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Opinion: don't stop the Carnival?

As debate continues about the future of the Notting Hill Carnival Chris Hobbs relfects on his day at the event.

Opinion: don't stop the Carnival?

Date - 4th September 2023
By - Chris Hobbs
4 Comments 4 Comments}

To most observers, the man whose arms were being held by two police officers and walked along the road, was simply another Carnival arrest. In fact, the man was ‘legless’ due to ‘over-indulgence,’ and was throwing up every few paces with the contents of his stomach coming precariously close to the shoes of the officers. The unfortunate individual was being walked to a near-by ambulance and was one of a number of examples that I personally witnessed, of police officers doing their best for members of the public who were injured or had become unwell

That this was a common feature of policing throughout is illustrated by a tweet from Pastor Lorraine whose son was sadly a victim of knife crime and who does outstanding work amongst the young people of south London.

I’ll mention below other examples of officers helping struggling members of the public but space will preclude me from mentioning them all.  This is an aspect of Carnival and indeed policing across the UK generally that is so often ignored by critics. This was tragically illustrated recently with the death of Nottinghamshire Police Sergeant Graham Saville, who died as a result of courageously going to assist a male attempting to commit suicide on railway tracks.

Whilst I had been to previous Carnivals on the Monday, I attended the Sunday event this year, for the first time. The crowds were much greater than I anticipated and seemed on the same level as the 2022 Monday event.

Feeling crushed

As I approached the Carnival footprint along Westbourne Grove at around 3 pm on the Monday, the numbers were considerably in excess of those I remembered from twelve months previously. I opted to continue along Westbourne Grove in order to get to Ladbroke Grove where I had decided to base myself for the duration. This proved to be a serious error. It was on the procession route and I opted for the pavement which was enclosed due to building work. It soon became obvious this was a mistake. Progress was painfully slow as the footway was packed with people moving in both directions. Two police officers heading in the same direction gave up; a burly paramedic and myself soldiered on.

As the scaffolding which enclosed us ended, we decided to move into the road behind a truck complete with sound system. Matters didn’t improve; the crowd was packed together and there was little room to move in any direction. The DJ had clearly realised we were heading for a potential crushing crisis and commendably stopped the music giving instructions to the crowd in an attempt to ease the pressure. ‘This is (expletive) dangerous,’ I said to my new paramedic companion and he nodded in agreement.

The situation was made worse, when, to my left, groups of youths began pushing their way through the packed crowd.

I confess, this incident left me quite shaken, yet the majority of the densely packed crowd seemed oblivious. I was told by officers that GT (police control) were aware of the situation but I couldn’t really see how they could now take any action which wouldn’t make the situation worse.

Somewhat chastened, I was determined to avoid all densely packed crowds for the remainder of the day and continued to make my way down to Ladbroke Grove. In Colville Terrace, I heard a commotion by the temporary toilets and saw a crowd. Female officers were attempting to break up a skirmish between two girls. One girl was instantly pacified, the other was hysterically violent and wouldn’t listen to reason.

Eventually officers pulled her away from the crowd but she still refused to calm down despite the best efforts of those officers. Eventually she was marched away..

Despite my experience on entering Carnival, I felt that the ‘vibe’ was overwhelmingly positive. Goodwill and good humour abounded and wherever there were police officers I witnessed positive interactions with the revellers which must have been an anathema to those activists who loathe police.

Upon reaching Cambridge Gardens, off which was a gated entrance to some sort of temporary police base, I decided to walk back up Ladbroke Grove to Barlby Road to meet up with an officer deployed there. Dotted along Ladbroke Grove at intervals, were police officers and again there were lots of positive interactions with revellers and lots of smiles on both sides.


I saw more arrests that seem to have been conducted with the minimum of fuss on both sides. One lad, arrested by the TSG was positively beaming from ear to ear. I returned to Cambridge Gardens where there was a loose cordon of officers at the junction who spent much of their time giving directions.

At about 5.30 there was a flurry of activity as a male on a stretcher was brought into Cambridge Gardens from Ladbroke Grove. He was attended by several paramedics whilst police officers provided a professional looking escort which made it clear that they were protecting both paramedics and the stricken patient. My incorrect guess was that this was one of the stabbing victims and officers were ensuring that his assailants were not permitted a second attempt. In actual fact, the victim had fallen from the top of a float, suffered a compound fracture of his leg plus a catastrophic bleed. He was initially looked after by police medics: Great work all round.

Later at around 7pm there was more activity as a prisoner, restrained by two officers was brought into Cambridge Gardens and was followed seconds later by an individual being bodily carried by a number of officers. The first prisoner ended up on the floor and as a crowd rapidly formed; one officer was punched in the face by an assailant who then beat a hasty retreat. Efforts are underway to locate him.

A couple of bottles were thrown in the direction of officers and one female was screaming about police brutality, but, as both prisoners were taken away, order was restored.

By 7.30pm TSG officers were lined up at the top of Cambridge Gardens and were clearly being held in reserve ready deploy to wherever they were needed. 

Leave the horses alone

By 8.30pm, two police horses were deployed to Cambridge Gardens and became an instant hit with revellers who crowded round and were permitted to stroke the animals. Suddenly, there was irate shouting from one of the mounted officers. I turned around and the horse and rider had crossed to the other side of the street. The object of their attention was a male in a light blue shirt. Quite what he had done wasn’t clear but he was also incurring the wrath of those Carnival goers who had been clustered around the animal and rider.

Officers nearby rushed to the scene and marched the man away. The horses and riders returned to their original position and again became the centre of attention for admiring revellers.


By 9pm, the trucks with the sound systems had come to a halt and thousands began making their way home. I opted to walk down Ladbroke Grove. The dispersal in this part of the Carnival footprint was clearly well planned. Loose Cordons of ‘kitted’ officers facing both ways, were placed across the road at intervals thus ensuring a benevolent police presence that was also a deterrent.

Officers were constantly being asked for directions and, polite and smiling, did their best to respond, including to me, even though they were from other areas of London.

As with last year's event, I reached my local pub generally praising Carnival but again, being unaware of headline grabbing incidents which I’d missed.

The unacceptable face of Carnival

Fortunately, this year no-one died but there were eight stabbings. Social media footage showed running youths and a male brandishing a machete in what was serious disorder and which also showed the intervention of mounted officers.

Again, more than 70 officers were assaulted with six having been bitten which appears to be a new unwelcome trend. The arrest count appears to have risen to over 300 for a variety of offences and these statistics suggested to sections of the media that the whole area was gripped by anarchy: It wasn’t.

Unacceptable as the violence was, public order commanders must have been relieved that there was no mass disorder involving rampages across the Carnival footprint with hundreds attacking officers.

The crowds on both Sunday and Monday were, in my opinion and the opinion of others, far greater than in previous years. The number of two million has been quoted and inevitably, amongst that number there will be several hundred thugs. In previous years, the Met had undertaken pre-emptive Carnival operations against those in gangs. There is no information as to whether these operations were carried out again this year.

In any event, despite the violence referred to above, which clearly marred Carnival, most revellers will have enjoyed their day. Policing by consent is very much the ‘buzz phrase” of the moment and most of that which I saw over those two days exemplified the principle.

Yet one fact is crystal clear; the Carnival is living on borrowed time in terms of a mass-casualty incident if it continues to be run in its present format. That fact needs to be acknowledged and soon.

And finally

Whilst the racists have a had a field day on social media in respect of the Carnival violence, I’m left with memories of the guy who assisted me at the start of the afternoon in escaping from the crush (even if he did call me Grandpa). As I left the crush, I did manage to stretch out and shake his hand. In the evening I was in St. Marks Road just off Ladbroke Grove looking forlornly at my phone and unsent tweets when a young guy walked past, turned, looked at me and asked if everything was alright. I replied that I was and thanked him for his concern.

His response was as follows; “Well, we’ve all gotta stick together these days ain’t we bruv?”

Chris Hobbs is a former Met Special Branch officer 

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Ordered by:
Jensen2021 - Wed, 06 September 2023

It does make me smile how the positive interactions between the public and police must really annoy and frustrate the anti police activists, such as those childish idiots at Netpol or ignorant London cop watch groups. They just can’t admit that their agenda is at complete odds with reality!