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Monday, 28 May, 2001, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Long history of race rioting
Brixton riots in 1981
The Brixton riots triggered "copycat" disturbances
Bradford has witnessed some of the worst scenes of rioting seen on mainland Britain in recent years. Eighty police officers were injured as they came under a hail of petrol bombs and stones. However this kind of violence is not new to British streets.

The rioting in Bradford follows similar recent disturbances in Oldham and Burnley.

Long simmering racial tension suddenly erupted into violence, forcing the issue back on to the political agenda.

In 1958 London was the scene of some of the worst racial violence Britain has ever seen when trouble flared in the Notting Hill area between whites and West Indian blacks.

Rioting broke out every night in that part of west London throughout late August and early September as mobs broke shop windows and fought with police trying to restore order.

The trouble is thought to have started when a crowd of white men attacked a white Swedish woman who was married to a West Indian.

Racial tensions were also to blame for transforming Brixton in south London into something resembling a battlefield in 1981.

Scene at Toxteth rioting in 1981
Toxteth's rioting mirrored that in Brixton
The riots were sparked off in April of that year after the Metropolitan Police started Operation Swamp in response to a steep rise in street robbery.

Plainclothes police officers stopped and searched large numbers of black youths on Brixton's streets.

This caused widespread resentment against the police and the use of the infamous "sus" laws.

Hundreds of black and white youths went on the rampage, attacking police, setting cars alight and looting shops in a tense disturbance which quickly spiralled out of control.

Over 300 people were injured, including more than 200 police officers, and 83 premises and 23 vehicles were damaged, at an estimated cost of 7.5m.

Summer of discontent

The Brixton disturbances prompted so-called "copycat riots" in the West Midlands in places such as Dudley, West Bromwich, and Moseley.

By July of 1981, riots erupted in Liverpool's Toxteth area, followed in the same week by a wave of disturbances in London, Leeds and other cities.

Summer riots became almost the norm in the early 1980s as trouble flared in Bristol, Birmingham and Bradford, culminating in 1985 rioting at north London's Broadwater Farm in which Police Constable Keith Blakelock was killed.

PC Keith Blakelock, killed in rioting in 1985
PC Keith Blakelock was killed in Tottenham rioting
The Brixton riots led to a wide-ranging investigation and subsequent report by Lord Scarman.

He concluded that "racial disadvantage is a fact of current British life. It was, I am equally sure, a significant factor in the causation of the Brixton disorders...".

His findings led to the introduction of measures aimed at improving trust, co-operation and understanding between the police and the communities they serve.

That did not stop racial tension coming to the boil again, however, as a crowd of mainly Asian youths went on the rampage in Bradford in the summer of 1995.

They broke shop windows, set cars on fire and hurled petrol bombs at riot police.

Find out more about the violence in northern England during the summer of 2001




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