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Scarman Report Blames Racial Tensions for Brixton Riots

Scarman Report coverFollowing the Brixton disturbances in April, Lord Scarman was appointed by then Home Secretary William Whitelaw to 'inquire urgently into the serious disorder in Brixton on 10-12 April 1981 and to report, with the power to make recommendations'.

Lord Scarman found that the riots in Brixton, said to have involved over 5,000 people, had not been planned but were spontaneous outbursts resulting from built-up resentment and tensions. He made a number of recommendations to the police force, including efforts to recruit more ethnic minorities into the police force and changes in training and law enforcement.

He stressed the importance of tackling racial disadvantage and racial discrimination. The inquiry recommended 'urgent action' to ensure that racial disadvantage did not become an 'endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society'. Scarman's inquiry was given added urgency by the rioting which flared up across the country in July of the same year and the scope of the inquiry was widened to include Southall, in London, Birmingham, Toxteth in Liverpool and Manchester.

The report was released on 25 November 1981 and was generally well received by senior police officers and government ministers. Following the Scarman inquiry’s recommendations, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 specified the powers of the police in England and Wales in combating crime and set out codes of practice for police. The Scarman inquiry influenced many measures intended to improve trust and understanding between the police and ethnic minority communities.

Runnymede Publications:

Inner Cities and Black Minorities, 1980, Runnymede Trust
Inner Cities and Black Communities, 1981, Runnymede Trust
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