How two young men, and the spirit of the Carnival, died on the streets of Notting Hill

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Dusk was falling and the dense crowds of revellers were heading home through the litter-strewn streets of Notting Hill when Abdul Bhatti and his cousins suddenly became aware of a wave of hatred surging towards them.

Dusk was falling and the dense crowds of revellers were heading home through the litter-strewn streets of Notting Hill when Abdul Bhatti and his cousins suddenly became aware of a wave of hatred surging towards them.

The panic had had swept up to them as a mob of up to 50 young thugs came "steaming" through the crowds, hurling bottles and attacking people at random. In an instant the gang was upon them, wrenching a chain from the neck of Abdul's cousin.

Mr Bhatti, 28, a quiet insurance salesman with a degree in business administration, tried to help him but was punched flat and set on. After the ferocious assault, he managed to stagger a few yards before he collapsed with fatal brain stem injuries.

Two hours later, a mile across the carnival, a delivery driver Greg Watson, 21, was stabbed to death with a long-bladed knife by a hooded attacker for no known reason.

The two murders last Monday represent an unprecedented toll in the recent history of Europe's biggest street festival and last week provoked fierce debate on whether the event remains safe.

Senior Scotland Yard officers have been accused by rank-and-file police of abandoning the public to the carnival's criminal minority for fear of being accused of heavy-handed treatment of the most important event in the calendar of Britain's Afro-Caribbean population, in the wake of its bungling of the investigation into the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Ian Johnston said yesterday the 129 arrests at the carnival represented an 84 per cent increase on the previous year and this was evidence of police vigilance. And ambulance chiefs pointed out that despite the two deaths, the overall number of people treated by medics was the lowest in the past five years.

John Azah, a member of the Metropolitan Police independent advisory group, said he was at the carnival with his family and saw officers doing a "very good job" in policing an event where "a lot of people, black and white, were trying to have some fun".

But there is a growing realisation that the carnival is not as safe as some of the television pictures of smiling party-goers would suggest. An organiser, Steph Harwood, said the timing may have to be changed to avoid the c arnival going on late into the night, a time when AC Johnston said "the mood does change and it becomes a different event".

Ms Harwood, who also said she would like to see a doubling in the number of stewards, said it was important officials did not try to downplay the crime figures at the carnival so people could make an informed decision on whether to attend.

Abdul Bhatti had every right to think he would be safe. He was known among his friends for being the peacemaker among a group of university graduates who came from a wide variety of faiths.

He also lived in Hounslow, where many locals have become familiar with interracial fighting between Muslims and Sikhs. Mr Bhatti's close friend Dipen Rajyagur, said: "He was a timid, placid person who kept the group together. Every group has its arguments and he would always have a calming influence.

"He was clever, intellectual and sharp. You could tell by the way he handled situations. He enjoyed his job but I think he was still considering his options. He would have been successful at whatever he had done. He just gave 110 per cent to anything he was going to do and he used his head."

Shortly before his death, Mr Bhatti had bought a new car, a BMW, a purchase his friends saw as a sign of his new-found confidence and belief that he was now "going places". Mr Rajyagur had been with his friend earlier that day but the group had split up. "It was a good day," he said. "He was enjoying the spirit of the carnival."

Mr Rajyagur, who works for the anti-racist organisation the 1990 Trust, said his friend had no reason to think his life was in danger.

"The kneejerk reaction is to say, 'What do you expect, the carnival always has its problems' but it has been peaceful over the past three years.

"It was a pointless attack by a group of pointless people spoiling it for everyone else. When you go up against the grain of the crowd, somebody is going to be injured - they were lucky it wasn't a baby or a child.

"It is the kind of behaviour which puts a dark shadow on the carnival, when it should be thought of as a wonderful event for the black community."

Mr Bhatti was part of a close Pakistani family, with one older sister Aruna and a younger one Ayesha. The family had grown up in Wolverhampton. Abdul was a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan but had left the Midlands to take a degree at Brunel University.

After the attack, he had been in a coma at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, but his situation deteriorated following a string of heart attacks.

His mother, who had been visiting friends and family in Pakistan, arrived shortly after he died, denied even the opportunity to say goodbye to her oldest child and only son.

Mr Bhatti had lived with his mother and sisters in Hounslow following the death of their father two years ago. Mr Rajyaguru said: "I just can't imagine what his mother must be going through now.

"The last time his sister saw him he said he was off to the carnival and said he would be back in a couple of hours. She is still in complete shock, finding it hard to come to terms with it."

Scotland Yard said investigations into the two deaths were a top priority. As detectives hunt the "muscular black man with short hair" who murdered Greg Watson, three weeks after the birth of his baby daughter Amber, Abdul Bhatti's mother is going through the added trauma of being unable to bury her son immediately, according to Muslim custom because of the investigation.

"It has been hard for all of us, trying to understand because it was so sudden and so pointless," said Mr Rajyaguru. "We are trying to deal with it philosophically, trying to find some sense in a senseless situation."