Posted on August 28, 2008

Mob Runs Amok at Notting Hill Carnival

Philippe Naughton, London Times, August 26, 2008

Riot police were deployed on the streets of West London last night to break up a mob of youths intent on disrupting the Notting Hill Carnival after running battles on the streets around Europe’s biggest street party.

More than a million people enjoyed the dazzling spectacle of Caribbean costumes, dance and music over the weekend. There was a huge police presence to prevent a repeat of the violence that has marred carnival in previous years and a total of 33 arrests were made for offences including possession of drugs, offensive weapons, robbery and assault.

There was no serious crowd trouble, however, until after dark when gang of around 40 young men started throwing missiles at police officers around Ladbroke Grove. Scotland Yard said that at least one officer was injured after being hit in the face with a bottle before officers in riot gear were sent in to disperse the group.

“Our officers came under attack from bottles, bricks and other missiles for two hours,” Chief Inspector Jo Edwards told Times Online. “There are a small minority of criminals who use the cover of darkness and crowded streets to cause trouble.”

Earlier, six miles across town, police detained no fewer than 151 youths after encircling another mob outside the Oval cricket ground.

Police intelligence suggested that many of the youths were gang members headed for the carnival and they were held at a South London police station for around five hours to prevent a breach of the peace.

After race riots at the 1976 carnival and further violence in the years afterwards, it appeared at one point that the event would be banned. But strict and highly visible policing has managed to calm things down in recent years and reduced the risk of party-goers getting caught up in violence.

Ms Edwards said that only a quarter of the arrests involved crimes with a victim such as theft, robbery or assault. The remainder was the direct result of “proactive policing techniques” such as stop-and-search and numberplate recognition.

Those techniques extended to the seizure of 21 dangerous pit bull-style dogs which are used by gang members as status symbols and to intimidate their victims. Weapons seized included knives, a baseball bat and a Taser stun gun.

Scotland Yard had been planning their operation to combat violence at the carnival since May. Tactics included sending letters to more than 200 suspected troublemakers warning them about their conduct and using warrants to search their homes for weapons. The two-day extravaganza, themed Welcoming The World, saw huge crowds party in the streets of West London. Floats—with themes including Back From Space, Tutti Frutti Sweeties, Creatures Of The Earth and Paradise—snaked their way through the streets as revellers danced and clapped to the sound of steel drums and Caribbean music.

Although the Met was not claiming a completely successful operation given last night’s trouble, Ms Edwards said that there had been no serious violence compared to previous years. “No-one got stabbed and no-one got shot,” she said.

More than a million revellers packed the streets of west London over the weekend as masquerade floats entertained party-goers at the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest street festival.

Nearly 300 people were arrested for a variety of offences in connection with the two-day festival on Sunday and Monday, many for drug and alcohol-related crimes, while more than 150 others were detained for the duration of the event.

The vast majority of the festival, however, went off peacefully—massive crowds danced and clapped in the streets to Caribbean music and steel drums, while colourful masquerade floats moved through Notting Hill, with several stalls selling Caribbean food a short walk away.

This year’s carnival was themed “Welcoming the World”, while the floats had themes including “Back From Space”, “Tutti Frutti Sweeties” and “Creatures Of The Earth”.

“I have watched the Notting Hill Carnival go from strength to strength each year to become an internationally acclaimed event,” the capital’s Mayor Boris Johnson said.

“Nothing beats the sounds of the steel pans, the aroma of delicious Caribbean food and the dazzling colours of the costume parade.”

Michael Williams, marketing director for London Notting Hill Carnival Ltd said that more than one million people attended the festival, though London’s Metropolitan Police estimated that a total of 850,000 revellers visited the street carnival over the two days.

“The carnival is the perfect London spectacle to captivate the world with its dazzling array of costumes and music,” Williams said.

“This year’s event was enjoyed by more than a million people as the sights and sounds of the Caribbean and other cultures came alive on the streets.”

Kishor Warasani, a 24-year-old university student living in east London described the carnival as “absolutely amazing”.

“I love the music and the dancing and I’m definitely going to come again next year,” he said.

“The outfits are gorgeous.

It did not go entirely without incident, though—165 people were arrested on Monday for a variety of offences, including 54 drugs-related crimes, as well as 22 arrests in connection with possession of weapons, in addition to the 110 people arrested on Sunday.

In addition, officers detained 151 people in south London after they received intelligence that a group was travelling to the carnival—the people were detained to “prevent a breach of the peace”, with Scotland Yard saying that allowing them to Notting Hill “could have put public safety at risk”.

A spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police said that, except for those carrying drugs or weapons, they would be released once the carnival had been concluded.

The festival was launched in 1959 by post-World War II immigrants from what were then Britain’s Caribbean colonies, as a community act of defiance following ugly race riots the year before.

It was held in various parts of London before settling permanently in Notting Hill in 1964. The annual event is now the world’s second-biggest carnival after Rio de Janeiro.

The festival has been marred by violence in recent years—last year, two teenagers were shot, while two men were murdered in 2000, and memories of riots in 1976 linger.