Carnival 2019 is the North Kensington Law Centre’s first legal observation project. It is also the first coordinated effort to provide legal observation for carnival-goers.

We recruited volunteer observers to record footage of how Carnival is policed. We took footage and recorded statistics on stop and search, arrests, and the ethnicity of the people subject to those respective powers. We found two particular policies of policing to be alarming, namely the use of handcuffs on persons who were being searched, and the imprisonment of children as a ‘safeguarding’ policy. The sample size of the data we collected is small, and there are limits to the authoritative conclusions we can draw. However, Carnival 2019 is just the beginning. Recommendations for future projects include: Increasing the number of our observers, making them more visible to both police and the public, and filing a freedom for information request to better assess how Carnival is policed.

Contributors to this Report and the Project:

  • Author: Truman Westling
  • Project Managers: Richard Gowthorpe, Holly Stow, Truman Westling, Jenny Ní Chlérigh
  • Vital Collaborators: Mozes Salvatore (Project: Empower), Matthew Phillip (Notting Hill Carnival Ltd)

This project would not have been possible without:

  • Our volunteers who selflessly gave their time in the pursuit of protecting the human rights of carnival-goers;
  • The Carnival staff who accommodated us and allowed us to work in tandem with them;
  • The Carnival-goers who embody the cultural celebration that we seek to protect;
  • And the Metropolitan Police who perform a difficult job and ensure Carnival can happen year-round.

Who we are:

The North Kensington Law Centre (NKLC) was the first law centre to open in England. Since 1970 NKLC has prioritised the needs of its community and has offered affordable or free legal advice and representation. The scope of NKLC’s services includes Housing, Criminal Defence, Welfare Benefits, Immigration, and Employment. We have also begun working on legal projects as a complementary service. NKLC’s goal is to broaden the methods it can use to assist the community.

NKLC is collaborating with Project Empower to deliver workshops for care-leavers and schools in areas of street law, such as stop and search. Our other preventative project is legal observation, under the name Independent Legal Observers (ILO). The interaction between the police, and the public they serve, is an integral part of the social contract that binds us as a society. Transparency, in the form of objective observation of that interaction, is crucial in protecting that society. The exercise of an observers right to film the police is one of the most important manifestations of liberty in a modern democracy.

The Notting Hill Carnival (Carnival) is the first project for ILO. We intend to observe at future events of importance, such as Extinction Rebellion and The People’s March.

The Importance of Carnival:

Carnival’s legacy is one of cultural and communal solidarity in response to the divisive race riots of the late 1950’s. The community overcame the rhetoric of white nationalists and established Carnival as a celebration of Afro-Caribbean Culture.

Carnival stands as a palpable example of compassion’s triumph over fear and hatred.

Recent events such as the Grenfell Tower Fire, and the Windrush Scandal have marred the collective conscious of North Kensington, and serve as a reminder that overcoming fear-based politics is a constant challenge that transcends time and place.

The impetus for ILO’s focus on Carnival is grounded in the stigma attached to the event. Carnival is often reported by tabloid papers as being inherently violent and dangerous. A pervasive example of the stigma is the dubbing of the metal detectors at entry-points to Carnival as ‘Knife Arches’.

The implementation of Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (Section 60), is another reason why ILO is concerned with Carnival. Section 60 confers a power for officers to stop-and-search without having a ‘reasonable suspicion’ such as possession of an offensive weapon. The Metropolitan Police guidelines stipulate that the power must be restricted to a short time frame (typically 24 hours) and only when there is good reason to suspect serious violence will take place and Section 60 is necessary to prevent said violence.

Section 60 was implemented for Carnival 2018, and again for Carnival 2019. The grant of the order therefore establishes that the Metropolitan Police perceive Carnival as violent.

The same order is not implemented for other festivals, such as the Glastonbury music festival. A study by Huffington Post over a 3-year period demonstrated that the arrest rates at Carnival were comparable to those at Glastonbury. The discrepancy in policing of the two events requires the investigation that ILO intends to do.

Yet, ILO is cognisant of there being some violence and crime occurring during Carnival. An Information Rights Unit report on Carnival 2016 totalled the offences recorded by the Metropolitan Police Service, and found 49 for offensive weapon, and 34 for actual bodily harm.

Therefore, the objective of ILO for Carnival is to objectively observe how it is policed. ILO acknowledges that the presence of the police is imperative to the smooth running of Carnival.


1) Preparing the observers

ILO for Carnival is our first observation project. It is consequentially equal parts experiment and community project. Our observers are all volunteers who share a passion for civil justice and objective

The criteria for our observers are that they have legal background, whether they are in law school or in practice. We had prospective observers fill out a survey where they detailed their experience with law and with Carnival, along with personal details for our records.

We were fortunate in gathering 25 observers, including our own NKLC staff who elected to participate.

We collaborated closely with Project Empower, who supplied the ‘know your rights’ information pamphlets to distribute to carnival-goers, as well as a number of observers.

We were facilitated by Carnival HQ, and Matthew Phillip the Director of Carnival. Matthew supplied us with the high-vis vests we wore to identify ourselves as legal observers and gave us useful advice for choosing our locations for observing.

The observers were given a concise training day. We explained the scope of the project, emphasising the importance of non-interference with the police and need to record what was observed. The observers had questions regarding the footage that would be collected, and Richard Gawthorpe assured them that it is legal to film and that we would be holding ourselves to strict standards of confidentiality. The only reasons that ILO would release footage obtained would be through mandatory disclosure, or with a client’s request and consent. The observers were played instructional videos on stop-and-search procedure, and what the public should expect of police conduct. The police power of Section 60 suspicion-less stop-and-search was explained, and Matthew offered his insight into how Carnival was policed.

The objective of ILO was to record footage of police interaction with the public. The priority for recording would be stop-and-searches and arrests, but we would also record questioning and police movements where the observers felt necessary.

Observers were instructed to inform anyone who asked that we are independent, objective, and keep all footage confidential.

We told the observers that in taking part in this project they were putting to practice the civil liberties that are fundamental to our society.

2) Plan for the carnival day

We chose to observe on Monday 26 August 2019. The plan to observe on family day (Sunday 25 August) was deviated from due to our relatively small numbers and to ensure our observers were not fatigued.

Our plan for day of carnival revolved around Matthew’s advice. In his experience, the most likely places for interaction between the police and public (including questioning, stop-and-search, or even arrests) would be on the roads between Sound systems. Matthew also recommended stationing observers by the entry points, as those who fall foul of the metal detectors would likely be searched by police.

We split our observers into pairs to cover as much ground as possible while ensuring no one would be isolated or without assistance.

We stationed the majority of our observer pairs along the roads with sound systems, and instructed them to roam between the sound systems to cover more ground. The roaming groups of volunteers are marked on the Carnival Observer Map (Map) in green.

We placed three groups of our observers at entry points and instructed them to remain near the metal detectors. The entry point groups are marked on the Map in blue.

Finally, we had the remaining two groups stationed either end of the parade route. The groups were told to remain stationary to avoid them being lost in the busy route. The parade route groups are marked on the Map in black.

Our meeting point was the corner of Westbourne Grove and Portobello Road as it was relatively accessible and equidistant to the destinations of the groups. The meeting point is marked on the Map in red.

Carnival Observer Map

Our groups convened at the meeting location at 2pm on Monday 26 August and dispersed to their respective locations after receiving their high vis-vests marked ‘Community Steward’ that Carnival had given us. The groups reconvened at 4:30 pm for a check-in to ensure everyone was happy with our progress, as well as have a break. The groups then dispersed again until 6:30 pm when we finished observing.


ILO-Carnival is concerned with the interactions between three sets of groups at Carnival. Primarily we focus on the police interaction with the public. We are also concerned with the interaction between the police and ILO, and the ILO with the public. It is important to assess the latter two categories of interactions as it will inform the changes ILO will make in future projects.

In gathering the data concerning police and public interaction we focus on the quantity of stop and searches, and arrests. We also focus on the manner these are carried out and make note of interactions that appear to be onerous or unnecessary. Finally, we record the ethnicity of the people being searched, arrested, or otherwise recorded interacting with the police by our observers. In an ideal world, ethnicity would have no bearing on policing. However, it is a reality that Black people were 9 and a half times as likely to be stop and searched as White people in 2017/2018. Our findings will seek to determine if that is reflected in the policing of Carnival.

The data gathered is measured quantitatively and qualitatively. Due to the restricted time frame and relatively small number of observers there are limitations to our findings. However, this is the first legal observation coordinated with Carnival, and it will not be the last. It is important to bear in mind that we have to start somewhere, and as we increase our observation capabilities, we can build strong empirical evidence and draw authoritative conclusions.

The quantitative data will be restricted to the interaction between police and the public.

The qualitative data will be used to asses all three categories of interaction.

1) Quantitative Data:


B = Black
W = White
A = Asian
! = Corresponding Qualitative finding.

Arrests are recorded where it is evident from the footage that the persons in police custody are in the process of being arrested.

Ethnicity proportions:

Of all the people searched or arrested, 85.7% of them were Black, 10.7% were White, and 3.6% were Asian.

Of those who were handcuffed while searched, 93.3% of them were Black, and 6.6% were Asian.

Of those not handcuffed while searched, 90% were Black, and 10% were White.

Of those Arrested, 33.3% were Black, and 66.6% were White.

2) Qualitative Data:

(a) The Police and the Public.

At Holland Park Avenue, there was one instance where officers pulled the trousers down of the person they were searching, revealing his underwear to the public. The action appeared to be for the purpose of the search, but it is of note as no other recorded search involved that level of undressing. The action was potentially humiliating and degrading for the person being searched.

At Golborne Road, there was an instance where someone being searched was questioned on the basis of his immigration status. The questioning is alarming, as the Windrush scandal is particularly fresh in the minds of members of the Notting Hill community.

Richard Gawthorpe was informed that a 15 year old child was arrested and taken to Wandsworth Prison for possession of a small amount of cannabis. The Metropolitan Police had apparently adopted a policy of arresting children in possession of cannabis if they were unable to contact the parents due to safeguarding reasons. By 6:09 PM on Monday 26 August, all 30 cells of Wandsworth Prison were full of children.

(b) The Police and ILO.

At Westbourne Grove, a police officer asked one of our observers they had not asked the person being stop and searched for their consent to be filmed. Our observer assured the officer that we keep our footage confidential, and for the benefit of the person being searched in the event of criminal proceedings.

At Westbourne Grove, the police officers arresting the two individuals allowed our observer to hand our ‘know your rights’ information cards to the arrestees. The interaction was positive and showed a demonstrable willingness of the police to cooperate with ILO objectives.

At Harrow Road (Entry Point Arches), one of our observers was shoved by a police officer when they attempted to hand an information card to an arrestee. The observer obtained the officers badge number. The interaction was alarming, and any instance where one of our observers is subject to physical force is cause of serious concern.

In general, police officers seemed confused as to what our role was, and who we were. The overall interaction was relatively neutral, and the majority of officers had no issue with being filmed while searching someone.

(c) ILO and the Public.

In general, the public were mistaking our observers for carnival staff, due to the ‘community steward’ label on our high-vis vests.

When observers explained our role the majority of the public interactions were positive, and friends of people being searched seemed to be glad that there was a form of objective evidence should they need it.

The minority of instances, however, were negative. Some people did not appreciate themselves or their friends being filmed while being searched.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

There are occurrences in the data collected that are necessary to consider for implementing future changes to ILO training and service.

  1. In the future ILO should distinguish itself from other community stewards and event staff by having our own design of high-vis vest. As of 12 October 2019, this recommendation has been put into place, and ILO now has a unique high-vis vest in a pink colour to distinguish ourselves.
  2. ILO should seek to recruit a larger number of observers. We were able to observe interactions between the police and 28 people with 25 observers. Given the traffic of around 2 million people through Carnival, ILO will have to vastly increase its numbers in order to collect a sample size of data that can be relied on for authoritative conclusions.
  3. It is vital to train and emphasise our observers to maintain a non-interference policy. The interaction on Westbourne contrasts with that on Harrow Road, where the consent of police officers to hand something to an arrestee was the difference between police cooperation and a volunteer being shoved. Although the policy was mentioned and emphasised on the training day, it is crucial enough to justify enhanced training. The training could take the form of a demonstration and explaining how to avoid falling foul of obstructing a police officer under the Police Act 1996.
  4. The police should be made aware of our presence on the day of Carnival, and future observation projects in general. It is potentially inevitable that some officers would be unaware of our presence and confused as to who we are at an event as large as Carnival. Although we notified the Metropolitan Police ahead of time, in the future we should attempt to liaise with the police and make our objectives and our remit clear to them.
  5. NKLC should make a freedom of information request. The Metropolitan Police release the data on offences taking place during Carnival, however they do not publish the proportion of arrests that are charged, and the proportion that result in criminal sentencing. The request should also seek to clarify the following two policing policies that were evident on the day of Carnival:
    1. The issue of handcuffing while searching. NKLC will want to know the basis that informs an officer’s decision to handcuff the people they search. It is an alarming and palatable restriction of liberty during what is already an interference with an individual’s right to privacy.
    2. The imprisonment of children. NKLC will want the police to clarify the policy of imprisoning children found in possession of cannabis. The welfare of minors should be of paramount importance, and their imprisonment should only be justified with ample transparency and clarification of the policy.
  6. ILO should increase its collaboration with Carnival HQ in the future. In particular, our observers should be equipped with the Halo Devices (a real-time event organisation application) that Carnival Staff have access to. The data collected in this project is limited as it difficult to assess where the observers are based on footage alone. With the Halo Devices, ILO will be able to communicate and register observation in real-time and produce more reliable data.
  7. Finally, subject to the result of the freedom of information request, NKLC should seek to challenge the use of Section 60 for Carnival. If the majority of arrests, charges, and sentences in Carnival concern drug offences and not offensive weapons, then Section 60 is empirically not being proportionality implemented to counteract ‘serious violence’. If NKLC , through future ILO observation, can establish that the use Section 60 in Carnival predominately results in charges for drug offences, then the power is not being used for its intended purposes.
  8. The Supreme Court case, Roberts v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and Anor [2015] found that an appeal on Human Rights grounds against Section 60 was dismissed. The court dismissed the appeal under article 8 (right to private and family life) of the European Convention of Human Rights. The court refused permission to appeal under article 14 (freedom from discrimination) ECHR. Therefore, Roberts’ case has the potential to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on discrimination grounds.
  9. Although we collected a small sample size, if ILO continues to build increasingly reliable data then we can establish a pattern that shows Section 60 disproportionality affects particular ethnicities more than others. Establishing such a pattern is the best manner than NKLC and ILO can challenge Section 60 for Carnival.