Part 2c – Police & Community Relations (The Scarman Report – Summary & Findings)

Thank you for your continued interest into this staged Blog. I have had a period of being busy at work and at home but I am back.

In my three Blogs I covered the Inquiry lead by Lord Scarman into the Brixtion Riots in 1981. They can be found here and if you are a first time reader I recommend that you read these two previous posts before reading on.

Part 1 –

Part 2a –

Part 2b –

Lord Scarman is the final part of his report made a number of findings and recommendations and I will go through them now.

Summary Of Findings

Social Conditions

  • Brixton has many features of a decaying inner city area.
  • Brixton as a community had a larger than national average of black people.
  • Black residents were subjected to harder discrimination in education, and employment and this discrimination was not shared by their white counterparts.
  • Although social conditions were poor this was not an excuse to riot and that the residents of Brixton who had good reason to be frustrated were wrong to riot.

The Disorders 10th April 1981

  • The first set of disorder followed after incorect rumours about an injured black youth who had been stabbed. It was found that the actions of the officers were reasonable and that they could not have dealt with that situation differently.
  • The disorder on the 10th of April was spontaneous and although community tension was high the disorder could not have been predicted.
  • The Police response to the disorder was appropriate to the circumstances.
  • The Borough Commander following the disorder on the 10th of April made a poor decision to continue with Operation Swamp 81 that night. Tensions were very high and Swamp 81’s continued operation did nothing to help resolve this tension, in fact it made things worse.

The Disorders Of 11th of April 1981

  • Following the disorders of the day before there were a large amount of young people on the streets spoiling for a row. This was as a result of their frustrations and beliefs.
  • The disorders of the 11th of April were sparked by a stop and search of a black taxi driver by two white plain clothed officers who thought they had witnessed the man conceal items within his sock. The search revealed that this was cash that the taxi driver had made lawfully. Having been searched and providing this reasonable explanation the two officers went on to search the taxi for drugs and this angered nearby people.
  • The actions of the two Police Officers was not unlawful however they failed to use discretion and having heard a reasonable and believable excuse for possessing the cash the following search of the taxi was not completely necessary although not unlawful.

The Disorders of the 12th of April 1981

  • The disorders of the 12th of April 1981 were alot shorter and less widespread and were a tail off of the disorders the day before.

The Disorders – The Conclusion

  • The riots were not predetermined. They were a spontaneous reaction to what was seen as Police harassment.
  • During the riots an element of riot leadership emerged.
  • Black people started the riots as a result of Police harassment. White people joined black people to riot.
  • Petrol bombs were used for the first time ever on English soil. Evidence proves that it was white people who were assisting black people with the preparation and supply of the petrol bombs.
  • Lord Scarman concluded that “the disorders were communal disturbances arising from a complex political, social and economic situation, which is not special to Brixton. There was a strong racial element in the disorders; but they were not a race riot. The riots were essentially an outburst of anger and resentment by young back people against the Police”.

Police and Community Relations

  • A major cause of the hostility of young black people towards the Police was a loss in confidence by significant sections, though not all of the Lambeth public in the Police.
  • The loss of confidence in the Police was caused by the collapse of the Police Liaison Committee, hard policing methods, distrust in the police complaints procedure and racial prejudice by some officers.
  • The report released by the Working Party employed by the local Council worsened relations between the Police and the community, although it has been acknowledged that the report accurately reflected attitudes, beliefs and feelings.
  • The disorder happened for a number of reasons and due to this both the Police and the Community must accept a share of the blame fr the breakdown in relations.
  • The policies of the Met Police were not racist however racial prejudice occasionally manifested itself in behaviour of few officers.
  • It was also recognised that police harassment did in fact occur.

The Police Operation – The Disorders

  • The Met Police recognised the need for good community relations and this was demonstrated by the actions of the Borough Commanders in his attempts to restore links with the Police Liaison Committee.
  • The Police did not over react to the disorders. On the Saturday night the Police were put in a fight or flight situation and they were right not to withdraw on the Saturday night when the disorder was at its most fierce.
  • The Brixton riots revealed a weakness in the police capacity to respond firmly to violence.
  • The delay in dealing with looting was not due to reluctance, it was down to limited police resources.
  • The Police response to the disorders should be praised and not criticised.


Lord Scarman having reviewed the riot causes made a number of recommendations for change to prevent future incidents of rioting.


  • The Police operate in a growing multi cultural society and as such the police service should represent that community. Therefore the police need to do more to recruit black people into the service.
  • Recruitment standards are high as to attract high calibre applicants. Black people tend to be poorly educated and it was recommended that recruitment standards are not lowered but that black applicants should be given special extra training to assist them to achieve the recruitment standards.
  • Opportunities should be explored to increase opportunities for black people in the police cadet scheme and the Special Constabulary.
  • The Police need to improve methods of weeding out racist applicants to prevent them being employed.


  • Basic training of all recruits should be extended to a minimum of six months to enable recruits to be better prepared for policing in a multi cultural society.
  • Every police officer should be given training in Diversity and Public Order tactics (both prevention and the handling of public order).
  • All police officers should be trained in Conflict Management skills that shall be used in their day to day duties when performing things such as stop and search.
  • Having been educated in Diversity as part of basic training recruits should complete a Street Duties Course where they practice their skills in dealing with different members of society. This should be done under the supervision of a tutor.
  • Every recruit should undertake part of if not all their probationary period working in a multi cultural area such as Brixton under a tutor constable.


  • All Sergeants and Inspectors should be trained to monitor stop and search patterns / officer behaviour to identify and challenge racist behaviour or trends.


  • Racial, prejudice and discriminatory behaviour should be made a specific offence in the Police Disciplinary Code.
  • A belief should be enforced that a breach of the above offence SHALL lead to dismissal from the service.

Law Reform

Lord Scarman made a number of recommendations for changes to law. I will not detail all of them but I strongly recommend that if you get the opportunity that you read the Scarman Report to understand it.

  • Lord Scarman found unquestionable evidence of unfair stop and search being used on black people. He called for the Sus Law to be abolished and replaced with new legislation.
  • Concerns were raised regarding the questioning and detention of people in police custody. Scarman recommended that independent inspectors be allowed access to police custody centres to conduct random inspections. This gave birth to the modern day Independent Custody Visitors we have today.
  • The riots of 1981 and the various recommendations made by Lord Scarman gave the foundations for the launch of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984. This legislation introduced new rules covering stop and search and other things such as the questioning and detention of people in police custody.

Social Reform

  • I am not going to go into the social reform recommendations but in short they covered improvements to housing and leisure facilities and other things such as building in crime prevention measures as part of new housing developments etc.
  • I recommend reading Lord Scarmans report to see the list of recommendations in this field.

Over the last few Blogs I have covered the causes of the Brixton Riots of 1981. I have covered some of the main points raised and my plan from here is to look into the London 2011 riots and attempt to look for similarities into their causes and the causes back in 1981.

This Blog has been a large one hence breaking it into easier to read stages. I would again like to thank you for your continued interest and if you have any questions I will do my level best to answer them. Just add your question to the comments section of this Blog and I will reply.

Thanks – Sir Robert


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