ON THIS DAY    11 April      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1981: Brixton ablaze after riot

VIDEO : Images from the Brixton riots and aftermath

The arrest of a black man has led to hundreds of youths rampaging through the streets of Brixton in south London.

They hurled petrol bombs at police, burnt cars and looted shops in an outbreak of violence which started in the early evening.

A school and two pubs have been set alight and firefighters have been unable to reach some other fires due to the threat of attacks.

More than 50 police officers have been injured and at least 20 people have been arrested.

The rioting broke out in the area of Railton Road and Atlantic Road in central Brixton, where police and black youths had already clashed on Friday night.

That disturbance was soon stamped out but the trouble on Saturday evening - which began after the arrest of a young black man - quickly spiralled out of control.

When other officers arrived and tried to make more arrests the ever-increasing crowd started throwing bottles and bricks.

Missiles

Reinforcements from other police areas were called in but in the 30 minutes it took for them to arrive the violence had escalated sharply.

A charge by about 200 officers with riot shields and batons down Atlantic Road misfired when they were forced to retreat under a hail of missiles.

Many local people are blaming a special police operation carried out last week for helping spark unrest.

During Operation Swamp, police stopped and questioned people supposedly at random in an attempt to crack down on street crime.

However, many young black men felt they were being unjustly singled out by officers, causing widespread resentment.

Two months ago the local council published a report about the state of police/community relations in Brixton - it said many black people believed they were targeted by the police purely on racial lines.

In Context
Nearly 300 police officers and 65 civilians were injured during three days of rioting in Brixton.

After an inquiry headed by Lord Scarman, major changes were implemented in policing.

They included an end to the hated "sus" law which allowed officers to arrest anyone they suspected of loitering with intent - black men said officers used it to target them unfairly.

The Scarman report also led to the setting up of the Police Complaints Authority.

In 1985 there were further riots in Brixton after a black woman was accidentally shot and wounded during a police raid on her home.

More serious disturbances occurred 10 years later after a young black man died in police custody.


Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |