Livingstone plans inquiry into carnival

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The Independent Online

The Notting Hill Carnival could turn into "another Heysel" disaster if policing and public order is not overhauled, Trevor Phillips, the Greater London Authority chairman, said last night.

The Notting Hill Carnival could turn into "another Heysel" disaster if policing and public order is not overhauled, Trevor Phillips, the Greater London Authority chairman, said last night.

He said an inquiry was planned - led by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and key assembly members.

But while Mr Phillips personally opposes any attempt to reduce the size of the carnival or take it off the streets of West London, these are among the options which will be considered by the review.

The mayor knows he cannot avoid the issue following the murder of two men at last week's carnival and claims by rank-and-file police officers that they had been told to turn a blind eye to criminal activity in order to avoid possible confrontation.

His decision to intervene is expected to lead to a major review of the way the event is policed after the murders and several stabbings.

Mr Phillips described as "grotesque" attempts to turn carnival problems into a race issue.

"The thing I feel angry about is that people will have their eye taken off the real threat to public safety which is one of size, scale, and organisation, and will get fixated on whether there were three guys with guns or somebody with a knife there," he said. "The real issue is how you can modernise the carnival."

Yesterday, an unidentified police officer claimed that the Metropolitan Police were encouraged by their superiors to turn a blind eye to offences, including drug-taking, and had lost control of the multi-cultural festival. "You're discouraged from being involved with crimes which are not necessarily violent," the officer anonymously told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "They don't necessarily want you to get involved with crimes that will reduce your level of manpoweron the street, and so they tend to shy away from crimes which are non-violent."

The accusation prompted concern from shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe.

Miss Widdecombe said policing of the carnival had to be examined carefully after this year's problems.

"There is a world of difference between saying 'police with a light hand' and saying you should ignore crime that you would not ignore in other circumstances.

"There is a difficult line ... but at the end of this one, we have two people dead, and we can't ignore that. What the police have to ask themselves is whether there is a case for greater intervention," she said.

But Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Ian Johnston rejected the suggestion that officers had been ordered to turn a blind eye to many crimes or that they had lost control at the carnival. "The notion of a policy of non-intervention ... simply doesn't stack up. An 84 per cent increase in arrests doesn't look to me like a policy of non-intervention," he said.

"Of course safety is an issue for us to consider. It would be sheer madness for us not to take safety into account in policing this event.

"But it is about how you time the arrests, what tactics you use, whether you follow people off, whether you intervene directly in the middle of a very large crowd and create panic - those are the sort of considerations we are encouraging our officers to go through before intervening."

Mr Johnston said police had not lost control of the event, adding that there were about 1.5 million people at the carnival and statistics showed there to have been about one crime per 6,000 people.

He said: "Two murders is totally unacceptable, it's appalling, and we have got teams of detectives trying to get into this.

"We shall be looking at ways to make sure that the sort of numbers we had on this occasion don't occur in the future. The big issue here is public safety . . . it is about balancing law enforcement against public safety. And diving unthinkingly into large crowds for relatively minor offences frankly doesn't make sense. The carnival is a multi-cultural event, of course race is on our agenda, but the big issue is one of public safety," said Mr Johnston.

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