He was one of those guys who did not really need or use a first name, indeed he always introduced himself simply as Sankey. He was a good 6 foot 5, skinny as a rake, and covered in borstal style tattoos. The only moderately good one - in terms of content rather than quality, was 'Fuck off Thatcher' tattooed on his hand, which featured on the tattoos section of the old Class War website.
A Wigan man, Sankey had suffered with drink, drugs and legal problems in his youth, and eventually arrived in Wakefield, West Yorkshire to make a fresh start. He did, and was probably one of those people for whom political activism gives their life a purpose and focus it may otherwise have lacked. He became part of a Class War group centered on Wakefield that made a real contribution both to CW nationally and to radical politics locally, although their hatred of the political establishment did not stop them taking up residency in the Labour club bar, the Red Shed.
Sankey was always game. On visits to London for meetings and demonstrations, he frequently stayed at mine, and I can recall walking home through Hoxton one evening when we encountered an obviously stolen car being spun around. When something was thrown at us from the vehicle we gave the finger back, and before you knew it the brakes were slammed on and a confrontation seemed inevitable. In those circumstances you look around at everybody else, and when I looked at Sankey he was already in a fighting stance, pressing his huge frame downwards. There was no need to run.
On another occasion he caused great consternation at a protest against the DSEI arms fare in east London. As a little gang from Canning Town looked to kick off with the police, Sankey stepped forward yelling "come on then you black bastards" at a group of (white) Met officers. Calling the police black bastards (on account of their uniforms) was common in Greater Manchester in the 1980s, it was a little less common in east London two decades later!
On his visits Sankey rarely ate anything, although if you cooked for him, he polished his food off with some gusto. Like a lot of ex-cons he could be almost over-polite in your house, and would move around carefully, as if his large frame constantly suggested a clumsiness he had to fight against.
Somewhere along the line, things rather unravelled in West Yorkshire. Some of Sankey's mates in Wakefield went on to do other things, as always happens in small political groups. At one stage I was given the poisoned chalice of driving up to Crigglestone to Sankey's house, as it was becoming obvious he was not capable of carrying on with the Class War subscriptions. What I saw when I got there saddened me. It was obvious from the body language of his neighbours that he was in bad odour, and I soon found out why. He had hooked up with some woman into animal rights, and it was obvious the house was being used to look after a ridiculous amount of dogs. He seemed distant and not altogether, but still talked about some of his usual subjects - football was never far away, and he maintained his air of innocence.
After that, Sankey seemed to go AWOL, and I only saw him again once, at an Anarchist event in Yorkshire in 2005. Some of his focus had clearly gone, but in many ways he was the same as ever, lanky, polite and enjoying his beer and tobacco. It seems at some stage Sankey returned to Wigan, and his old haunts, and died, of natural causes, in 2009. That he was lost from his old friends saddens me, as does his passing at such a young age.
Good bye Sankey.