The recent spate of deaths following incidents involving police has stoked tensions among London communities ahead of the Notting Hill carnival, a senior Scotland Yard officer has admitted.
Commander Steve Rodhouse revealed that residents in the capital had raised concerns with the Met over policing strategy after the deaths of three men following contact with officers during the past 12 days.
Bodybuilder Dale Burns, 27, from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, amateur rugby league player Jacob Michael, 25, from Widnes, Cheshire, and Philip Hulmes, 53, a delivery driver from near Bolton all died following incidents in which police used either Taser weapons or pepper spray.
Rodhouse, Metropolitan police spokesman for the carnival, said: “It is quite clear from talking to our communities that despite the fact that these deaths have actually been out of the capital and in the north, these deaths still resonate in our communities and we are aware of that when we are looking to test the tensions that exist within the capital.
“We try and take that into account to understand what is causing concern across the capital and the country.”
Some Met officers have expressed disquiet over what they describe as a growing anti-police sentiment ahead of the Notting Hill Carnival, which begins on Sunday, and which will feature a record number of officers to counter potential trouble following the London riots earlier this month. The carnival, expected to draw crowds of more than 1 million, represents Scotland Yard’s biggest public order test since the widespread disorder and coincides with high anxiety levels among many London communities.
In particular, details relating to the death of Michael who was pepper-sprayed after being arrested by up to eleven police officers have prompted concern.
Witnesses have described Michael being kicked and hit with police batons and officers sitting on him in the street near his home on Monday after being pepper-sprayed. The 25-year-old was taken to a police station where he became unwell and was rushed to hospital by ambulance. He was pronounced dead two hours later.
On Friday Rodhouse admitted that the death of Michael had been raised by concerned London residents during meetings with community organisers.
He said: “We spend an awful lot of time speaking to community members who can assist us with what is of concern and that incident has come up. We’re very aware that incidents that take place in the rest of the country can still cause tension, uncertainty, in communities across London and elsewhere. So yes we are aware of that.”
The day after Michael’s death, Hulmes died after he was shot with a Taser during an incident at his home, although a postmortem concluded he died from self-inflicted stab wounds. Burns died on 16 August after officers reportedly shot him three times with a 50,000 volt Taser following reports of a disturbance at his Barrow-in-Furness flat.
Rodhouse, though, said that there were “no special arrangements” for the use of Taser during the carnival other than it remained an option as normal.
Met officers are also aware that another death following police contact, this time the shooting of Mark Duggan by a Met Co19 firearms officer, remains a simmering source of tension. The death of Duggan, 29, in Tottenham Hale, north London, was pivotal to triggering the UK riots. His funeral is scheduled for 9 September.
Rodhouse added that a petrol bomb attack on a marked police car patrolling Edmonton, north London on the day after Hulmes died was being looked at in the context of its timing before carnival.
Officers monitoring social networking sites ahead of the carnival say that online chatter is “similar” to previous years and are hoping that contingency measures such as the earlier than normal finishing time of the carnival would help minimise disorder.
Rodhouse added: “Historically and almost inevitably there is a degree of disorder every year at the Notting Hill carnival, what we see after dark particularly, is low level disorder.”
Knife arches, stop and search and the use of “spotters” to identify troublemakers will all be in use during the carnival, Europe’s largest street party.