The first Notting Hill Carnival took place in 1966. And for the first decade of its existence, this three-day street festival – which was led by the local West Indian community – passed without incident.
In 1976, however, racial tensions were running high, due largely in part to the police’s ‘stop and search’ policy. Three thousand police officers – 10 times the usual number – were assigned to the Notting Hill Carnival.
According to police reports, on August 30, the last day of the festivities, officers attempted to arrest a pickpocket near Portobello Road. A number of carnival-goers – both black and white – came to the pickpocket’s aid and within minutes, this incident escalated into violence. Other witnesses later said that the presence of white fascist gangs had also contributed to the riot.
The police were attacked with stones, bottles and other missiles; windows were smashed and fires were started. Roads were sealed off and Ladbroke Grove Underground station was closed. More than 100 police officers and over 60 members of the public were injured during the riot, which lasted hours.
“There were missiles coming at us from all directions, some over a lengthy period, bottles, bricks and the like,” one officer told the BBC.
"This was supposed to be about fun and love – not violence," said Selwyn Baptiste, a member of the Notting Hill Carnival Development Committee.
The police made 66 arrests – and in a subsequent trial, which cost a record £250,000, 17 black youths were charged. Only two were convicted.
Those caught up in the riots included Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon, who later went on to form the band The Clash. The events of August 30 inspired their 1977 song White Riot.
The Notting Hill Carnival riot helped to usher in a new period of race relations in the UK. Later that year, the Race Relations Act was passed, which made racial discrimination unlawful in employment, training, housing, education and the provision of goods, facilities and services.
Police forces were granted exemption from its conditions, however – and it wasn’t until further riots, most notably in Brixton in 1981, and the ensuing Scarman Report, that a new code for police behaviour was put forward.