cypriot community lived in helped the police monitor activities within the community and the various locations inhabited by Cypriots. This allowed the police to perform wide sweeps of the community looking particular offenders, as demonstrated with the investigation following the murder of Zemenides. MI5 were particularly interested in communists within the Cypriot community and we know of several Cypriot CPGB members who were monitored by the security services. The Metropolitan Police report that we cited earlier also complained about the number of Cypriots reading and selling newspapers such as the Daily Worker and Russia Today.[12]

The control of Cypriot migration to Britain

As well as policing the Cypriot community in London, the British authorities also attempted to stem migration from Cyprus – thirty years before other Commonwealth migrants were subject to immigration control. Cyprus had become part of the British Empire in 1914 and from this date, all Cypriots based on the island became British subjects. During the interwar period, all British subjects were allowed to enter, reside and work in the UK without restrictions, so the British authorities sought to prevent Cypriots from arriving in Britain. The Colonial Office asked the Home Office whether legislation could be introduced to prevent Cypriots from migrating to Britain, but the Home Office refused. As Assistant Under-Secretary for the Colonial Offie, Arthur Dawe, explained:

It may be said they could introduce legislation, but I imagine that the political objections to this may be so great as to make impracticable for them to do so even if they, as a Department, desired it. After all, the right of a British subject to enter this country, provided he can establish his national status by means of his passport, is something more than a mere question of administrative advantage. It is an important and fundamental right under our political system;[13]

The British attempted to prevent Cypriots from travelling to Britain by limiting the number of passports issued to them in Cyprus. To obtain such a passport Cypriots had to present proof of employment in the UK and pay a bond. By 1937, passports were only issued to applicants who could prove they could speak English, were able to a pay a bond of £30 and an affidavit showing they had employment in Britain.[14] This did not stop all Cypriot migration, but numbers were lowered and the demographic make-up of who was travelling to Britain changed, with a larger number of women and children coming in the late 1930s.

Conclusion

The outbreak of the Second World War stopped Cypriot migration to Britain, although it stepped up again in the early 1950s, alongside a wider wave of Commonwealth migration from the West Indies, West Africa and the Indian subcontinent. As Solomos and Woodhams have argued, the British were able to use border control techniques first employed against Cypriots in the 1930s against broader Commonwealth migration thirty years later under the claim that ‘good race relations’ required strict immigration control. Taking Solomos and Woodhams’ argument further, we believe that the way in which the British authorities policed, monitored and controlled the movement of Cypriots stemmed from viewing the Cypriot population in London as a ‘suspect community’ and helped inform much wider national/border security practices, used against other ethnic minorities in the post-war era.

—————————————————-

[1]The Times, 20 January 1933, 4.

[2] Paddy Hillyard, Suspect Community: People’s Experiences of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in Britain London: Pluto Press, 1993).

[3] Christina Pantazis & Simon Pemberton, ‘From the “Old” to the “New” Suspect Community:

Examining the Impact of Recent UK Counter-Terrorist Legislation’, British Journal of Criminology, 49 (2009) p. 649.

[4] John Solomos & Stephen Woodhams, ‘The Politics of Cypriot Migration to Britain’, Immigrants & Minorities, 14/3 (1995) p. 233.

[5] Letter from C.E. Campton to W. Collins, 8 October, 1933, CO 67/260/7, NA.

[6] Robin Oakley, ‘The Control of Cypriot Migration to Britain Between the Wars’, Immigrants & Minorities, 6/1 (1987) p. 31.

[7] Letter from C.E. Campton to W. Collins, 8 October, 1933.

[8] ‘Memorandum’, 19 February, 1936, FCO 141/2523, NA.

[9]Daily Express, 4 January 1933, 2d.

[10]Daily Worker, 5 January 1933, 2d.

[11] Daily Worker, 13 January 1933, 4.

[12] Letter from C.E. Campton to W. Collins, 8 October, 1933.

[13] Note from A.J. Dawe, 2 January,1935, CO 67/258/7, NA.

[14] Oakley, ‘The Control of Cypriot Migration to Britain Between the Wars’, p. 39.

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One comment

  1. Interesting and useful article!
    I would like to read your book and your PhD too! Can you send me a copy of your PhD?
    I am very interested in Communism and Cypriots in the UK.

    I would like to take up a point you make in your article above, where you claim the following: “Although a minority of Cypriots joined the Communist Party because of its support for enosis, the majority of those who did join the CPGB were committed communists.”

    I agree that the majority who joined did so because they were communists and not because of the national question in Cyprus. However, I am not sure about the position of CPGB on the national question in Cyprus, particularly prior to the late 1930s. Please bare in mind that Cypriot Communists in the 1920s and early 1930s were not supporting Enosis. In fact the KKK (Communist Party of Cyprus) up to 1931, when it was banned considered the Enosis line a reactionary. It was part of the Commintern and supported that Cyprus should be part of the Balkan federation and to achieve this it promoted a broad anti-imperialist front.
    Can you please clarify what was the line of CPGB in the 1920s and 1930s?
    Nicos Trimikliniotis
    Associate professor, University of Nicosia

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