Monday, August 08, 2011

Rioters bring mayhem to London

Parts of London has seen riots and violent disorder over the weekend following the fatal shooting of 29 year old Mark Duggan on 4th August. The violence is seen by some as a reaction to growing discontent and disaffection amongst sections of society, but police and local politicians have condemned the rioters as being nothing less than criminals.

While there is certainly high unemployment in parts of London, the destruction of shops, houses and local government buildings will do nothing to improve the situation for those seeking jobs. Businesses will think twice before locating themselves in areas which might be considered unsafe. And it may be months before some of the stores destroyed on Saturday night are rebuilt. Damage is estimated to be in excess of £100 million but the repercussions could extend much further. As well as scaring business away, the rioting will do nothing for the reputation of London as a city.  

Tottenham saw the worst disorder with rioters attacking police officers, setting fire to police cars, a bus and buildings. Amongst the buildings set on fire were an Aldi supermarket and the Carpetright shop, built in 1930, both of which were gutted. Not only will employees face an uncertain future, so too will the community who will have fewer stores in which to shop. There were other shops also targeted by youths, some as young as seven [The Sun]. Mobile phone stores were looted, banks were smashed and cash machines were stripped bare.

As well as destroyed stores, many people's homes were also gutted. Families had to flee their flats situated above shops as the went up in flames. Some spoke of escaping near death with one family talking of how rioters had even attempted to set fire to their car in which their young baby was sitting [The Sun]. Journalists, TV crews and photographers were also attacked by rioters as they tried to capture the scenes of mayhem. A BBC satellite truck was bombarded with bricks forcing the crew to retreat behind police lines. Even a man who called the fire brigade was attacked by thugs.

A second night of rioting

While the local community and shop owners were still picking up the pieces of their shattered businesses on Monday, in other areas of London copycat rioters continued their weekend of disorder. Disturbances were seen in Enfield, further to the north of Tottenham, Walthamstow to the east, in nearby  Edmonton and in Brixton in south London. Police spent much of Sunday night attempting to stop the looting of shops by gangs of youths though the destruction was much less than seen on Saturday night.

Metropolitan police and reinforcements from Kent turned much of Enfield into a sterile area. Hundreds of riot police some with dogs, charged at groups of teenagers, who melted into side streets. Although damage was much less than that seen in Tottenham, many cars were smashed as well as shop windows.

A closed Tesco Extra store was targeted in a nearby retail park. Workers inside described hearing windows smashing as dozens of youths poured into the store. "They left carrying TVs, alcohol – they were stuffing trolleys," said one supermarket worker.

Met criticised

Although riot police were on the scene in large numbers they were unable to prevent widespread disorder, looting and destruction. And there has been criticism that the police were ill prepared and failed to control the situation [Daily Mail / Guardian].

The Metropolitan Police say they were unprepared for such levels of violence, this despite warnings there could be trouble. Whenever there is a police shooting tensions are raised, and more so in communities which perceive themselves to be victimised by police.

Mark Duggan was shot by police marksmen while he sat in a minicab stopped by police in Ferry Lane, Tottenham, on Thursday evening. During the attempt to arrest Duggan, three shots were fired. A bullet was said to be found lodged in a police radio. A police officer was injured in the incident, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said. According to police two shots were fired by an officer and it is believed that one shot was discharged from an illegal firearm inside the car [BBC / Guardian].

However, there is anger amongst some in Tottenham over the events that took place. As the IPCC appealed for witnesses, conflicting accounts of the shooting emerged. One man told the London Evening Standard he had seen officers shoot a man on the ground. But others said a shot was fired from the cab before police returned fire.

On Friday the scene of the shooting was visited by David Lammy, the MP for the area, who said, "I am shocked and deeply worried by this news. There is now a mood of anxiety in the local community but everyone must remain calm. It is encouraging that the Independent Police Complaints Commission has immediately taken over the investigation. There is a need to clarify the facts and to move quickly to allay fears."

And while he called for answers he urged that people remain calm. "It is very important that our community remains calm and allows the investigation to take its course," Lammy said.

Some 48 hours later he was speaking to the press again, condemning the rioters who had brought mayhem to Tottenham's streets. "A community that was already grieving has had the heart ripped out of it," Lammy told a throng of media camped outside the police cordon. He went on to tell those who had come from outside the area to stay away and described the rioting as "mindless nonsense."

They may have stayed away from Tottenham on Sunday night, but the rioters did not stay at home. Police were once again trying to maintain order as organised gangs of "copycat rioters" brought chaos to parts of Brixton and Enfield [BBC].


Criticism of the violence came from many quarters. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said: "I condemn utterly the violence in Tottenham... Such disregard for public safety and property will not be tolerated, and the Metropolitan Police have my full support in restoring order." A Downing Street spokesman added, "The rioting in Tottenham last night was utterly unacceptable. There is no justification for the aggression the police and the public faced, or for the damage to property." London's mayor, Boris Johnson, also added his voice to saying, "I'm appalled at the scenes of violence and destruction in Tottenham."

The police and politicians have said the perpetrators will face the full force of the law. Identifying those who took part may prove difficult given the cover of darkness and the sheer numbers of individuals involved. Many may find themselves caught if found to be in possession of stolen property. Many thieves may find their acts of criminality have come to nought. While mobile phones were stolen from shops in several areas, they can be rendered useless by mobile providers. Shops will have records of the IMEI (international mobile equipment identity) numbers which are unique to every mobile phone. Such a list can be given to mobile phone companies and the devices blocked. This may not affect sale to foreign countries since there is no international agreement as yet. While the IMEI number can be changed, the possession of such equipment is a serious criminal offence.

The theft of other items may not be so easy to identify. Rioters were seen to be stripping stores of food, clothes, alcohol, cigarettes amongst other things. Some 41 people have already been arrested, though police will doubtless make further arrests in the coming days. They will also be on standby for signs of any more trouble. It is unclear whether the violence will spread which might indicate deep rooted dissaffection amongst Britain's youth, or whether the disturbances seen over the weekend were merely opportunist criminality [Wikipedia: 2011 Tottenham riots].

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