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One year on, the scars of the riots still run deep - August-05-12
Source: The Telegraph (Andrew Gilligan)
On the evening of August 6 2011, Niche Mufwankolo, owner of the Pride of Tottenham pub, fled upstairs as a mob invaded the bar, locking himself in his office and watching on his own CCTV cameras as they tore his business apart. Then they poured up the stairs, kicking down his office door as he squeezed through a window and down a drainpipe to safety. One footprint on the door, Mr Mufwankolo said, looked no bigger than a size two.
Almost exactly a year later, Tottenham is still recovering its pride. The old Carpetright store, burned to a shell by the rioters, and the flats above it, whose residents had to run for their lives, is now a giant vacant site. Mr Mufwankolo's pub has reopened, but trade is well down. In the first three months, he says, he only had one good day. "We are struggling," he says. "What's happening, Tottenham?" asks the slogan on the hoardings around another riot-hit building. Not all you'd hope, is the answer.
Within days of the biggest civil disorder to hit mainland Britain in 30 years, perhaps a century, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised: "We will help you repair the damage, get your businesses back up and running and support your communities." That wasn't quite how it happened for many traders in Tottenham. Most, though not all, have now been compensated. But the money often hasn't covered all their losses - and it has taken so long to arrive that their businesses have suffered further crippling burdens.
Omer Mehmet, a garage-owner from Lansdowne Road, took eight months to get partial compensation and only managed to reopen this spring. "They just don't want to know," he said. "We were left without anything. They are not doing anything to help us. If my business collapses, they said, 'We do not care.' "
Some of the victims were asked for receipts and invoices, even though their businesses, and their books, had burned to the ground.
"I have heard from traders in Tottenham who claim to have been treated like criminals, rather than victims of crime," says the local MP, David Lammy. "People say to me that when we see a tsunami or an earthquake in a developing country, we are able to act and get the funds there. Why is it any different here?"
Mr Mufwankolo got about a third of what he asked for - VAT, among other things, was deducted. Then, according to Mr Lammy, the Metropolitan Police, who were handling his case, lost his original invoices, preventing him from making any further claims.
Across England as a whole, what's surprising is how little change there has been. With the country in Games rapture, and the only flames in London now of the Olympic variety, the incredible events of last August seem, like the victims, to have fallen out of public consciousness. Their impact on policy, and politics, has been minimal.
Partly, this is because of the Government's deliberate refusal to hold any wide‑ranging inquiry into the causes of the riots, like that conducted by Lord Scarman after the 1981 violence.
Certainly, some attempts to place politics into the debate do not entirely stand up to scrutiny. The Guardian newspaper and the London School of Economics conducted what they described as "rigorous social research," inspired by a landmark study into the Detroit riots of 1967.
The Reading the Riots project interviewed 270 rioters, concluding that "widespread anger and frustration at people's everyday treatment at the hands of the police" was a "significant factor" in the trouble. The riots were, in part, acts of "retribution" for "police abuse of power", the researchers heard. "Above all, it is [the police use of] stop-and-search [powers] that is the focus of the frustrations and anger," wrote the study director, Prof Tim Newburn.
The study has proved influential, its conclusions often unquestioningly repeated by the BBC in particular. But it does not appear to have checked the possibly self-serving claims of the rioters it interviewed against the figures. Looking at these, there appears to be little correlation between the level of stop-and-search in an area and the amount of rioting that took place there.
In the three months leading up to the riots, the highest stop-and-search rates in London, both in absolute terms and per head of population, were in the boroughs of Newham (8,594 searches), Brent (7,943), and Tower Hamlets (7,914). These mostly deprived boroughs also have many of the social problems, such as poverty and youth unemployment, blamed for the riots. However, there was no serious rioting in these locations.
By contrast, most (though not all) of the boroughs that did see serious riots had relatively low stop-and-search rates. Haringey, where the trouble started, had 4,639 searches in the same period. Croydon, perhaps the worst riot of all, had 4,477. Lambeth, which includes Brixton, had 5,789. Greenwich, where the town centre of Woolwich was trashed, had just 2,586 searches and Islington, which saw rioting in Holloway, had 2,515. In other words, the correlation, if there is one, might actually be the opposite of what the LSE and The Guardian claimed.
If "retribution" against the police was a significant factor, we would also have expected to see more attacks on police officers, cars or buildings. In fact, the principal targets were shops. Two thirds of the charges so far, according to the Ministry of Justice, are for burglary and theft, and only a tiny fraction are for attacks on police officers or property.
Large numbers of rioters also travelled to take part in the disturbances, again suggesting that local grievances were less of a factor. In Ealing, according to the local council's study, only 100 of the 245 people arrested in connection with the riot actually lived in the borough. In Wandsworth, the council found, almost none of those arrested for the Clapham Junction riot lived in the area.
Yet while it may be tempting to dismiss the violence as entirely criminal, there was more to it than that. This summer, MPs and other local leaders have been saying that the disorder could, and sometimes that it will, happen again.
Youth unemployment is 12 per cent higher this summer than it was at the time of the riots. Last year, politicians who tried to blame the violence on government cuts were rightly derided - the cuts had barely started. But the austerity drive is hitting much more deeply now. The procedure for investigating police killings seems as sclerotic and ineffective as ever. More than a year after the shooting by police of Mark Duggan - whose death sparked the Tottenham riot - his family are still no clearer how it happened.
For many, the riots may have been forgotten. But they have not gone.
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