Part 2a – Police and Community Relations (The Scarman Report 1981)

I recently wrote a post on the Brixton Riots of 1981 and I explained that I had chosen this point in time to start with my assessment of the relationships between the Police Service and the Community that we serve. The previous Blog covered the build up to the Brixton riots and if you have not read that post you can see it by clicking the link Police & Community Relations – Part 1 – The Brixton Riots 1981

Immediately following this very violent event the Government appointed Lord Scarman to conduct a official review into the riots and their causes. Lord Scarman was also empowered with making recommendations in how to prevent further disorder in the future. The Scarman Report was released in November 1981 and made very interesting reading. This report had been compiled following a series of evidence hearings from community members, police officers and other relevant persons.

The Scarman Report is far too detailed to cover in one Blog so I have chosen to split it in half. For ease of reading I have split Lord Scarmans findings into headings.

The Violence

Lord Scarman heard a lot of evidence about the violence and established the following:

  • The riots were the most serious disorder in the history of the Met. During the disorder petrol bombs had been used for the first time ever against police on English soil. Further examination revealed that the petrol bombs had been supplied by white people who supported the cause and were being dished out from places around the neighbourhood.
  • The people rioting were mainly young black people. There was a reason for that and this will be covered more later in the Blog.
  • The violence was that intense that at times the police could only contain the rioters and were powerless to effectively deal with the violence.
  • The police were only start to deal with the violence when they became heavily reinforced.
  • Following the violence a resident described the Brixton area as looking like the “Aftermath Of An Air Raid”.

Lord Scarman then looked at the problems which contributed to the riots and found the following:

The Problems

  • The first problem was “oppressive policing over a period of years; and in particular the harassment of young blacks on the streets of Brixton”. He concluded by saying that they were anti police.
  • “The second problem is that the disorders, like so many riots in British history, were a protest against society by people deeply frustrated and deprived who saw in a violent attack upon the forces of law and order their one opportunity of compelling public attention to their grievances
  • There was a multi cultural community in a deprived inner city area where unemployment, especially among young black people is high and hopes are low.
  • There was a requirement for police to maintain law and order of a diverse community without an understanding of their needs and as such it was impossible to set standards for successful policing.
  • The police needed to understand the social problem first before they could effectively police the problems.

Lord Scarman went on to examine the problems in some more depth which is summarised below:

Brixton Social Conditions

  • Brixton was home to a number of retail outlets that included many national retail chains and local stores. Hit by recession the Brixton area had suffered a decline in trade.
  • Conditions in Brixton had declined to such a level that redevelopment plans had been discussed and from 1965 onwards plans had been made but not implemented.
  • The hot spot riot areas such as Railton Road and surrounding roads had been considered for complete refurbishment however this decision had been blocked by the then Secretary of State for Environment who favoured a phased refit program.

Housing was identified as being a major social condition that effected the people of Brixton and I am not one for statistics but the following is alarming by anyones standards.

Housing

  • At the time of the riots there was a shortage of 20,000 homes.
  • Council figures estimate that there were 12,000 homes that were overcrowded.
  • 1 or more bedrooms in Brixton homes were below the acceptable standards.
  • There were 7,000 homes that were empty which lead to squatting.
  • Figures state that as many as 12,000 homes were declared unfit for purpose by the Local Authority.
  • 8,250 homes lacked one or more basic amenities.

Lord Scarman went as far as to say “The physical environment in which the people of Brixton live and the Police have to operate is one marked by decay, and that there are in particular very serious housing problems.

The People of Brixton

  • The Borough of Lambeth had a population of around 264,000 which was a reduction of earlier figures as many people had moved away. The typical age group of those that moved away ranged between 25 and 60. This left behind a population that were either younger or older.
  • The Brixton population had a higher number of residents that were of school age and this was higher than the whole of London.
  • There were fewer people who held professional or managerial roles.
  • There was a “strikingly high” figure of children in local authority care.
  • There were twice the national average of single parent families living in the Borough.
  • There was a higher percentage of people with mental health illnesses and physical or mental handicap.

Education

  • Lord Scarman concluded that “Disadvantage in education and employment are the two crucial facets or racial disadvantage”.
  • He also stated that without decent education a person is unlikely to find jobs they aspired to or in fact any job at all.
  • Alot of black people who were concerned about racial disadvantage had the attitude that there was no point in education when it comes to employment as they have no chance due to racial disadvantage.

Discrimination 

  • Employers had views of black people as they saw them as having a lack of qualifications. They also saw them as bad time keepers, as having a unwillingness to travel, and in some cases as having a poor level of English.
  • Of equal importance it was suggested that it was not only employers who discriminated against black people but other employees within a company or business.
  • It was also said that discrimination existed not only in the employment field but on the street, but in schools too. (My first Blog shows proof of that).

Lord Scarman made several conclusions however at this stage I will be sharing the following ones. I will be honest and tell you that I am still researching this report. I have realised that one Blog will not cover this entire subject hence splitting it into two. The second half will follow in due course.

Lord Scarmans Conclusions

  • Social circumstances were very poor however this was not an excuse to riot.
  • Lambeth Council were aware of the social problems and had launched a program to promote equal opportunities and to combat racial disadvantage. In 1978 they had formed a Race Relations Unit who were charged with the mentioned task.
  • Following the riots Lambeth Council had made steps to improve housing allocations.
  • Lambeth Council following the riots had been granted £9 million pounds from Central Government to make improvements to the neighbourhood.
  • The black people tended to reside in deprived areas of the City.
  • Black people were desperate for equality with their white counterparts.
  • Black people were not politically secure. There were no black MP’s or Councillors and this was a problem for the community.

I have enjoyed researching this subject so far. I will be honest and say that I had heard of the riots back in 1981 but it is only until now that I have begun to understand why they happened. I am sure that we will all agree that the Police were a major factor in these riots but were not fully to blame. The Police had no control over housing and education or the fact that the country was in recession, however their policing approach was extremely unfair and in my last Blog a then serving Met Police Constable openly admitted how they would target black people.

The Police cannot police without co operation of the public and what I am trying to achieve through this staged Blog is to highlight the importance of how this relationship is.  If I had my way then every new Constable, Special and Pcso would have to study the Scarman Report. This report was written back in 1981 but as this Blog progresses you will see that many of the things Scarman spoke about are evident today and it would appear that we in some areas have learned NOTHING!

As ever I value your feedback and thank you for reading.

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4 Responses to Part 2a – Police and Community Relations (The Scarman Report 1981)

  1. Well done another very well thought out piece.

  2. Who would you say was most in this position today? I suspect the ‘chavs’, personally – the despised underclass, who don’t seem to have any realistic prospects in our society today – they’re screwed and they know it – but there may be an unfortunate number of other contenders for society-loathed people.
    I’m diddakoi myself and lord knows the gypsies have had it rough and given it back rough. I always internally face-palm when I watch UK cop shows and the oft-repeated narration says ‘the stolen car turns into a gypsy encampment’. I don’t know if they’re Roma, or Traveller – all called the same on the telly.

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