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1981: Brixton riots report blames racial tension

VIDEO : Lord Scarman: "They will accept the recommendations"

Last April's riots in Brixton, south London were caused by serious social and economic problems affecting Britain's inner cities, a report has said.

Lord Scarman's inquiry into what he called the worst outbreak of disorder in the UK this century also blamed "racial disadvantage that is a fact of British life".

The report criticised police and the government, but it said there was no excuse for the violence and praised officers for their conduct during the disorder.

Hostile crowd

The investigation found the rioting was caused by a spontaneous crowd reaction to police action - rightly or wrongly believed to be harassment of black people - and had not been planned.

On the night of 10 April two police officers were attempting to help a black youth who was bleeding from a suspected stab wound when they were approached by a hostile crowd.

The local community was already aggravated by "Operation Swamp" - during which large numbers of black youths were stopped and searched - and the confrontation quickly escalated.

Over 300 people were injured, 83 premises and 23 vehicles were damaged during the disturbances, at an estimated cost of 7.5m.

Community policing

Lord Scarman called for a new emphasis on community policing and said more people from ethnic minorities should be recruited to the force.

He also advised the government to end racial disadvantage and tackle the disproportionately high level of unemployment among young black men - as high as 50% in Brixton.

The report has been widely welcomed by senior policeman and government ministers.

In Context
The findings of the Scarman report led to the introduction of many measures to improve trust and understanding between the police and ethnic minority communities.

But racial tensions - particularly with the police -continued to spark public disorder in the UK.

In 1985 there were further riots in Brixton after an officer accidentally shot and wounded a black woman during a police raid, and again 10 years later when a young black man died in custody.

Sir William Macpherson's inquiry into the handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder, published in 2000, said the Metropolitan Police still suffered from "institutional racism".


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