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Riot narrative heading in wrong direction

with 15 comments

Ill considered words and gestures ramping up repression

It’s OK talking and acting tough if you are getting results that matter to the rest of us, but David Cameron’s performance in the House of Commons yesterday, whilst good for his own authority as PM, does not portend well if he actually means what he says.

The overall impression that Cameron saved the country from burning down by returning from holiday early might look great to some but there is a lot of discomfort behind the headlines. Talking of tracking down and punishing the rioters would be fine if that is what he actually meant, the courts so far have sent out very mixed signals with some lenient sentences and some heavier sentences, but what is apparent is the lust of ordinary people up and down the country to lock young people away and throw away the key. Cameron latched on to this as he abandoned his “hug a hoodie” attitude promising jail terms for those convicted of involvement in the riots and looting, yet surely what we really need to see is armies of strictly supervised young people working at least 40 hours per week in their communities putting right the damage that they have caused. Surely this will have more productive long term benefits than locking them away for foolishly stealing bottled water, in six months some of them may even be on their way towards learning a skill or a trade!

Cameron talked of legislating to increase the sentences available to magistrates, instead of thinking about toughening up referral orders where offenders may only be required to work a few hours per week in the community, and what did he mean by a review of dispersal rules to give a “wider power of curfew”? Something which perhaps might be a terrible burden on the innocent and unaffected. He made pretty overt and open criticism of the Met Police’s failure to deal with the initial outbreak of violence in Tottenham, perhaps unfairly without first praising the bravery of the individual officers who faced that first unruly mob, and it is already coming back to bite him as sections of the police feel rather slighted and Sir Hugh Orde rounded on politicians and the Home Secretary in particular.

On taking office as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher immediately had the police on side with a 40% pay increase, David Cameron does not have that advantage, he faced increasing frustration in the House of Commons yesterday over future police budgets and this argument is now spreading into the wider public forum, his only counter balance is to offer more powers to the police which always carries the risk of repressive policy which does not convey the “consensual policing” that many regard as the cornerstone of British law enforcement. Talking of closing down or restricting the services of certain social networking sites is dangerous and unnecessary,  it is not the services at fault it is the users. Conservative MP Louise Mensch has waded in with this:

“Common sense. If riot info and fear is spreading by Facebook & Twitter, shut them off for an hour or two, then restore. World won’t implode,”

Yet we baulk at the suggestions that other countries such as Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or China take such oppressive action to censor the internet, those few small hours certainly would represent the thin end of the wedge and lead us down a darker path! Paradoxically it might even prevent the emergence of real community spirit evidence by the “broom army” in London. The whole concept of censorship and the choking of information is not something that I welcome, it is inherently not the British way and will damage good journalism (and yes we have to acknowledge that some of the news coverage fed the ambitions of the rioting crowds for a couple of days) resourceful journalist made very good use of Twitter to get around London, Manchester, and Birmingham to cover events and some of their stories and pictures have led to the identification of suspects and consequent arrests.

So we heard a few knee jerk reactions yesterday, the dust is settling, the politicians can resume their holidays, the magistrates will continue to confound, but has this emergency session of Parliament really changed the game? Well, yes it did a little, but not for the common good.

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Written by curly

August 12, 2011 at 10:44 am

15 Responses

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  1. It is pleasing to read some well-balanced comments here. You referred a few days ago to the approach taken in America re their deficit. My view on that was that both Republican and Democrats know there is an election next year. That is why there was so much manoeuvring on the economic issue which if it was settled earlier would not have destabilised the world market so much, instead it was allowed to be left to the last minute for political reasons so that they can throw blame at each other next year.
    I was upset at what I saw as political placement where Cameron returns and suddenly all is well. If I was a Commander or chief constable, I would not be happy at the image portrayed by Cameron and May. Riot by definition is where the authorities have lost control getting control back is not an easy task it can require large resources. Don’t forget the other parts of London would still have to be policed, and the 999 calls would have been coming in as they do every day.
    The water cannons have always been available but are not seen as effective in most public order situations, the use of CS and baton rounds, and for that matter firearms are all within the ambit of the police. They do not require politicians to authorise such tactics. Cameron also said that the police had dealt with the situation as a public order one rather than a criminal one – sorry it is a crime to commit public disorder, riot being at the most severe end of the legislation. The police by the use of mutual aid (a process that has always been in place) were able to get large numbers in place very quickly. Logistically it is difficult to move large numbers of police officers from one area to another. You have to ensure you can still provide for your own area.
    May does not order the police to cancel leave this is a police management decision.
    Curly, I believe this is politics at its worst, where the image of the politicians seems to be what they are most concerned about, and I fear this may have happened whichever party/s are in power.
    Further, the talk of having an American come tell us how to police our streets is an absolute insult. American crime, murder, sex rates, (as well as social injustice) is far higher than ours is.
    Instead of a debate to instil confidence in the victims and the citizens of the country, I fear the government lost an opportunity.
    Two other things I agree with you on community punishment but think the time has come to increase the ability of magistrates to jail for up to 12 months for each offence rather than six thus saving time and money by not progressing issues to the crown court.
    Secondly, to be fair Thatcher merely agreed to the pay rise for the police that had been recommended by a Labour led police enquiry that had made its recommendations just before the election.


    August 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    • I have to disagree on the point about raising the sentencing guidelines for magistrates, and for a very noble reason.
      If you want to take away someone’s liberty for more than 6 months then have the cojones to give them a fair trial, with a jury.

      Yes, JPs are lovely, a great system, but there is a reason we have a break point, a limitation. It’s all about this freedom and liberty thing, you understand?

      The more the State wants to punish you the more the State has to prove before it can punish you.


      August 13, 2011 at 9:46 am

      • I’m not talking about raising the sentencing guidelines, although with greater power these would need to be amended! The vast majority of defendants that appear at crown court plead guilty. In fact, most defendants plead guilty. Where guilt is not an issue and where magistrates currently simply send guilty parties to crown court because they feel they do not have sufficient power to sentence, then one solution for those cases, is to simply give them the power. If someone wishes to defend themselves, are you saying that the magistrates are less just? That the crown court is more just. Crown courts were not designed to ensure ‘liberty and freedom’ they were actually designed to deal with the more serious offences. My idea is to try to stop less serious offences that are guilty pleas more often than not but end up clogging the system up and costing us taxpayers a good deal of money and victims and witnesses a good deal of stress.

        The level of evidence required should always be high, the fact that someone is sent to prison or a secure establishment for 24 week or 30 weeks should not depend upon a higher level of proof. Also most offenders serve about half of what they are actually sentences for. But being given a higher sentence (even though you may not serve it) has an impact on issues such as being able to obtain a firearms licence, what offences may have to be disclosed to future employers and applications for visas, obtaining car insurance. Therefore, there may be a greater deterrent in such a move.

        I understand the British man who stands by ‘trial by jury’ and of course, changes would need to be subject to debate. However, my idea is feasible.

        Whilst I support and approve of libertarian philosophy, I support the notion that freedom and liberty has to be for the benefit of the greater good. Some criminals (and their solicitors) abuse the current system.

        So, 2 brief further points
        1) Why should a defendant who has overwhelming evidence against him, DNA, fingerprints, CCTV (a godsend to the detectives who investigate riots and terrorism) be given a concession for a guilty plea?
        2) Where someone has pled not guilty at magistrates, initial hearings at the crown court and then changes their plea to guilty should they receive a concession to their sentence?

        Liberty and freedom should be applicable to the good decent citizen to enjoy a productive life free from fear from those who oppress and cause grief. Yes, justice needs to be fair, and it needs to recognise quality evidence, but it needs to be balanced with the greater good of society.

        Libertarian? Yet the other day you were advocating that the police use their batons on crowds, some of whom may well be inncent of crimes, or at least may claim to be so at crown court.

        He demostrado mi virilidad – en Inglés


        August 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

  2. David Cameron and his buddies with their censoring of UK internet should be brought to justice and tried for crimes against humanity , Slavery was supposed to be abolished in 1893 , The gangsters once again ask for more money as they have spent it all on; expenses , bank bail outs , euro zone , Conflict , so its pick on the defenseless time . what are the nationalities of the people charged ? what age group ? The Mail online promoted a petition on the e petition website today With over 130,000 signatures and rising fast I reckon that will be signed by around a quarter or even 1 million and out of them i bet the majority read the mail online .I cant imagine why i never sussed that is an extreme right newspaper until today !

    tony malone

    August 12, 2011 at 6:48 pm

  3. Good informed debate, welcome back, Kevin. Would there be support for a programme of research, involving follow up work by social services/psychology professionals with the rioters and looters, designed to try and find out why they behaved as they did, coupled with profiling of the offenders involved in the criminality. Perhaps this would go some way towards reducing the risk of outbreaks like this occuring in the future. Offenders should be confronted with the consequences of their actions and actively involved in the cleaning up and rebuilding of the shops, businesses and homes destroyed. The contrast between the dignified behaviour of relatives and friends of riot murder victims, and that of some of the offender’s parents and families, exhibits the polarities of human nature, which have always existed in societies. Remember, some of the bloodiest and most destructive incidents in history have occured during civil wars and disturbances on the UK mainland.


    August 13, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    • I have no doubt that criminologists will be looking to get their teeth into the current issues. However, we have to be so careful that we put our comments upon offenders at the risk of failing to support victims. Furthermore, it is very hard to find evidence of good successful rehabilitation programmes. The shame of being convicted is lost on many convicts as they are, in fact ‘not’ shamed and do not have any reputation to lose.

      These are very, complex issues and one thing I would like to see would be some form of an educational process where the convict sees, meets or is made aware of victims who also have nothing, who need the goods that have been stolen, or who are afraid of the perception of violence on the streets. We need to make the association with such criminal behaviour to be uncool, somehow. Our children also need good role models not absent fathers who have a drink or gambling or drugs problem, or who see stealing as a legitimate means for self-gratification and the family as a means of simply getting food and a roof over his head and see the world only through ‘their’ eyes. We also need mothers who are prepared for motherhood.

      Children, who live in an environment where they feel wanted, valued, rewarded for the effort (not necessarily result) and who are shown that sharing is good and greed is bad and encouraged throughout their formative years may well be the way forward. Remember 95% of our youth never come to the notice of the police.

      I don’t know the answers, but we cannot, on the one hand, be critical and on the other hypocritical, parents need to do what they would preach others to do! We all need to walk the walk. I also think more people should engage in politic rather than politics so that the politician becomes more engaged in community debate and understanding. Let us try to make informed decisions.


      August 13, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      • Kevin I thought my final sentence on my libertarian views the other day expressed and illustrated the level of anger and frustration that I was going through at the time of writing, however I still retain a healthy level of suspicion about those who seek to empower magistrates further. I don’t particularly feel that the current system of justice is in any way broken and therefore not requiring any legislative “reform”, it just needs to be utilised effectively and wisely.

        You make an interesting allusion in your last comment to CCTV images, something which has interested me over the past few years. This outbreak of criminality recently, for me, lays the lie given by successive politicians when introducing new areas of CCTV coverage that they will be installed to “deter and prevent” crime – nothing could be further from the truth as thousands of young people have ably demonstrated. Would it not be far more honest for politicians to tell us that the CCTV cameras will be installed to detect and investigate crime?

        Even this is a little worrying, as the level of trust needed between the police and communities is not as it was years ago, we become far more reliant on CCTV cameras, and their operators, to provide evidence, rather than encouraging more and more people to interact with the police and be prepared to offer witness statements with a sense of civic duty and responsibility?

        Finally, I wonder what readers think of this article, penned before the Parliamentary debate, by David Davis an MP brought up on a council estate by a single mother.


        August 14, 2011 at 10:24 am

  4. I agree with you about CCTV there is little academic evidence to suggest they prevent crime and there is far more evidence to support that they help detect and investigate crime. But crime prevention has always been a difficult issue to assess and measure. I would rather park my car in a car park that has CCTV than one which does not. I would also like to have the terrorist, rioters, murderers, rapists arrested if needs with the use of CCTV. I’m not sure what the difference is between being watched by a store detective, police officer, a suspicious citizen, a civil enforcement officer, property owner, member of neighbourhood watch, door manager – or a camera? Other then a camera can capture evidence and is less likely to make human error in discriptions without getting tired and can also be used to monitor for criminal activity. A lot of times crimes are dealt with when cameras are not manned, in other words people still have the major role to play. Personally I don’t have a problem with that – I’m not sure what the good argument against it is. I have yet to hear anyone convince me that they would rather not have the cameras and lose all of the convictions!

    Where is your evidence to suggest that the public do not give loads of statements, information or intelligence to the police? Some are frightened to give statements and the police may then resort to technical aids or the use of professional witnesses. But in order to do that they need the help of the public in the first instance. Intelligence led policing means, in the majority of cases that the public have simply told the police what is going on, not. Also the public pass on their concerns directly to officers and at PACT and community forum metings and via the web.

    I am currently researching the history of the police from the post-war period – what evidence do you have that the police / public relationship is worse than it was – I suspect it is different but far better for gaining intelligence and problem solving. The police are better trained, higher educated, better equipped – because they have to deal with more complex issues. Although, PACE (1984) introduced a great deal of process and the New Labour introduced a lot of targets via Best Value. I suspect the changes in discipline in schools especially those of 1982 (end of corpral punishment) may have something to do with juvenile discipline and the image of the police in 1983-84 when politicians used the police against the mining community, had an adverse impact not just on community but the relationship with the Bobby on the beat. I used to go for a cuppa in Westoe pit canteen before the strike – not afterwards, that link was lost. There was a good deal of damage in our north east communities because of that strike and the way the police were seen as political puppets. Many police officers were uncomfortable about this. The dates politically could be meaningful but I’m trying to keep politics out of this

    David Davis makes some interesting points but unfortunatly misses the obvious on many issues. Yes we have the most police than we have ever had but – we also have the most cars, the most roads, crime since the Second World War (the rise actually began in the 1930s) increased from 498,576 in 1947 to 5,383,485 in 1992 when they began to fall. They have recently faltered a bit nationally but continued with a drop in our area. We are more affluent as a nation than in the post-war period and we have more items that can be stolen. There are more diverse forms of crime including drugs, computer crimes and fraud. There are also more people and we are more global with a free flow of populations especially in the EU. There will of course be many different opinions from other politicians – so I can’t see the point of you quoting Davis unless it is the view that you support. I’d rather have my own opinion.

    I respect your points on the summary courts and on CCTV being a proven detective aide I also agree that we need to be careful that we don’t whitewash all council residents as being depraved or criminal, the majority such as Mr Davis are not – I’m not sure that the majority go on to join the SAS and display as much determination as him, but he is right, you can achieve with a bit of hard work and effort. I was not brought up on a council estate – my formative years were in a slum clearance area with private landlords, similar to you, outside tap in the yard etc. But joy when we were given a new council house with indoor toilets and a bit of a garden. It never belonged to us it was always borrowed from someone else, but It was in my opinion a good move away from the private landlord making a profit out of our poor living conditions into a state funded home. Something I will never forget.


    August 14, 2011 at 11:30 am

  5. What a great debate chaps.

    I don’t have much to add to the debate, I’m no fan of the Cameron or the Condems so my opinion is biased but nevertheless I found his performance had be squirming. I can’t help comparing him to a secondhand car salesman.

    But one thing I am proud of is being a Geordie and the way the North has not jumped on the bandwagon. If these riots where supposed to be driven by government cuts the North should have been ablaze from end to end.


    August 14, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    • That is a good strong point, perhaps they had little or nothing at all to do with the socio-economic conditions at all. Let’s face it, much of this contextualising is done by the professional liberal elite who so conveniently ignore localised crime and greed, so long as it is not in their neighbourhood.

      You can guarantee that a lot of money, man hours, and effort will be put into the search for the reasons behind this criminal outburst, and that it will repeat itself in a few years time (sadly).


      August 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm

      • There is of course crime and greed in every part of society, how it is dealt with differs. A fight in a pub may lead to arrests for disorder and criminal damage. However, a similar fight in a private rugby club away from thre public glare, may end up being dealt with in house and the offenders simply being required to pay for the damage.

        IDSmith is to now look at removing the benefits of those rioters who were convicted but not given a custodial sentence who receive benefits. However, if you are in work you will not be affected by such a move. We need to be so careful to ensure that penalties are appropriate to everyones individual circumstances and it isn’t one punishment for those who have and another for those who have not.

        I would also caution that the business elite in our society commit a great deal of very serious economic crime that is rarely detected or looked into and when it, is the sentences are limited. The guinness share trading fraud being a good example. This is stll a country where the very wealthy do not receive the same level of intrusive policing dealt to the masses.

        I’m not sure that the contextualising is done by the professional liberal elite, it strikes me that at the moment and during the post riot stage the debate has been led by politicians and police. It is a sad state of affairs when our Prime Minister and Home Secretary are not in harmony with our police who at the end of the day are the ones who provide the thin blue line (which the government is to make thinner) between the anarchists and decent society. I’m sure in previous governments there will have been disagreements between the police and the government almost certainly during the Thatcher years. But at least they would have been kept behind closed doors.

        I’m afraid again there is poor decision making and leadership by Cameron


        August 15, 2011 at 8:55 am

  6. Criminality and fraud is rife amongst a growing dishonest business community at all levels, whether it be localised bogus builder scams or international lottery and 419 frauds. Regrettably both Police and Trading Standards are facing resource cuts/freezes and recruitment/trainee reductions coupled with salary freezes. Investigations of major frauds, such as websites selling counterfeit products are labour and resource intensive, albeit, often, deskbound and IT skills orientated. It is not just a reduction of cops on the street that will contribute to an increase in criminal activity. Rioting is fortunately a relatively rare occurence, but fraud and ruination of lives and livelyhoods thereby is a minute by minute, hour by hour ongoing enterprise being dealt with by a diminishing number of Officers and costing the honest business community billions.


    August 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm

  7. The number of people who would describe themselves as honest decent folk yet buy ‘knock off’ goods or get their cigs from ‘tab houses.’ Then there was the meat trader who sold ‘condemned’ meat after rinsing it in in bleach. Some of it ended up in schools. To all intents and purposes he was a respectable businessman who lived in a nice village in a big house. After his derisory sentence I wonder how he was treated…was he shunned or treated with contempt down the golf club?
    Today’s latest ‘initiative was from Iain Duncan-Smith ( who I’d previously thought of as a fairly sensible chap).
    His new wheeze is for gang members to be harrassed by people from DVLC,the TV licensing authories and the tax people. Hello Iain the Civil Servants in HMRC and DVLC are going to see their jobs cut. Do they seriously expect some Civil Servant to bang on the door of a high rise flat in Hackney and demand to see a TV or Driving Licence and a completed tax return.
    Are these people right in the head I ask myself. The average Joe or Josie knows these are crackpot ideas…these are supposed to be educated folk..


    August 15, 2011 at 4:40 pm

  8. What a lot of the naive “tab house” customers don’t appear to realise, or perhaps don’t care is that they may well be purchasing counterfeit “tabs” and putting themselves and family at even greater health risks. Surveillance of and raiding, followed by prosecution of “tab house” activities is potentially costly, potentially dangerous to Officers involved and resource intensive. Regrettably, public servants and LGO’s are having to put themselves more and more at risk by having to investigate and deal with a wide range of criminality such as aggressive rogue traders and major organised crime counterfeiting activities, such as the manufacture of falsely described and trade marked industrial equipment for use in the oil industry; Police and HMRC do provide back up and assistance, but as cuts bite, neighbourhood inspectors and area superintendents may have to prioritise the amount of Police support and back up that can be given to EHO’s TSO’s and HMRC. Underage drinking, another major issue, and, no doubt a contributory factor to youth criminality and riotous misbehaviour, another area where declining resources and personnel will mean less investigation and prosecution. Derisory sentencing and a reluctance to properly punish and penalise “respectable businesspersons” is a constant frustration for investigators and prosecuting authorities.


    August 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm

  9. Curlys lead for this item refers to “Riot narrative heading in wrong direction” I’m fairly sure he won’t mind me at this stage mentioning a piece of narrative from the right wing Tory supporter David Starkey. The issue I wish to raise is not the points recently made by Starky in relation to ethnicity and gang culture which he associates with the recent riots, but to the constant use by the BBC of this man, who is labelled as “a historian” when invited to give his opinions on shows such as QuestionTime. He is invited to these television shows surely as a person who wishes to express a personal opinion (albeit an extreme one) therefore I would urge the BBC to label him as the opinionated person that he is, not as a historian. Starkey qualifies as a historian in Tudor history, not cultural or political or contemporary history, I can’t see how he is qualified to comment, as a historian on contemporary political and social issues, so surely the BBC should not present him with the credit of being an academic in that field. Pedantic, maybe but at the end of the day the BBC is merely trying to stir muddy waters with the like of Starkey and try to give his views some credence by portraying him as a professional in the field. I am not commenting on his views, nor do I wish to express mine on the issue of ethnicity etc. but to use a Tudor historian, as a person competent to express views on such matters is a joke.
    I was pleased to see Conservative politicians distancing themselves from Starkey, but at the same time feel that there should be more debate surrounding the issue of immigration, black gang culture and the creation of black ghettos in some of our urban inner cities.


    August 18, 2011 at 8:57 pm

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