The Home Office cover-up of Notting Hill's race riots

The Home Office and Scotland Yard tried to cover up the Notting Hill race riots of the 1950s by portraying them as a clash between "ruffians, both coloured and white", newly revealed official documents have disclosed.

Senior officials and police chiefs tried to present the riots in 1958 as a regular "law and order" issue to protect the Government from international political embarrassment.

The riots happened when the Conservative government of the time was pursuing a policy of open immigration to Britain from the Commonwealth to fill job shortages. Negotiations were also under way to give independence to several former colonies in Africa and the Caribbean.

The revelations, contained in documents released by the Public Record Office at Kew, south-west London, coincide with the 45th anniversary of the riots this weekend. About two million people are expected to gather for the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe's biggest annual multicultural party.

The documents show that rank-and-file police officers warned in statements that "racial prejudices were leading to serious disturbances", but were ignored by their superiors. The documents also disclose that the Government's Colonial Office wanted to address the racial prejudice in Notting Hill because of concerns being voiced by Commonwealth governments, but was rebuffed by the Home Office.

In the ensuing months, the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley campaigned in the neighbourhood to become the area's MP. In May 1959 Kelso Cochrane, a young black man, was stabbed to death in Golborne Road by white youths who were never caught.

The contents of the documents are revealed in a BBC Radio 4 programme to be broadcast on Monday, giving a fresh insight into the riot that took place in what was then a depressed neighbourhood where 6,000 West Indian immigrants were trying to settle.

"Notting Hill in the late 1950s was a world away from the cosmopolitan designer elegance that attracts tourists and American film-makers today," said Zareer Masani, who presents the programme. "In the months that followed the Notting Hill riots the failure to get to grips with racial violence in the area allowed fascist groups to carry on unhindered with their virulent anti-black rhetoric."

According to a statement made at the time of the riots by Police Constable Michael Leach, based in Notting Hill, crowds would gather to "shout slogans such as 'Let's find another nigger'." He wrote: "There were several hundred people, all white, congregated about the footway and ... shouting obscene remarks like, 'We will get the black bastards'."

But writing an internal police memo in September 1958, the divisional commander for the area rejected the notion of a race riot. "Much of the trouble was caused by ruffians, both coloured and white, who seized the opportunity to engage in hooliganism," he said.

The West Indian commissioner to London, Garnett Gordon, was unhappy at the way fascist groups were able to flourish in the area after the riots and wrote to the Colonial Office to complain but the Home Office resisted the office's attempts to intervene.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little