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Notting Hill Carnival: Changing the headlines, Mayor Watch

Notting Hill Carnival hits the headlines every year, but sadly, the focus is often around crime. Are the police and other organisations justified in their criticisms of safety at Carnival?

Recently, the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, which I Chair, examined policing and safety at Notting Hill Carnival.

We wanted to look at whether the event – which attracts over a million people each year – is as safe as it can be and to find out what the Mayor can do to support those responsible for keeping Carnival-goers out of harm’s way. We heard evidence from the organisers, the police and others involved in Carnival. We also listened to Londoners who shared their views.

What we found in terms of crime was worrying.

Whilst the number of crimes at Carnival has risen over recent years – from 343 across Sunday and Monday in 2010, to 396 in 2016 – what is most significant is the rise in serious and violent incidents. Last year, the Met Police recorded 151 offences of violence against the person at Carnival: that’s an 86 per cent increase on 2010.

We heard that—much like for London as a whole—knife crime is a particular problem and at last year’s event four stabbings almost became four murders. Carnival has not experienced a murder in over a decade, and the Met and other partners are making concerted efforts to make sure this remains the case.

More broadly, public safety is an emerging problem. One of the most obvious risks for Carnival is overcrowding, which makes keeping people safe from harm difficult. This is made all the more acute because of the number of people going to Carnival and its street-based location.

Very few other events in London are comparable to Carnival in this respect.

We saw data from the London Ambulance Service and St John Ambulance that showed a doubling in the numbers of people treated at Carnival compared to a decade ago and the Met told the Committee that each year we come close to “a major catastrophic failure of public safety”.

Putting these two issues together, it’s clear there is a risk to people’s safety and the reputation of Notting Hill Carnival. The event has reached a tipping point, so we need to look at how the situation can be improved.

We looked to the organisers of Carnival—the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprise Trust—to be the driving force behind change. The Trust is made up of people who know Carnival best and are passionate about its success, but who also recognise that there are safety issues and a need to bring Carnival back to its roots as a celebration of culture, rather than a street festival.

These volunteers give up their time to support Carnival, but they have little funding or staffing resource, and lack the professional support they need. These volunteers need help to take greater ownership and responsibility, so it doesn’t just fall to the Met or local councils to meet the demands of Carnival.

This is where we think the Mayor can step in and help. He is in a unique position to provide advice and guidance to help put the Carnival Trust on a more formal and financially sustainable footing. This should help it not only to deliver a safer Carnival, but develop its ability to capitalise on the commercial potential and the brand of Carnival. The safer Carnival is, the more likely sponsors will want to support it.

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) is already examining crowd management at Carnival. It has commissioned independent experts to provide advice to see how the event could be made safer. Once this work is done, we would like to see the Carnival Trust and the Mayor work on those findings, and talk to Londoners about what, if anything, might need to change.

We don’t want Carnival to disappear from London’s landscape, we want it to thrive. But for it to do so we need to have open, honest and sensible conversations about how to improve it. We must stop those who want to ruin Carnival for the majority, and improve public safety, so that in future, its success becomes the headline story.

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