Blunkett steps into carnival row

Click to follow
The Independent Online

David Blunkett is poised to intervene in a bitter row over the risks of serious overcrowding and disorder at this month's Notting Hill carnival.

Officials at the Home Office confirmed last night that ministers would "assist where necessary" following a long-running dispute between the organisers and the local council over safety arrangements.

Up to two million people are expected at this year's event in west London over the August bank holiday weekend, cementing its reputation as Europe's largest street festival. However, after the fatal stabbing of two revellers last year and a near disaster when a railing collapsed injuring two women, the event has been dogged by delays and disputes over security and crowd-control arrangements.

The Notting Hill Carnival Trust reached its target of recruiting 600 stewards to help control the crowds last week, but is arguing with Kensington and Chelsea council over the licensing of the 60 bands in the carnival parade.

The trust and bandleaders have refused to accept the council's demands for their full names and home addresses on privacy grounds. The council claims it could be forced to withhold their licences, which may lead to the parade being cancelled.

The dispute is set to escalate further this week. Merrick Cockell, the council leader, said he would warn the Home Office minister Bob Ainsworth and the Metropolitan police in a private meeting on Tuesday that he still has serious concerns over the safety of this year's event.

He will warn visitors and children to stay away unless he receives assurances in the next 48 hours that stewards would be properly trained and equipped.

Cllr Cockell will also urge Commander Mick Messenger, the officer in charge of policing the carnival, to support his warnings. The Met, which is deploying 8,400 officers at the carnival, has distanced itself from his claims but senior officers fear the absence of three "live" stages from nearby parks for rap, hip-hop and garage DJs could lead to up to 10,000 young men roaming around the streets.

However, the force remains optimistic the event will be safe. Chief Supt Bob Mackie, the Met's second-in-command, said: "We still have concerns, but as long as people can get these resolved we should be on our way."

Claire Holder, the chief executive of the carnival trust, last night accused the council of deliberately wrecking the event by scaring off sponsors for the live stages, such as MTV and Radio 1, and imposing unnecessary licensing demands.

She said Cllr Cockell's complaints to the Home Office were "petty" and exaggerated, since it ignored the trust's own band registration system.

The Home Office yesterday refused to commit itself to giving specific help, but its decision to offer assistance is a substantial change in the Government's long-standing refusal to get involved in the carnival.

In a rare show of unity, the carnival trust, council, police and Greater London Authority all want central government funding and ministerial support for a new, longer route through to Hyde Park, and a complete overhaul of the carnival's management.