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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riots in England: the Prime Minister's response

In his statement to the Commons this morning the Prime Minister admitted what was obvious to anyone watching recent events unfold, that is, 'the police got it wrong'. MPs representing areas worst affected said that their constituents looked on in disbelief as the police simply 'observed' looters entering vandalised shops and walking off with stolen goods. This was the view witnessed by television viewers around the world.

Apparently the police viewed the situation as a "public order" issue rather than criminal activity!  The irony is that, as illustrated here, the police are much swifter in dealing with 'public order' protesters than with criminals, often employing controversial 'kettling' procedures to restrict movement. Watch the BBC clip here and listen to what the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner had to say about containment to avoid trouble spreading. 

Force needs to be met with force employing any lawful means to take control of a situation but in this instance the riotous looting was allowed to get so out of control  that the Prime Minister has since had to speak of 'fighting back'. Rubber bullets have been used elsewhere in the United Kingdom so why not in England? If the police fail to protect citizens it is inevitable that they will seek to protect themselves with all that implies.

The only good thing to come out of this shameful episode is the Prime Minister's stated determination to get to grips with the gang culture and other elements that have blighted our society for too long. It's a pity it comes at such a price.

In the row that has blown up about whether the Government or the Metropolitan Police should take credit for bringing the London riots to a halt we have been treated to this statement by the Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin "As a result of that we were able to nip this in the bud after a few days." 

The problem wasn't 'nipped in the bud', it was allowed to flower grotesquely for 'a few days' resulting in loss of life, homes and jobs with millions of pounds worth of damage. There was much talk on Question Time last night of the difficulties 'officers' face because of fear of further criticism for rough handling but the cases referred to arose as a result of lawful protest, not criminal behaviour involving riots and looting.

Neither the Government nor the Metropolitan Police should be looking to take credit for damping down the public disorder. The complacency in the interview is mind blowing - self praise is no recommendation! 

If more trouble flares up 'nipping it in the bud after a few days' is entirely unacceptable. No wonder we are in such a mess. 

An American view here.

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