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Tooting Market Is Evicting a Black-Owned Food Business After Police Drug Raid. Its Owner Says Nothing Was Found

Christopher Smith, the owner of The Lone Fisherman, which specialises in Jamaican fish cookery, says he was told to leave along with the only other Black-owned business in their part of the market

Christopher preparing oysters at The Lone Fisherman in Tooting Market, with a customer waiting
Chef Christopher preparing oysters for a customer at The Lone Fisherman in Tooting Market
The Lone Fisherman/Instagram

Tooting Market management has evicted a Jamaican food business with three days’ notice, according to its owner and a local media organisation. The Lone Fisherman, run by chef-owner Christopher Smith, was targeted in a raid under the Misuse of Drugs Act at the market on Saturday 5 September. Tooting Town Police initially described the search warrants as “successful” in a now deleted tweet, which referred only to the searches having taken place. The police has not provided evidence that drugs were found on the Lone Fisherman’s premises or that any crime had been committed by Christopher, but the stall has now established a Gofundme to “find a new home.”

In a video posted to YouTube by Donna Spence, who has previously profiled The Lone Fisherman, Smith presents his copy of the warrant to the camera. He says that he saw “an army of police ... and they came straight to me to say that we’ve got a warrant to search your place, because we’ve got information that you’ve been dealing with drugs.” He says in the video that “even though I’ve been found innocent, the owner of the market gave me a letter, three days to vacate, no explanation why, nothing.” Eater has contacted Tooting Market by phone and email for a statement on the raid and evictions; the management is yet to respond.

The letter from management was given at a time when commercial evictions have been banned until the end of September, in accordance with government measures designed to protect businesses from the impact of COVID-19. The eviction notice, though, is not connected to COVID-19 rent arrears, meaning that those specific legal protections do not cover The Lone Fisherman, which has been paying rent to the market through the crisis and the nine years that it has been resident in SW17. It is a situation similar to that of Nour Cash and Carry, in Brixton, which was threatened with being evicted during the pandemic by landlord Hondo Enterprises before fighting to stay in the market on a new lease.

A petition against the evictions now has over 4,000 signatures, with Thursday, 10 September being the last of the three days’ notice. A protest against the evictions took place at the market this morning, as reported by Tooting Newsie:

The Lone Fisherman specialises in homestyle Jamaican cuisine, with a focus on fried fish escovitch, oysters served with his Scotch bonnet and lime, as well as garlic and pepper sauces, patties, and city dishes like salt beef on coco bread with Jamaican hot sauce.

The police also served the warrant, issued by Justice Chris Rodgers at Croydon Magistrates Court, to another Black-owned Jamaican business at the market, Artz Designer Wear, owned by Hughie Crawford. They were the only two businesses targeted in the raid, according to both Smith and Crawford, and Artz was also given three days to exit the premises. Both Smith and Crawford told Spence, on video, that they believed the evictions were a result of racial profiling. Smith said that they are “the only two Jamaicans in this area, and ... Suddenly, we’ve just got to go”; Crawford alleges that the market management had told him that the evictions were about “perception and marketing.”

The market’s recent evolution has increasingly seen a proliferation of white-owned, upmarket restaurant businesses using the market to set up satellite sites, including The Athenian and Brickwood Coffee and Bread, alongside the longer-standing wine bar and gin bar, all of which are rubbing up against the long-time tenants serving Tooting’s diaspora communities and their needs. This has taken place in the shadow of plans for transport project Crossrail 2 which, if enacted, would bulldoze it entirely. Eater London contributor Jonathan Nunn observed last year that, despite Tooting’s markets being one, collective unit, it now feels as if there are two, “superimposed on top of each other.”

When Vice reported on those plans for Crossrail, former market manager Roi Mengelgrein suggested that one of his priorities was to maintain the diversity of the market and its “roots”; these evictions, administered by the new management following his departure in May, appear to tear them up. “As a business person, you have to be on top of it otherwise you can lose your whole business, but obviously don’t forget your roots and don’t forget what made this place. So we protect the butcher, we protect the fruit man, the Caribbean shop.”