In the Media

Manchester and Salford: a tale of two riots

PUBLISHED December 6, 2011

As looters in Manchester made off with plasma TVs and clothes from Liam Gallagher's boutique, in Salford they were taking tins of food from Lidl and secondhand TVs from Cash Converters

Although the neighbouring cities of Manchester and Salford share an accent, a proud industrial heritage and the River Irwell, for many, that is where the similarities end.

In Greater Manchester, it was a tale of two riots.

As looters in gleaming Manchester city centre made off with ?2,000 guitars, plasma TVs, and designer clothes from Liam Gallagher's Pretty Green boutique, in the neglected Salford Precinct they were taking tins of food from Lidl and secondhand televisions from Cash Converters.

"There's a big, massive police station there on [Salford] Precinct, they couldn't do anything," one unemployed 22-year-old Salford man told the Reading the Riots project. "We all hate them, we've all spent time in that police station ? It was ours for a day. I went down to Manchester as well ... It was ? totally different. Salford had its own character. There was people there to get on a rob [loot], there for the spectacle, there to have a go at police. And then people there for all of the above."

Greater Manchester police's (GMP) chief constable Peter Fahy agrees there is a clear distinction. "Certainly most of it in Manchester was about getting goods, breaking into places and stealing things. Salford I think was slightly different. It was more about attacking us and the fire services."

A large part of Salford's 10-hour riot was characterised by gangs of youths battling police from within the city's impoverished estates. Witnesses report a "party atmosphere", with people drinking looted beer and taking pictures on their phones.

By 2pm on Tuesday 9 August jittery shopkeepers in Salford Precinct had closed for the day. Youths started congregating on the adjacent Brydon Close, located in a warren-like estate of grey social housing and tower blocks.

At the time Manchester's assistant chief constable Terry Sweeney was dismissing rumours of rioting ? yet by 4pm the precinct had been completely sealed off by flanks of police cars. Over in Manchester, hooded gangs had started gathering in Piccadilly.

An hour later, about 40 riot police were seen advancing towards a crowd of youths throwing bricks and paving flags on Brydon Close. A BBC radio car was overturned and set alight; Bargain Booze was looted.

Several witness accounts claim the initial police action on Brydon Close provoked the crowds. "They could've handled it a lot better, the police," said a 41-year-old unemployed woman from Salford. "Most of the kids ? was throwing bricks ? but then the police was running at them with shields and their truncheons out ? They was getting a buzz out of it and retaliating back. They were chasing each other; it was like cat and dog."

At the same time in Manchester city centre, a hooded, masked crowd was making its way down the upmarket New Cathedral Street, home to Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. The Ugg shop was smashed. The riots had begun.

"It was exciting to be there and it was a thrill, like when you're driving a fast car," said a 17-year-old Mancunian girl. "But then you just look around and think: 'My God, what's happening to my city?'"

By 8pm in both cities, initial pitch battles between police and hundreds of rioters ? with police suffering what they called "unprecedented levels of violence and criminality"? had stopped, giving way to apparently unhindered looting.

About 300 people gathered around Salford Precinct's Lidl as shelves were cleared while people stood and took pictures.

Miss Selfridge was set on fire in Manchester's Market Street. High-profile targets included Foot Asylum, Bang & Olufsen, the high-end jewellery shops Swarovski and Links in St Ann's Square, and scores of chain supermarkets and other shops.

So far, there have been about 370 riot-related arrests. About 250 of those arrested have been charged. GMP are still searching for hundreds more suspects.

About 1,000 police officers were deployed throughout the two cities; 60 officers were injured. The total police cost was ?3.3m, with ?5.7m worth of claims lodged through the Riots Damages Act.

Of the 200 who have appeared in the courts in Manchester and Salford during the riots, more than half were under 20. Only 19 were over 40, and just over one in 10 were female. More than 75% had previous convictions.

Riots in Salford are not new; the city last saw serious disorder in 1992, when looting and violence against fire services hit Ordsall, just near the precinct.

Stephen Kingston, editor of community magazine the Salford Star, says there is still some resentment towards the perceived heavy-handed police action of the time. Asked why the looting started, he said: "I think people just got carried away. The people who were rioting were from the poorest areas of Salford. In an area that is full of poverty, there is going to be criminality."

At the time Fahy put the violence down to a "criminal element"; he now says GMP are concerned with issues of social exclusion, poverty and youth unemployment.

"There are issues there about people feeling involved in society, and the impact of the materialistic society. But I've not seen anything in it that suggests that there is any wider, social protest."

The link with deprivation is backed up by statistics; according to the Manchester Evening News, of the 101 people sentenced by 11 November in Greater Manchester, 60% live in areas ranked in the 10% most deprived in the country.

"People who have got nothing wanted to show that they have nothing," said one unemployed 22-year-old Mancunian.

Langworthy, where the Salford riots started, is the third worst area in the country for child poverty, and the seventh for unemployment.

"I think that is the question we need to ask: why did it happen there?" Kingston adds. "Why did it happen in an area that has got the highest poverty in Salford?"

In Greater Manchester, location plays a key role in helping to understand the riots. Fahy says GMP are proud violence did not hit Moss Side and Oldham, as it did in the race riots of 1981 and 2002. Although residents of both areas travelled into Manchester city centre to riot, they say race was not a factor in their decision.

"Well just people, humans, humanitarians, all of us, blacks, whites, yellows, browns, Chinese, we don't care man, there was all people getting together to say we are not happy that we are on the bottom on the rung. We are sick of being walked all over," said an unemployed 25-year-old Mancunian.

In Salford, participants also denounced any affiliation.

"These aren't gangs. Gangs to me means the Bloods and Crips in LA," said the unemployed 22-year-old Salford man. "The kids just did what they wanted to do 'cos they wanted to do it, not because some gang boss orchestrated it to get back at the police."

Unlike other areas, the violence in Greater Manchester only lasted for one night. It ended, according to those who were there, because of one of the most perennial and defining features of life in both cities.

As one unemployed 27-year-old Salford woman said: "The police said ? we did this, we did that, we stopped them, but it wasn't ? It was purely because it was pouring down with rain."

A 21-year-old Salford man agreed. "I believe the rioting would've cont
inued if it wasn't for the rain the following day," he said. "People don't come out in the rain, they don't!" © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds