Scarman laments his broken creation Scarman laments breakdown of law

Alienation remains a feature of life in Brixton
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The Independent Online
Fourteen years on from Lord Scarman's report into the 1981 Brixton riots, more than pounds 200m in regeneration funding has been thrown at the deprived inner city borough, with another pounds 210m pledged over the next few years.

But as Wednesday night's riots have highlighted, the large sums of money have failed to tackle the underlying problems facing some sections of the Brixton community - particularly the disaffected young.

Yesterday Lord Scarman said he was "broken-hearted" about the violence and would be making it his business to find out the cause.

"This is a real tragedy. I would appeal to my friends in Brixton that the important thing is to get back to the normal, lawful process of protest and politics and that nothing will be achieved by violence in the streets, be it against policemen or other people.

"This is a complete breakdown of everything that I tried to create, " he said.

Certainly, beyond the immediate impact of smashed and burnt-out shops and cars, 1995 Brixton boasts very visible evidence of effort and investment since Lord Scarman's report. The newly opened pounds 4.5m Ritzy Cinema and arts complex, partly funded by City Challenge money, now dominates the corner of what was once known as the "front-line".

Rebuilding around the station and elsewhere in the town has been with help and a pounds 3m boost from English Heritage, anxious to preserve some fine examples of Victorian architecture.

Less visible, but arguably more relevant to Brixton's most deprived, the Camberwell Foyer provides training and accommodation for about 80 young and homeless. About 40 of them have now found jobs. Birrell House, a Sixties tower block, has been totally refurbished, with an additional 12 homes built next door with City Challenge money. The Baytree project aims at getting predominantly black women back into employment and a programme, run in conjunction with the local Lambeth Council has found over 800 people places in construction training or work.

However, according to some locals, these changes touch too few of those in need. The black writer, journalist and Brixton resident Darcus Howe said: "Millions of pounds have been poured into Brixton in the last few years under the City Challenge but blacks have not benefited from it by and large.

"The rage and fear that was expressed last night was of a kind I have never experienced - and this is my fourth riot," he said.

The fact remains that Lambeth - which includes Brixton, with its high concentration of Afro-Caribbeans - is one of Britain's 10 most deprived areas, as defined by unemployment levels, mortality rates and overcrowded housing.

An average of about 17 per cent of people in Brixton are without work. About 14 per cent of whites are jobless, but for blacks the figure rises to 29 per cent. On some of the borough's poorer estates most people are unemployed. Both black and white youths were involved in the latest outbreak of violence.

Across London generally, Afro-Caribbean youths are more likely to be expelled from school than their white counterparts. Young blacks aged between 16 and 24 are twice as likely to be without qualifications or work, and as the Home Office's research showed, young black people are much more likely to be stopped and searched by police, more likely to be sent to Crown court for trial, more likely to be remanded in custody and more likely to receive a prison sentence than whites.

In parts of Brixton where ethnic minorities make up nearly half of the community, these facts, borne out by brutal experience, lead to strong feelings of injustice and inequality. Add to that the spate of the deaths of black people in custody - Joy Gardner, Shiji Lapite, Brian Douglas and now Wayne Douglas - and feelings of frustration and helplessness set in.

According to Claude Moraes, director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, there has been "a piling up of issues" on the black community - including operation Eagle Eye, which targets muggers, and the clampdown on asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants.

"Because there has been no visual signs of their distress, everyone thinks things have got better. In fact the underlying problems particularly for the young - those ones first identified by Lord Scarman - have got worse, " he said.

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