Carnival: Gangs, critics and society’s punchbags

Chris Hobbs /   August 31, 2018 at 7:55 AM 92,240 views

It was the above-mentioned tweet posted over the bank holiday weekend that ended my period of indecision as to whether I would attend Carnival for the second year running. I’d already been less than impressed by an ‘Independent Voices’ article which suggested that ‘Excessive policing will be the downfall of carnival not crime.’

So, I reluctantly concluded that if police were not only ‘at war’ with the black community but their mere presence was about to ruin the Notting Hill Carnival, I should perhaps visit the potential ‘battlefield,’ namely Carnival itself.

Police critics on Twitter had already had a field day condemning carnival policing, seemingly oblivious of the carnage that has been taking place on London’s streets over recent months and years.

The Black Lives Matter ‘at war’ comment stemmed from an incident filmed and shared which showed two police officers restraining a young black male in handcuffs and at one stage partially covering his face with his hood, perhaps concerned as to the possibility of being spat at. As a struggle, on a violence scale of 1 to 10, it rated about a 2 but was accompanied by a screaming female who proclaimed she was the sister of the individual.

Bile was heaped on police via social media as activists and ‘concerned’ citizens protested about police ’brutality.’

It’s always interesting to look down the timelines of those who accuse police of ‘brutality’ or indeed of, in some way, spoiling Carnival. There is rarely any comment at all in relation to stabbings and shootings or of the fact that montages show disproportionately black victims, all too often victims of black perpetrators. This fact doesn’t appear to be disputed by activists and indeed is confirmed by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC).

The causes of such carnage are not the fault of the police, rather of successive inept national and local governments of all parties who can see no further than the result of the next election.

It is the police who have to apply the sticking plaster, be that in relation to the predominately black victims of street violence in London or predominately white victims in Merseyside.

It is a sad fact of life that when responding to stabbings or shootings in London, police officers are very often on the scene before paramedics. They will then do their best for the victims regardless of race, religion, colour or sexual orientation. Police battling to save the lives of black youngsters fails to attract the attention of politicians such as David Lammy or Diane Abbott, groups such as Black Lives Matter or the numerous police hating activists. Favourable comment in respect of police life-saving efforts can, however, be found, on gang social media.

The most vivid example of the carnage caused by gang violence could be seen recently in Camberwell when four teenagers were stabbed in a horrific incident which left one of the victims disembowelled.

Police tending victims after the Camberwell multiple stabbing incident

The scene resembled a war zone and vivid, shocking footage of police tending victims could be viewed on YouTube. It was filmed from an adjacent balcony accompanied by a despairing commentary from a lady who was viewing the distressing aftermath of these multiple stabbings.

The feverish activity of police attempting to save lives drew, as far as I can see, no approbation from so-called community activists yet this is a scene oft-repeated; indeed, on several previous occasions when police were tending to victims they themselves have been abused and attacked by youths.

Perhaps police battling to save lives of black youths and young men doesn’t suit the agenda of activists but criticism of stop and search does.

Stop and search

Despite the surge in violent crime which frequently involves knives, firearms and even acid, criticism of stop and search still abounds and this criticism becomes ever more strident as Carnival approaches. As stated above the hands of police officers are frequently bloodied when attending violent incidents but metaphorical allegations of ‘blood on your hands’ are very much levelled at Prime Minister Theresa May for her strident criticism of stop and search when she was Home Secretary; in fact, the last Tory election manifesto contained a threat from Theresa May to legislate if numbers were not reduced.

The simple fact is that every murdered street gun and knife crime victim would still be alive today if their assailant had been stop and searched before encountering their victim. The Met have taken hundreds of knives from the streets by virtue of stop and search and sweeps in the period when the shackles imposed by Theresa May were removed. How many lives saved by these operations is unquantifiable but even if an exact figure could be quoted, it is unlikely that this would appease police critics.

The media, for some strange reason, made great play regarding the fact that a section 60 order in respect of stop and search, was to be implemented at Carnival despite the fact that section 60 has been implemented in previous years. Given events on the streets of London however, it was hardly surprising.

Just a stroll through Carnival

So, with Black Lives Matter UK announcing a war with police, you would expect tensions to be high at a Caribbean themed carnival. As last year, I found that the edge of Carnival was marked by traffic officers. Then it was a lengthy walk before the next group of police were encountered. All were in public order uniform complete with baseball caps. Here was the first sign of stop and search and I paused to watch as thousands walked past on their way to the joys of Carnival.

The last time I was at an event where large crowds were walking past groups of police officers, those officers were being regaled with chants of ‘scum’ and ‘shame on you’ by protestors supporting Tommy Robinson.

On this occasion, despite controversial stop and search being implemented, professionally and convivially I might add, there was not a flicker of interest from any individual or group walking past. This included those from communities ostensibly ‘at war’ with police.

Last year I dipped my toe into Carnival; this year I was determined to be a little more adventurous. The notion that Carnival was over-policed struck me as being a little strange as some streets leading to the ‘action’ had no police presence at all.

Gradually as the crowds thickened, the numbers of police increased but there was a total absence of any tension.

Officers were simply an accepted part of the carnival furniture, to be photographed with, to take selfies with and to ask for directions. If there was a war, it was, a very phony one.

I boldly walked down into one of the carnival’s main areas in and around Powis Square, a name easily remembered by many retired Met officers. One stop and search proved quite amusing as a young man walked past officers apparently completely unaware that he had placed a small spliff behind his left ear. He was politely tapped on the shoulder by a grinning Met officer and the look of surprise and then realisation was classic. Even he saw the funny side as he was led away to be searched. Clearly it was just the spliff as I saw him later doubtless remembering his street warning.

Unobtrusive groups of officers in baseball caps and public order overalls stood around, some tapping their feet to the music from sound systems, others impassive. The atmosphere around the sound systems with the gyrating crowds was quite something although it wasn’t quite the retro music that I tend to favour whilst DJing.

One somewhat disturbing aspect of the carnival which was clearly apparent was the number of revellers in possession of nitrous oxide filled balloons, indeed nitrous oxide appeared to have replaced cannabis as the ‘substance’ of choice.

The route back was much the same; police and revellers, at least in my view, co-existed peacefully and amicably. I then saw a moving sight as a young man carefully negotiated a wheelchair through the considerate crowds. The elderly man in the wheelchair, possibly the grandfather, had clearly suffered a catastrophic medical event yet the music and the vibe were clearly having a positive effect. The young man then stopped the wheelchair and carefully wiped the elderly man’s nose before proceeding.

I made my way back to the official carnival route where I watched the patient police liaison officers in their blue tabards accompanying part of the float procession before I crossed the route during a pause.

The Commish, Mr Angry and violence

Once on the other side, I could spot the diminutive figure of a female officer in uniform making her way through the dense crowds; it was the Commissioner, Cressida Dick. In front of her was a uniform officer and close behind and looking very nervous were two casually dressed male and female protection officers.

As I know the commissioner I thought of pushing my way through to say ‘hi’ but decided that the risk of being decked by her protection team was too great and I hadn’t actually been too complementary about her decision in respect of spit hoods. In fairness though I was quite impressed by the Commissioner’s willingness to make her way through the dense crowds to visit her officers.

Eventually I returned to the original group of stop and search officers who had now encountered an individual who was not happy. He was cuffed and hurled abuse at officers as he was searched. Clearly the search was negative, but as he was released it became apparent he was the worse for drink and continued to hurl abuse.

A passing acquaintance pulled him away but as the situation appeared to be resolved, the individual dropped his bag, took off his jacket and made his way menacingly towards the officers. TSG officers standing next to me began to move towards the recalcitrant male.

Suddenly a voice boomed above the hubbub; ‘Go now’ shouted the nearest officer and picking up his jacket and bag this individual did. That was the cue for me to depart also. There was no way I was hanging around until dusk.

That was the only piece of friction I saw over the two Carnivals. The much criticised ‘oppressive’ policing operation had succeeded in keeping the gangs out of Carnival. Despite the publicity surrounding stop and search and knife arches, 36 knives were seized by officers; each seizure is of course a potential life saver but the activists would never admit that. Doubtless the final figures in respect of arrests, seizures and crimes committed were affected by the abysmal weather on the Sunday.

Critics also conveniently forget that there is a major terror threat to the capital; an explosion or an ‘active shooter’ during Carnival would not only result in the deaths of those close to the incident but the resultant panic could well cause a disaster in those crowded streets that would dwarf Hillsborough.

However, despite the above-mentioned successes, police officers were still subjected to unacceptable levels of violence from thugs with some being bitten and spat at; 30 were injured. In one case a police motorcyclist was rammed by another bike, the rider of which was arrested after a chase across London.

Away from Carnival, London still had to be policed. In Harrow, police rushed to the scene of a large fight and found two stabbed teenagers. The incident may well have been a continuation of an ongoing feud between two outer north-west London gangs that has previously resulted in death and serious injury. Those gangs would ordinarily have been at Carnival.

In Camden there was a stabbing while a female returning from Carnival was injured at Caledonian Road station after being attacked with a bottle. Another stabbing occurred in Markhouse Road, Walthamstow.


Carnival or not, life in London goes on and sadly it also involved a filmed assault on two police officers called to McDonalds in Mare Street Hackney. Police were called via a staff panic button to a male attacking customers. The two officers were struggling with the suspect on the floor when a male emerged from a jeering crowd before twice running at one of the officers, kicking him viciously in the back on each occasion.

There was outrage from some but predictably the same paper which ran a piece accusing police of ruining the Notting Hill Carnival decided to throw the spotlight on the actions of police rather than the male fighting customers or the cowardly attack on police officers.

BBC London news covered the incident and included for ‘balance’ a brief clip from Met Federation representative Ken Marsh, but it could well be argued that the remainder of the piece came close to implying that the attack on the officers was justified because of habitual police racism.

Policing of course continued outside London over the bank holiday weekend. In Hampshire an attack on an officer resulted in broken ribs, other officers were kicked and punched and one sexually assaulted. In North Wales seven officers were attacked with one having his nose broken. Another was spat at.

These were just two forces as across the England and Wales thinly spread officers, often single crewed with back-up miles away, did their best to cope with an ever-increasing volume of emergency calls.

It is however little wonder that officers are more vulnerable to attack than ever and reductions in police numbers are only part of the equation.

Shortly after the murder of two New York police officers in December 2015, New York Governor George E Pataki tweeted: “Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric.” Governor Pataki then named New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and US Attorney General Eric Holder.

I replied saying that a similar situation exists in the UK.

Bile heaped on police by Theresa May during her time as Home Secretary and indeed constant belittling by politicians, including David Cameron, from both the left and right over the last few years – plebgate, porngate – has surely served only to encourage elements hostile to police.

Added to this are constant efforts by most of the press to find stories which denigrate police, be it sitting together for a cup of coffee or snatching a traditional few minutes on the bumper cars at the end of a long festival day. Front line officers will never forgive or forget the Sun’s ‘Dim Blue Line” headline.

Then there are the above-mentioned activists who will continuously criticise ‘racist’ police but never praise them.

Little wonder then that this constant denigration coupled with the truly pathetic sentencing of those who attack officers can only embolden lawless elements to attack those on the fractured blue line.

This officer suffered permanent scaring and a fractured eye socket. Her injuries may lead to a cataract.

Perhaps activists would like to nominate a police force anywhere in the world which we in the UK should emulate.

Finally, in relation to Carnival, perhaps an activist or indeed anyone who regards the police presence over the weekend as oppressive and unnecessary could answer this question. I’ve asked it on previous occasions but thus far there has been no response.

Do you agree that the following should apply at the 2019 Carnival? No pre-carnival raids, no stop and search, no dispersal or banning orders, no CCTV, no super-recognisers, no facial-recognition, no knife arches, a dramatically reduced level of policing and unrestricted entry to all comers.

Chris Hobbs

(ex-Met Police)

10 thoughts on “Carnival: Gangs, critics and society’s punchbags”

  1. Jack Dees says:

    Great piece Chris. An up to date 360° summary.

  2. Jules says:

    Great article Chris. Brilliantly summed up.

  3. Ian Templeton says:

    Ok so I may be biased as an ex Cop who first Policed Carnival in 76 and many years subsequent but I found this article very positive and a refreshing change from MSM and sadly from many ex colleagues on various old sweats sites. Thank you for your positive inputs here an on various other sites.

  4. Ian Knight says:

    Nice article Hobbsy

  5. Scott B Hutchison says:

    Good article. I retired I 2015, and last policed Carnival in 1993. I do not miss it one bit.

  6. Chris. Serving AFO. 👍 says:

    Brilliant read.

  7. Peter Nash says:

    Yes, stop all police presence at Carnival 2019, then stand by for outrageous indignation as to why the Police weren’t there to prevent the subsequent carnage.
    And, ban all white people from attending as it is ‘Cultural Misappropriation’ for them to be there as its a Caribbean experience not a ‘Caucasian’ experience.
    Then we will see just how much long the Notting Hill carnival will last. I would hazard a guess that most of us out in the rest of the UK had never heard of the carnival until the violence it suffers made it newsworthy. If such an event ever took place organised by white people and suffered from the same sort of violence, attacks on the police and criminality it would be banned, but as the Notting Hill Carnival is an ‘Afro Caribbean’ event to ban it would be ‘Racist’.

  8. Conrad Gerrard says:

    A really good piece. As I’m m not a met officer I’ve never had to police the carinval. Those that call us racists are frequently guilty of racism themselves but choose to deny it. They seem to forget that all lives matter regardless of skin colour and choose only to criticise rather than try to solve the problem

  9. Mike Warburton says:

    Very well done as always, Chris. Keep up the good work.
    Mike Warbs

  10. Bill Handrahan says:

    Good points in an argument well made Chris – as a former officer (and like my friend Scott Hutchinson) I do not miss Carnival one little bit.

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