The Brixton Riots of 1981 were a conflict between the Brixton community and the Metropolitan Police Force.  This podcast explores how a variety of factors such as institutionalised racism which resulted in the marginalisation of the black community, racial tensions between the police and black community and crowd psychology led to the disorder.  All of these elements connected and ultimately, served as a catalyst which sparked the Brixton riots of 1981.   


Dr Illan rua Wall, School of Law, University of Warwick

Dr William Henry, School of Law and Criminology, University of West London 

Joy D’Alwis (voices the Margaret Thatcher quotes) 

Jules Benjamin (voices the poem, ‘Di Great Insohreckshan’ by Linton Kwesi Johnson)


Slow Fuzz – Ryan Andersen 

In Shadows – William Ross Chernoff’s Nomads

If You Won’t Choose Me – Pierce Murphy 

Ground Effect – Parallel Park 

The Bottlefield Song – Dazie Mae 

Four-Way – William Ross Chernoff’s Nomads

Slinky – Robert John 

(Sourced from Sound Effect Credits

Car Starting 

Police Sirens 

(Sourced from


McPhail C and Wohlstein R, ‘Individual and Collective Behaviours Within Gatherings, Demonstrations and Riots’ (2003) 9(1) Annual Review of Sociology 

Platts-Fowler D, ‘Beyond the Loot: Social Disorder and Urban Unrest’ (2013) Papers from the British Criminology Conference 

Reicher S and others, ‘An Integrated Approach to Crowd Psychology and Public Order Policing’ (2004) 27(4) Policing an International Journal of Police Strategies and Management 

Stott C and Drury J, ‘Contemporary Understanding of Riots: Classical Crowd Psychology, Ideology and the Social Identity Approach’ (2016) 26(1) Public Understanding of Science

Stott C, Drury J and Reicher S, ‘On the Role of a Social Identity Analysis in Articulating Structure and Collective Action: The 2011 Riots in Tottenham and Hackney’ (2016) 57(4) British Journal of Criminology 

Tajfel H and Turner J, ‘An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict’ (1979) 3 The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations 

Books & Reports 

Le Bon G, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind(Boomer Books 2008) 

Scarman Inquiry into the Brixton Riots, April 1981: Lord Scarman’s Report, HO 325/420 


Bishop P, ‘When Brixton Went Up in Flames’ (The Guardian, 10 April 2011) 

Brenton F, Brixton Riots (BlackPast, 13 June 2010)

Connell K, ‘Riots Don’t Happen Without a Reason’ (The Guardian, 10 August 2011) 

John C, The Legacy of the Brixton Riots (BBC News, 5 April 2006)

‘Riots, Rhymes and Reason’ (LKJ Records

Trilling D, ‘Thatcher: The PM Who Brought Racism in From the Cold’ (Verso, 10 April 2013)

‘1981: Brixton Riots Report Blames Racial Tension’ (BBC On This Day, 25 November)