An investigation into the policing of UK festivals has revealed arrest rates at Notting Hill Carnival are almost identical to Glastonbury, suggesting controversial crime narratives surrounding the London event are misplaced.
More than a million people will take to the streets of west London this weekend for the world-famous celebration of Caribbean music and heritage, as colourful floats and sound-systems parade the streets.
But Notting Hill organisers have long claimed the focus on crime by the media and police unduly taints what should be a gem in the country’s cultural calendar.
Every year the Metropolitan Police issue figures showing the number of arrests, stabbings, offensive weapons seized and officers injured at Carnival.
“It is the only festival, the only event the Met do where they automatically put out the crime stats,” Matthew Phillip, executive director of Notting Hill Carnival Ltd, told HuffPost UK, although the Met Police deny this. “Any other event the press have to ask for it.”
Phillip believes the massive boost to the economy and positivity Carnival brings gets lost in the crime statistics. But how do levels of offending at the event compare to other festivals?
HuffPost UK has carried out an investigation gathering data on arrests at five major UK events – Glastonbury, Reading, Royal Ascot, Creamfields and Notting Hill.
Our exclusive findings have shown:
- Arrest rates at Notting Hill over three years since 2016 are almost identical to Glastonbury when the number of people attending is taken into account.
- There were 3.76 arrests per 10,000 people at Notting Hill Carnival compared to 3.1 arrests per 10,000 people at Glastonbury.
- The event with by far the highest arrest rate was the famous dance music festival Creamfields, which had 23.67 arrests per 10,000 people attending.
- Other festivals had arrests for serious offences including assaults, money laundering, wounding with intent, sexual assault and rape
Commentators say the findings highlight how festivals attended by working class or black and minority ethic (BAME) audiences, or those seen as “black spaces”, are more likely to be “over-policed”.
Dr Martin Glynn, lecturer in criminology at Birmingham City University, told HuffPost UK: “Black people in a range of social situations are exposed to what’s called stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is if you perceive your difference to be stereotyped you moderate it. The relevance of it is we’re talking about black and white spaces. Carnival is perceived as a black space.
“Even though it’s a carnival and is cultural, in terms of the attendees and the press coverage it is defined as a black space and black spaces are over policed,” he continued.
Phillip, who is at the helm of running Notting Hill Carnival, said it was “undeniable” class and race affects the policing of the event.
A musician, he has been to Glastonbury twice and the steel band he plays with, Mangrove, performed with iconic 1980s rapper Neneh Cherry this year. But he says he notices the visible difference in policing at Notting Hill Carnival.
“I don’t want to throw any other festival under the bus, but at Glastonbury you don’t have lines of police officers stopping and searching people at any given moment,” he told HuffPost UK. “You hardly see police.
“I’ve never seen anybody lined up against a wall being searched at Carnival apart from young black boys. The Met would argue that it’s being used proportionally but the community would say it’s only young black boys being stopped and searched.”
Notting Hill Carnival’s organisers have long argued that when speaking about the crime at the event, there is a failure to reflect the huge size of the crowds attending.
The street carnival has grown to become the second biggest in the world, after Rio Carnival, and is currently Europe’s largest street event. It attracts at least 1 million people every year, although organisers say this is a conservative estimate and crowd sizes can reach double that.
While it is argued that Notting Hill is as safe as other major music festivals when crowd size is taken into account, this is rarely reflected.
One type of serious violence also continues to dominate the narrative around Notting Hill – knife crime.
The number of stabbings at Carnival has featured heavily in media coverage in recent years, echoing wider concern about rising knife crime in the capital.
Yet similar scrutiny does not surround other festivals, even though HuffPost UK’s data showed they are also impacted by knife crime.
- At Creamfields Festival there were 13 arrests for possession of an offensive weapon or bladed article
- At Reading there were three arrests for possession of an offensive weapon and one for wounding with intent
- At Glastonbury there was one arrest for possession of a knife blade or sharp pointed article and one for possession of an offensive weapon
While these figures are lower than the 15 stabbings recorded at Carnival in 2016, seven in 2017 and one last year, it is important to consider the statistics in the context of the much larger attendance figure at Notting Hill.
Matthew Phillip said the language used by police to describe “knife arches” at Notting Hill Carnival was symptomatic of the wider lazy stereotyping.
“Knife arches, I hate that term,” he said. “Now these arches are at airports, millions of people go through them every day.
“There are events at the Royal Albert Hall and they’re called screening arches there, they are at a lot of major events and festivals, but only when it comes to Notting Hill Carnival are they referred to as knife arches,” he said.
“That’s one I really can’t get my head around, but it comes from the police and we have corrected them and they’ve stopped using those terms.”
The figures showing arrests for drug offences also revealed interesting trends.
HuffPost UK’s data showed only one arrest related to drugs at Royal Ascot from 2016-18. Glastonbury, Reading and Creamfields all had a majority of arrests for either possession or possession with intent to supply drugs.
Yet commentators have questioned whether drug offences really are lower at Royal Ascot, a stalwart of the British upper class society calendar, or whether it is being policed differently from the other events.
Maurice Mcleod, a Labour councillor in the south London borough of Wandsworth, and vice chair of social policy at Race on the Agenda, a social policy think-tank, said: "I absolutely think that race and class have an impact on how stuff is policed. I’ve been to Ascot, I haven’t been to Glastonbury, but I’ve been to lots of other festivals and I always go to Notting Hill Carnival. Everything about how they are policed is different.”
“Yes, people put on nice suits and top hats or whatever and go to Ascot, it might seem more sophisticated or civilised, but that’s where I’ve seen the most horrible vicious fights and there’s loads of cocaine in the toilet.”
Nick Smith, director of racing and communications at Ascot Racecourse, said security at the event was reviewed every year.
“The use of illegal drugs and their contribution to anti-social behaviour is a significant issue for all major events,” he said.
“As has always been our policy, anyone found entering or on the site with illegal drugs will be refused entry or expelled.”
Outcomes of arrests
HuffPost UK’s investigation has also revealed significant variations in outcomes of arrests dependant on which festival the arrest takes place at.
At Creamfields, where headline acts this year include Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers and Pete Tong, 71% of arrests resulted in charges. The figure at Glastonbury was 32% and at Reading 29%.
This means if you are arrested at Creamfields you are significantly more likely to face charges in court.
We could not calculate charges rates for arrests at Notting Hill Carnival because the Metropolitan Police would not issue the data.
Carnival organisers themselves have been trying to obtain this information since September last year without success, and called on the Met to release it.
“I’ve heard it’s come from quite high [in the Metropolitan Police] that they’ve refused to give it to us. I’ve heard it’s come from the highest level,” said Phillip. “I can’t see that there’s any justification in this. If it’s released for other events why is Notting Hill Carnival treated differently?”
The facts show [Notting Hill Carnival] is generally more peaceable than many other large celebrationsDiane Abbot MP
Having this data in the public domain allows organisers to analyse how to improve security and safety at future events. But crucially the data also provides transparency over policing.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbot welcomed HuffPost UK’s investigation and said: “This analysis is very valuable.
“Every year we hear a hue and cry from some politicians and parts of press against the Notting Hill Carnival. But the facts show it is generally more peaceable than many other large celebrations. It’s long past time this people’s celebration is properly celebrated by us all.”
Avon and Somerset Constabulary is responsible for policing Glastonbury, Thames Valley Police for policing Royal Ascot and Reading, Cheshire Constabulary for policing Creamfields and the Met for Notting Hill Carnival.
All the forces said they work closely with festival organisers and argued you cannot directly compare policing of events which last for different durations, are not ticketed and are set in a completely different environments.
The Met Police told HuffPost UK any suggestion it polices events based on the ethnicity of those attending is completely unfounded, saying: “The MPS polices events based on experience, intelligence and risk.”
Commander Dave Musker, Gold Commander for Notting Hill Carnival 2019, said: “The footprint and environment of Notting Hill Carnival is incomparable to other festivals and far more complex to police.”
“Other festivals have enclosed, designated footprints requiring a ticket and ID to enter. Carnival has no boundaries and spans a significant part of west London, bringing more than one million visitors over the space of a weekend.”
He said that while the vast majority of Carnival goers are law-abiding, sadly, a small number are intent on committing acts of violence.
“In 2018 we made 374 arrests for GBH, criminal damage, theft, possession of offensive weapons, sexual offences, drugs and assault on police - 45 of my officers were injured or assaulted. In 2017 there were seven stabbings on the Carnival footprint and we made 326 arrests,” Musker said.
“While this behaviour forms a very small part of what is on the whole a spectacular event, the MPS is uncompromising in striving to maintain the safety and security of the public, and will do what is necessary and proportionate to protect those attending.
“Every year we work closely with the organisers and partners to ensure a safe and enjoyable event. The presence of officers throughout Carnival is to achieve this objective.”
HuffPost UK contacted the organisers of Creamfields but they did not respond.
Reading Festival said safeguarding was “a massive priority”.
Notting Hill Carnival’s organisers said they collaborate closely with police and want to work with the force to challenge negative stereotyping.
“I fully believe that there is a role for police to play at carnival,” Phillip told HuffPost UK. “The only way we can fix this is by working with police and I’m not demonising police. It needs to be a collaborative effort.
“I think the UK should be proud of Notting Hill Carnival. It’s a massive event. It puts the eyes of the world on London. It’s a massive boost to the economy. But the positivity and unity it brings gets lost in crime statistics.
“No one group of people can make these changes, it needs to be a big joint effort. But I feel very positive.”
HuffPost UK submitted 14 Freedom of Information requests to the four forces responsible for policing Notting Hill Carnival, Glastonbury, Reading, Royal Ascot and Creamfields.
We asked for the total numbers of arrests at each event over three years, 2016-18, and the outcomes of those arrests.
Not all the police forces released data.
- The Metropolitan Police has not provided arrest breakdowns and outcomes at Notting Hill Carnival for 2016-18. The force is over the legal deadline to respond to this FOI request.
- Thames Valley Police did supply breakdowns and outcomes of arrests at Royal Ascot, although it did supply the data for Reading Festival.
- Thames Valley Police refused to confirm the number of officers deployed to Reading and Royal Ascot, saying this would hinder the prevention of crime or prosecution of offenders. Other forces supplied this information.
There are also some limitations within the data.
– It compares festivals and events held over differing numbers of days.
– Notting Hill Carnival is a street-based festival that is open to all to attend, the other four events are all ticketed.
– Estimating crowd size at Notting Hill Carnival is difficult because it is non-ticketed. The organisers gave an estimated figure of 1 million people attending the event, but said on some years this can reach 2 million. However 1 million was considered a reliable figure to use in this dataset.
– Glastonbury festival was not held in 2018. In order to gather data for three years we instead used 2016, 2017 and 2019 for Glastonbury.
– The 2019 Glastonbury arrests data supplied by Avon and Somerset Police is still subject to clarification checks by the force and the total number of arrests for this year could rise. If so, the arrest rate per 10,000 people will also increase.
Additional quotes from Commander Dave Musker were added on August 25 at the request of the Met Police.
Infographics supplied by Statista