My husband drowned to death in Thames after white men threw him in, Jamaican philanthropist says

A Jamaican philanthropist has revealed her husband drowned in the River Thames in London after white men threw him in the water as a “joke”.

Theresa Roberts said she believed Vera Skeete’s death in 1979 was not taken seriously at the time because he was black.

Police classed the 27-year-old’s death as an accident, Ms Roberts told The Independent in her first interview about the events 43 years ago.

The 65-year-old, a businesswoman who has the largest Jamaican art collection in Europe, said her husband died at around lunchtime on 14 May 1979 while her husband was with some acquaintances.

Ms Roberts, who has homes in London and Jamaica, said: “He was sitting down having a drink. He couldn’t swim and the friends or acquaintances he was with threw him in and he drowned. This was white people’s sense of humour.

“At the time if you threw someone into the Thames, they would find you, but if you threw a black man into the Thames then the killer will get away with it.”

The philanthropist, who was just 22 at the time her husband died, said her children still “suffer” from the ordeal, including her son who is named after his deceased father.

Ms Roberts, who has since remarried, said her family were a “great support” over the “tragic” incident – adding she was forced to make her “life work” but “it’s not easy.”

The police interviewed the men and they said it was a joke.

Theresa May

Ms Roberts said the police informed Skeete’s family he had drowned after being thrown in the River Thames and that officers told them it was an accident.

“The police interviewed the men and they said it was a joke,” Ms Roberts added. “In the seventies, it didn’t matter if you were black.”

She said she was very upset after the incident – noting it can be emotional being around her 47-year-old son due to him looking so similar to his father.

Ms Roberts said her late husband, who she described as a “happy go lucky, fun man”, worked at Collins book printing. He was originally from Barbados but she met him in London, she added.

The philanthropist, who made her money in property but now runs a food business called Jamaica Patty Co which has two restaurants in central London, was aged eight when she came from St Elizabeth in Jamaica to Battersea in south London.

Her mother worked in Lyons tea shop and then did cleaning for British Rail, while her father was a laborer until he could no longer work due to injuries, she said.

Ms Roberts explained she has faced both racism and sexism in the UK – adding that when she went to purchase her first property, it was assumed she could not afford it as she was a black woman. But in the end, it was the house she ended up buying, she added her.

“In the early days I had a lot of sexism,” she said. “Everything I did, I had to work harder to make it work, but that has only made me more determined. The tougher it gets, the tougher I get.

Ms Roberts, whose private collection is currently titled being shown at an exhibition at Victoria Gallery and Museum in Liverpool Jamaica Making: The Theresa Roberts Art Collectionsaid she is a nationalist for Jamaica.

“If you ask me what I am before I am a black woman, before I am a married woman, before I am a mother, I will tell you I am a Jamaican,” Ms Roberts, who helps grassroots Jamaican artists, added.

“Jamaica is a beautiful country that contributes to world culture and the changing world. I say that from my heart. Culture is important. Culture is like family. There is nothing wrong with people being proud of their culture. Jamaica has a rich culture in everything they do.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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