A Bank Holiday bonanza: Don't stop the carnival!

It is an exhibition of multicultural Britain at its best. More than 500,000 people packed on to the streets of Notting Hill for a joyous display of diversity and decadence. Jonathan Brown reports
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The Independent Online

The sun shone and the crowds turned out in their customary vast numbers for the annual celebration yesterday of what its supporters claim to be the best of British multiculturalism.

Half a million people crammed into the streets of North Kensington in west London to be part of the Notting Hill Carnival. With its kaleidoscope of painted faces and colourful costumes, set to a cacophony of pulsating sound systems and steel drums, the event has become the largest street party in Europe.

Professor Chris Mullard, the chairman of London Notting Hill Carnival Limited, the organiser, hailed the "amazing multicultural atmosphere".

"There seems to be a different spirit this year. Instead of just looking at the carnival, people are engaging with it. People think it's safer, they are more relaxed, they understand the multicultural nature of British society, and they are making a statement, that we are all together," he said.

By last night, police made 97 arrests, mostly for drugs offences and theft. There were few public order arrests and organisers are keen to highlight this year's largely peaceful proceedings with those of 30 years ago, which took place against a backdrop of largely unchallenged racism, both within the policeforce and society at large.

Coming at the end of the long hot summer of 1976, 3,000 officers charged groups of young West Indian men who threw rocks gathered from the demolition sites around them.

While Notting Hill has since been gentrified and the Metropolitan Police has set about building relationships with London's black communities, the carnival remains largely unchanged.

Policing continues to be an annual test of the spirit of conciliation and multiculturalism, while organisers are desperate to prevent a repeat of the murders and violence that blighted the event until very recently. This year 10,000 officers will be on duty.

Yesterday's Children's Day was the traditional precursor to today, when up 500,000 join in and the traditional flashpoint arises when the party ends and the sound systems are silenced.

Police have cracked down on troublemakers who might be tempted by the " target rich" event, with 93 arrests being made in a month-long operation for offences including supplying class A drugs and robbery. Thirty-three warning letters were sent to known criminals advising them not to attend.

This year's carnival will be accompanied by a "family-friendly" Caribbean Showcase in Hyde Park, organised by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.