Photographs of Toxteth in the 1980s | Leroy Cooper

British Culture Archive

Leroy Cooper’s arrest in 1981 was the tipping point of events and growing tensions that sparked the uprising in Toxteth.

Leroy ”The day I was arrested brought things to a critical mass of discontent, like toxic fumes that you cannot see or taste but any sudden spark can cause an explosion. I was there, the incident should have been all about giving the rider ‘a producer’ which was a notice to take your documents relating to the bike to a police station. The police for some reason presumed the motorbike was stolen and when the rider stopped to speak to them, they over reacted and started dragging the rider off the bike.”

“I remonstrated with them, me and my big mouth ”Is this how you handle a traffic stop in Childwall or Woolton ? I said – Have you done any checks to see if the bike is actually reported stolen?”

“A scuffle ensued and I think I was targeted because I’d been the one with ‘the big mouth’ challenging them.”

Who remembers David Moore. Toxteth, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.


“The Toxteth Uprisings of 1981 was black and white young people venting their anger at the abuse they had suffered for countless years. It was an anti-police reaction, not a race riot as some tried to twist it. The people were not fighting each other, black and white youths joined forces to battle them. In years past there had been incidents between black & white teenagers but this was a turning point between Liverpool youths who for the first time recognised who was who and what was, really what. It was against this backdrop that I discovered photography and the power of the visual image.”

“It was a different time then you have to understand. Things are better now in comparison to those days. In 1981 the policing policy and tactics were ‘very hostile’ to say the least. Young people, both black and white would fear being pulled by the police.”

Toxteth in the 1980s
Life Force. Toxteth, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.

Police Brutality

“The idea that the police were a public service that our community could trust was ridiculous. Do you understand the fear that goes hand in hand with all that, you are not supposed to be ‘terrified’ when you see a police vehicle or officers on foot patrol.”

“I think if you were to speak to men, working class Liverpool men who grew up through the late 60’s and 70’s you would find a common thread in their narratives of an oppressive, menacing police force on the streets of Liverpool, whether it was north end or the south end.”

“There are hurdles that mainstream society has placed before us that are meant to trip us up, to put us down and keep us in ‘our place’, a place that had been decided where we belonged.”

Toxteth, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.


“Over the years I have been in bands and created the Cosmic Ambassador Sound System with a friend, we are big reggae dancehall fans, this led to doing a pirate radio show on TCR (Toxteth Community Radio).”

“These are just some of the areas my creativity has taken me into but I was always doing photography, documenting what I was doing and what I saw happening around me. You must understand that as a result of the 1981 incident I am ‘blacklisted’ for employment opportunities in Liverpool and therefore I had to find a career that was going to be a vocation and not just ‘a job you do to pay your bills’.”

Toxteth 1980s Leroy Cooper

“My photography is to remind us that history isn’t just composed of monumental events, fame hungry celebrities and the grubby goings on of corrupt, selfish politicians, but also the people like us, the everyday down to earth people.”

“Liverpool has one of Europe’s oldest Black and ethnic communities. My motivation is to document the history of our struggles, our survival and the overcoming of trials and tribulations.”


Toxteth 1980s Leroy Cooper
Toxteth, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.
Reporters in Toxteth, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.
St Johns Market, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.
Toxteth, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.
Jacky in Toxteth 1980s
Jacky, Toxteth, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.
Toxteth, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.
Liverpool 1980s
Toxteth, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.
Toxteth 1980s Leroy Cooper 3
Toxteth, 1980s. Photo © Leroy Cooper.

All Photos © Leroy Cooper, all rights reserved.

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