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England riots will happen again without urgent action, independent panel warns

PUBLISHED November 28, 2011
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An interim report calls on the government to support high streets and finds a lack of robust policing allowed the riots to spread

The August riots which spread from London to other areas of the England will happen again if urgent action is not taken, the independent panel set up by the government to investigate the summer disturbances has warned.

Between 13,000 and 15,000 people were actively involved, and the financial bill, including loss of business and tourism income, is estimated at ?500m.

Publishing its interim report, the Riots Communities and Victims Panel said there was no one single cause for the rioting between 6 and 10 August, precipitated by the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan in Tottenham.

It found, however, that "had the police response in Tottenham and subsequently across London been more robust, riots would not have happened elsewhere in England".

Watching the policing during the Tottenham disturbances, it looked as if the police were "backing off" and there was a perception "the streets were there for the taking", said the panel member Heather Rabbatts.

There was also a "faultline" between the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in the immediate aftermath of the Duggan shooting, with incorrect information circulating about an exchange of fire and rumour allowed to spread through social media. Both the IPCC and police needed to review protocols, the report said.

"We heard a range of motivation from the need for new trainers to a desire to attack society," it said. Concerns over stop and search were cited by some, but the riots were not political, it concluded.

After gathering evidence from thousands of people affected, the panel said their research led them to the conclusion that immediate action must be taken to prevent similar disturbances in the future.

Among 11 recommendations, the report called for the "unblocking" of the Riots Damages Act. It did not heard of anyone who had received a payment under the act, and "forecasts show that by March 2012 barely half of the smallest and only one in 10 of the largest claims will have been paid".

There were also complaints about the speed of insurers' response and their treatment of claimants.

The report calls on the government to start a fund to support struggling high streets. Footfall was seriously down in some of the areas affected by the disturbances, it found.

People felt abandoned by the police in many areas, and forces "need to ensure they achieve the right balance in prioritising the protection of individuals and residential areas over commercial property in tackling riots".

The report states that the police could not control the disorder in many areas, and said police authorities should immediately review their emergency plans.

Broadly there were five categories of rioters: "organised criminals" often from outside the area, "violent criminals" who committed the most serious crimes such as arson and violent attacks on the police, "late night shoppers" who deliberately travelled to riot sites in order to loot, "opportunists" who were drawn in through a sense of excitement or curiosity and "spectators" who came just to watch.

Darra Singh, the panel chairman, said: "It is 30 years since the publication of the Scarman report. The panel is clear that the riots in August were very different disturbances to those in 1981. However, it is a sad fact that in some respects, the underlying challenges are strikingly similar.

"While deprivation is not an excuse for criminal behaviour we must seek to tackle the underlying causes of the riots or they will happen again.

"Our findings have led us to set out recommendations for immediate action by individuals, government, public services and business. The threat of future riots and the response to them is not somebody else's problem."

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