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.

Police & Community Relations – Part 1 – The Brixton Riots 1981

This is the first part of a staged Blog that I am writing covering community relations between the police and the communities that we serve. I have started with the Brixton Riots as feel that this was a very important mile stone in British history and the events of April 1981 can in some ways be linked to the recent rioting.

I will be examining what happened, why it happened, the lessons learned and what has changed since then. I hope that the mixture of text and video interviews is informative and educational.

London, January 1981.

A party is under way at 439 New Cross Road and in attendance are a number of black youths. It was Sunday the 18th of January, and it was a birthday party for one of the occupiers and they had music on as is the case in many parties. People were enjoying themselves but nothing could prepare the party goers for what would happen later that night.

Complaints had been received early on in the evening about the noise levels coming from the party. At this time in history racial tension was at an all time high and groups such as the National Front were active.

The noise coming from the party continued into the night and at some point a fire started at the house that resulted in the death of 13 black youths. The Community were very quick to say that the fire was intentional and that the black people had been targeted by a racist (although to this day this theory has never been proven and no one has been convicted). This video explains more.

The Country was in recession. Unemployment amongst African Caribbean members of the community was high (higher than white people) and the quality of housing was poor. Combined,  the above lead to an increase of criminality as people struggled with little or no money.

Over the next few months the Metropolitan Police investigation into the fire at 439 New Cross Road was critised by the community. Allegations were made that the Police did not care about the fire, covered things up, and did not treat the investigation seriously. This lead to increased tensions between the community and the Police as to put it bluntly the public did not trust the police.

On the 2nd of March 1981 a demonstration took place that had been arranged. It was the Black Peoples Day of Action. The demonstration itself was fairly successful with only a small amount of disorder taking place, however what did not help was negative reporting by the media.

The media reports that followed would only succeed in increasing tension further and it created a larger divide between the public and the police. Things were made worse when the Metropolitan Police arrested and charged the demonstration organisers with Inciting a Riot. These charges were subsequently dropped at a later stage.

Worried about the increase in offences such as Robbery at the beginning of April 1981 the Metropolitan Police launched Operation Swamp 81. This was a operation that saw plain clothed police officers literally swamp the Lambeth Borough. People were subjected to stop searches under the Sus Law Power of 1824. Type this into a search engine to see a full description of this power.

This operation would turn out to be the start of a massive revolt against the Metropolitan Police. In the first few days of Operation Swamp 81 nearly 1000 stop and searches took place on the streets of Lambeth, most on black people.  This created further resentment towards the Police and this video will help you to understand the reasons why.

The 10th of April 1981 signalled the start of what was to become a full blown riot. Pc Margottia was on patrol in Lambeth and came across a black youth who had been stabbed. Pc Margottia tried to help the stabbed youth but was unsuccessful. This was because the youth, who feared he was being arrested ran away.

This youth was stopped by two more officers in a neighbouring street. The two officers had done what limited things they could do to help the stabbed youth and were waiting for a Ambulance to arrive. Before the Ambulance arrived a group of black youths had seen what was happening and had failed to see that the officers were trying to help the stabbed youth and as a result they ganged up on the officers to “rescue” the stabbed youth.

The two officers then came under attack from bricks and bottles. Rumours started to circulate that the two officers had refused to help the stabbed youth, that they had prevented him from being treated, and even that the two officers had even caused the injury themselves!

The violence on the street lasted for roughly a hour and a half and by the end of it six arrests had been made and six police officers had been injured.

Operation Swamp 81 had continued throughout the night. The following day was the worst day and was later described as being the “first serious disorder in the history of the Met”!

Two officers witnessed a man conceal something inside of his sock and decided to investigate. They stopped the man and conducted a search of him under the Sus Law of 1824. The man claimed that he kept money in his sock for safe keeping. Having searched the man and finding nothing illegal the officers then searched his car.

A group of bystanders took offence to this and started throwing missiles at the officers. This developed into a full riot that would later be called Bloody Saturday.

As many as 5000 people took to the streets. 2500 Police Officers from across London rushed to the area to try and keep the peace. It was war between the black community and the people they hated – The Metropolitan Police.

Full scale rioting continued until it ended on the 12th of April 1981. It  had resulted in 280 police officers being injured, 45 protesters being injured, and 56 police vehicles being burned out. Buildings had been looted and set on fire, people had been robbed and Brixton ended up looking like a war zone.

The riots happened for a number of reasons that collectively  took the community to breaking point. Within days of the rioting ending the Government ordered a report into the riots which was to detail recommendations to prevent further disorder. This report was called the Scarman Report and I will be examining the Scarman Report and what it contained in the next stage of this Blog.

Thank you for reading and if you would like email notification of the release of the next part of this Blog please click on the Follow button at the top right hand side of the Blog page.