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Last Updated: Friday, 25 August 2006, 05:45 GMT 06:45 UK
Remembering the Notting Hill riot
By Emma Griffiths
BBC News website, London

Police were ill equipped to deal with the violence when it started

This year marks 30 years since the Notting Hill Carnival riot in 1976 - an important year for race relations and one which saw carnival hit the headlines - albeit for the wrong reasons.

1976 was bang in the middle of a period of racial upheaval that would lead to the Brixton and Toxteth riots of the early 1980s.

Tempers were boiling among young black men over police use of the "sus" law, under which anybody could be stopped, searched and held, even if only suspected of planning a crime.

Anticipating some trouble, 3,000 police officers turned up - ten times the amount of previous, relatively peaceful, events.

This raised the tension, but what sparked the riot is still open to question.

White fascist gangs were said to be at large. Police said it began after attempts to arrest a pickpocket.

Within seconds the whole place erupted
Dotun Adebayo
Whatever set it off, police officers were soon dodging a hail of bottles and a surging crowd.

Windows were smashed, fires were lit and ill-equipped police officers picked up dustbin lids and milk crates to charge the rioters. More than 100 officers and 60 other people were taken to hospital.

One officer interviewed in hospital afterwards told the BBC: "There were missiles coming at us from all directions, some over a lengthy period, bottles, bricks and the like."

BBC London radio presenter Dotun Adebayo was 16 at the time and remembers dancing to calypso music on Portobello Road when the trouble started.

Shower of missiles

He said: "Within seconds the whole place erupted and I realized I was in the middle of a serious disturbance.

"I had never seen policemen running away from a situation before.

"I don't know where all the rocks came from but they were raining down on the fleeing cops.

"One or two police vehicles...tried to make it up the road but were turned back with a shower of missiles."

It went on for hours, as police tried to contain the violence.

Seventeen youths were eventually charged but only two were convicted after a case costing 250,000, a record at the time.

Notting Hill Carnival riot 1976
Tempers boiled over during the 1976 Notting Hill carnival

Questions were later raised about whether carnival should continue.

Professor Chris Mullard, chairman of organisers London Notting Hill Carnival Ltd, said: "It became very difficult.

"Carnival was always seen by the state and the establishment as something that they wanted to stop, because they saw it for what it was - a form of cultural resistance."

He said it became a "running battle" between organisers and the "establishment".

But there was a determination to see it continue, and carnivalists started to form alliances with sympathetic groups - like trade unions.

He sees the riot as important in the history of race relations, giving rise as it did to the implementation of the Race Relations Act 1976 which prohibited racial discrimination.

Things are certainly, in our opinion, going very well in terms of police and community relation
Ch Insp Rod Charles

As carnival changed, so did the social make-up of Notting Hill as the 1970s and 80s saw the area "gentrified", with wealthy residents moving in - many of whom are still no fans of carnival.

But relations with the police have greatly improved, although is still heavily patrolled by officers who prepare all year round for it.

Prof Mullard said commissioner Sir Ian Blair and his predecessors have all been positive about the event.

Ch Insp Rod Charles, who was a beat bobby in Notting Hill in the 1980s and is still involved in the operation, said things had changed a lot since 1976.

Carnival police officer
Despite its size, the carnival is generally good-natured

"Carnival has grown exponentially," he said. "We have got a number of people travelling from different parts of the world and the UK.

"Things are certainly, in our opinion, going very well in terms of police and community relations."

For Mr Adebayo, the event is now one of the most peaceful of its size in the world.

"I saw a lot of terrified faces in 1976 and 1977. Faces of young kids and parents who didn't know where to turn to safety. I hope I never see that again," he said.

"But we shouldn't forget 1976 and its impact on this country before Lord Scarman picked up the pieces of the Brixton riots years later."

Are you going to the Notting Hill Carnival this weekend? If so, you can send your pictures to yourpics@bbc.co.uk



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