Posts Tagged 'Tottenham'

One time and one time only…

A year on from the August Riots the canteen at the station is a much more peaceful place – what perspective has the year put on the disorders though?

A year ago this week officers from Walsall, from Birmingham, London and across the country found themselves in the midst of some of the worst rioting seen in England for years.

The destruction seemed wholesale, the rioters shockingly ambitious and at the same time random in their choice of victims. Images of police lines stretched across a blazing skyline shot across the world, leaving in their wake tough questions about how the riots had come to be.

Writing now, a year on, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since those three days in August.

Repairs to the stricken areas continue, buildings have been torn down and the empty gaps they’ve left stand as a stark reminder of what can happen when the perception spreads that law and order has broken down.

I can’t claim to have played a particularly important role in the riots myself. I wasn’t one of the officers charging past broken shops near the Bullring, nor was I stood watching the Carpetright shop engulfed by a firestorm in Haringey.

Instead I was one of the many officers working extended shifts to restore the impression that the law still stood, that those who had come to riot would face the consequences and that the public ought not be panicked by what they saw each night on the news.

Looking back, what stood out to me at the time and what still stands today is the impression that whilst the rioters seemed to enjoy a fleeting taste of the upper hand, the police and other emergency services reacted and adapted with a professionalism that was nothing short of inspiring.

Rest days were cancelled, officers found themselves in unfamiliar situations and faced people on the streets who appeared set upon harming them by any means possible.

Faced with such apparent hatred the officers I worked alongside didn’t buckle, didn’t hesitate – instead they volunteered to work on, shift after shift in unimaginable situations and without a word of complaint.

To me the riots were particularly disturbing owing to the suddenness with which they took hold.

Riots, I’d always thought, would be prefaced by a period of visible tension, by rising discontent leading to a tipping point at which tensions boiled over and barricades sprung up.

A great deal of work has been done investigating the cause of the riots, notably through the Guardian and LSE’s collaborative project Reading The Riots, with various reasons raised by the rioters themselves in attempts to explain why they had taken to the streets.

Frustration at the use of Stop & Search powers in some areas has been floated as one reason and as a contributor; an argument could be made that these frustrations represent the preface I’d have expected with shooting of Mark Duggan representing the tipping point.

Sensible use of stop powers allied with better communication with the affected communities seem to be the way forward to address perceptions of frustration, and indeed forces across the country have already done a great deal of work to bridge divides.

Other explanations have looked towards gangs, social media and simple opportunism, the latter of which I think seems the most convincing explanation for why people, sometimes even those with no criminal background, found their way to the trouble spots and began to loot.

A year’s hindsight has suggested to me that whatever the cause of the original riots in Tottenham, the disorders that followed were able to take place because the idea had taken hold that ‘everyone was at it’, that the opportunity had unexpectedly presented itself to loot with impunity and that this, for some, was an opportunity that could not be missed.

As for why the riots came to a close, officers being made available in large numbers through Mutual Aid, some 16,000 in London alone, now appears to have been the principle deterrent to those thinking of returning to the streets for another night of disorder.

Proposed cuts to police numbers in this respect need to keep this in view – financial circumstances make cuts necessary but not at the expense of our ability to raise large numbers should the need arise.

The tragic deaths of the three men on Dudley Road, Birmingham, similarly arrested the further development of the riots, accompanied as they were by the impassioned appeal for calm of Tariq Jahan, father of one of those lost.

The riots, already sinister in tone, had taken on a direction that even those originally enthusiastic about the looting seemed reluctant to follow.

A year seems like a long time but as I’ve said, looking back it’s hard to believe that twelve months now stand between today and those chaotic, hellish scenes.

The need to maintain a visible, believable presence, alongside an ability to rapidly respond to incidents before they are able to escalate, will likely be the key elements in preventing a repeat of history and I think are some of the most important considerations to take from the riots.

Whilst the riots thankfully reached their conclusion after a few long days, a conclusion is yet to be reached on their legacy, with this anniversary reminding us that time does not heal all wounds.

The IPCC, for example, is yet to report on Mark Duggan’s death and investigations are ongoing to identify outstanding rioters with Operation View still yielding results in the West Midlands.

We have the flexibility in our structure and the quality in our people to deal with situations such as those seen during last August.

The real measure of our response to the riots will come not on this anniversary but in ten, twenty or thirty years time – should those decades pass without a repeat of the 2011 riots then we’ll know the steps we took away from Tottenham were steps taken in the right direction.

Olympics update – apologies for the lack of blogs over the past few weeks, I’d been down in London helping Lord Coe out at the games. I’m looking at putting a blog together about the experience of living and working in the capital just as soon as the games themselves draw to a close – highlights include the torch relay, Team USA and Wimbledon so stay tuned!.

Autumn is come to my hometown…

As seen from the Chester Road, the Autumn sun rising on Tuesday morning. Photo taken by Brownhills Bob, please click above to see his excellent Brownhills Blog.

First of all, with us still hanging on to the last few hours of August I’m a little uncomfortable with heralding the coming of Autumn however it seems I’m one of the few who are of this opinion and so here we are, a quick blog looking back over the past few months and ahead to the future.

When I mention the ‘past few months’, I’m thinking of little else than the disorder we saw in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich. Sure, I could mention the occasional sunny day that represented the slim efforts of this year’s Summer but they were completely overshadowed by the events of those few days in August.

Nobody could have seen it coming and we as a force, along with forces up and down the country, had to rapidly adapt to the situation and take the steps necessary to quell the disorder and restore peace to the streets. Public support was crucial to our success and meant the world to the officers who were out in the riot vans, in the operation centres and performing a thousand other less visible but still crucial roles.

We’re currently in the process of reviewing our response to the disorders and are working our way towards compiling a report that will be presented to the Chief Constable highlighting both developmental issues and the many examples of good practice that came to light.

We’ve been particularly keen to look at the role played by social media – something new to the force in the context of such a major operation – and work out how we could better engage with the public through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc.

The coming months will see the nights drawing in, temperatures dropping and the force facing a range of demands, some of which we know about and some we don’t. As Donald Rumsfeld would say, “Things we don’t know we don’t know”.

Some of the ‘known knowns’ include the major operation to police the coming Liberal Democrat Conference, keeping up the pressure on robberies through Serve & Protect and concentrating on the rise in burglaries that longer nights can sometimes foster.

Remembering back to the complications caused by last year’s severe Winter, we’ll be better prepared to maintain our service if the snow sets in again with resources managed more effectively and officers remembering their wooly hats and mittens.

As for the unknowns, the hardest part of policing has always been working out how to prepare for the major incident – the plane crash, murder, or disorder – of which we have no prior warning and that we only become aware of when a panicked 999 call is received by our control room. As we always have done and always will do, we’re constantly reflecting on our service and on the opportunities available to make improvements.

The last month has been interesting to say the least, the coming months will be exciting and no doubt challenging too. As one season slides away and another takes its place we’ll continue to do what we all joined to do – serving our communities and protecting them from harm.

Watching the people get lairy, it’s not very pretty I tell thee…

Riot police move in to tackle protesters (Image from BBC/PA)

Back in March I’d written a blog post all about the intricacies of what constitutes a ‘public order’ offence. This was published against the background of the March for the Alternative demonstrations during which several protesters were arrested under various sections the Public Order Act.

The point of the post was to explain a little what these offences were as whilst the media were happy to report people having been locked up for public order offences, there didn’t seem to be much clarification for non-legal bods about what the term might mean.

If you read the post at the time or have just pulled it up to have a scan now, you may have noticed that I covered Sections 5, 4A, 4, 3 and 2.

Where, you might ask, was Section 1? And what is Section 1?

Section 1 refers to a highly topical offence taking into account the recent disturbances in London. Section 1 of the Public Order Act is riot.

How does the law define a riot though?

According to the Act, riot is very close to violent disorder (Section 2 of the Act) in terms of how it is described. To quickly recap ‘violent disorder’, it is where three or more people act in a way that causes another person to fear for their own personal safety. Their actions have to be more than words and can be directed against another person or against property.

Very simply put, riot is the same as violent disorder but rather than involving a minimum of three people, involves a minimum of twelve.

These twelve people have to be using or threatening violence for a ‘common purpose’ and do not have to all be doing so simultaneously so if eleven people are smashing up a bus stop and the twelfth is with them but taking a break to drink a nice cup of tea, there is still a riot.

Today’s offence of rioting replaces the older offence given in the Riot Act 1741 under which miscreants could be prosecuted if twelve of them had gathered and not dispersed within an hour of the Riot Act itself having been read out to them. This is where the term ‘reading the Riot Act’ comes from.

Whilst The Riot Act itself has since been replaced, another similarly elderly law relating to today’s offence of ‘rioting’ still sits on the statute books and is applicable today. This is known as the Riot (Damages) Act 1886.

The implication of this Act is that should a riot occur, the police may be required to pay compensation for the damage.

This has happened recently to Bedfordshire Police Authority after an immigration detention centre was destroyed by a fire started by ‘persons riotously and tumultuously assembled together’ and its owners sued accordingly.

The £42 million cost for repairs to the centre is one of the reasons that in legal terms, ‘riots’ are very, very rare. A large scale disorder will be classified as many separate incidents of criminal damage, violent disorder, affray or assaults rather than as a riot with the argument sensibly being made that there is no ‘common purpose’ amongst those gathered.

Call them as you will, however, the ‘Tottenham riots’ and ongoing issues in London are still totally unacceptable and I think it’s fair to say there’s a great deal of sympathy up here in the West Midlands for those countless Met officers who will have been working long, stressful shifts restoring the peace and reassuring the local communities in the areas affected.

The BBC are continuing their coverage as events unfold and the Met too are providing regular updates through their News & Appeals page. Finally, for an insider’s view of the riots and what it’s been like to police them, I’d recommend you take a look at Inspector Winter’s excellent blog on the events which is available here.

Cause in sleepy London town there’s no place for a street fighting man…

Police lines standing firm in Tottenham (Image from BBC/PA)

I’m writing this post as both a serving police officer and also a former London resident outraged in both respects at the inexcusable discharge of violence seen last night in Tottenham.

Reports are still coming in with the press, police and other agencies doing their best to sift through the debris to establish what happened and why.

What is clear though is that at time of writing, twenty-six police officers have been injured and two are hospitalised. Numerous shops have been ransacked, vehicles destroyed and many innocent people’s homes gutted by fire.

Furthermore what is clear is that what apparently started as a small, peaceful demonstration outside a police station was soon hijacked by a criminal minority who chose to use as cover tensions over recent events in the capital to commit large scale disorder that have led locals observing the aftermath to liken it to the Blitz.

Each and every police officer, fireman and paramedic sent the to the scene last night has a family. They work long hours in roles that are often unpleasant and do so because they joined their jobs with one thing in mind – to protect the public.

That a band of hooligans saw fit to turn on officers and turn on the residents of Tottenham itself says nothing about ‘community tensions’ – it shows only that a small group of people decided to exploit the opportunity to cause a great deal of illegal, totally senseless chaos.

They weren’t representing the communities of Tottenham, weren’t representing London and certainly were not ‘protesters’ in any sense of the word.

I was glad to read in the Met’s press release that forty two people have been arrested so far in connection with the riots. Here’s hoping that many more arrests will follow…

You can follow developments around this story both through the BBC News website and also by visiting the Met’s News & Appeals page. For news on the shooting of Mark Duggan both of the aforementioned sources can be consulted as can the Independent Police Complaints Commission who have been asked to investigate the incident.


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