UK takes stock a week after riots began
Police deny claims that response was too soft early on
LONDON - Thousands of extra police officers were stationed on Britain’s streets yesterday as the country faced its first weekend since riots raged through suburbs and town centers, leaving a scarred landscape of broken glass and torched buildings.
Police in London, which saw the worst violence, have charged almost 700 people with violence, disorder, and looting, and the city’s mayor said Londoners wanted to see tough sentences handed out to the guilty. Hundreds of stores were looted, buildings were set ablaze, and five people died amid the mayhem that broke out Saturday in London and spread over four nights across England.
Police, meanwhile, hit back against claims they were too soft in their initial response to the disorder.
Prime Minister David Cameron said officers had been overwhelmed at first, outmaneuvered by mobile gangs of rioters. He said “far too few police were deployed onto the streets. And the tactics they were using weren’t working.’’
That changed Tuesday, when 16,000 officers were out on London’s streets - almost three times the number of the night before. Cameron said the extra officers will remain on patrol through the weekend.
Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, acknowledged that police had faced “an unprecedented situation, unique circumstances,’’ but said it was police themselves, rather than “political interference,’’ that got the situation under control.
“The more robust policing tactics you saw were not a function of political interference,’’ he told the BBC. “They were a function of the numbers being available to allow the chief constables to change their tactics.’’
Cameron vowed “swift justice’’ for perpetrators, and courts were struggling to cope with a flood of defendants.
Across the country, more than 1,700 people have been arrested. Courts in London, Birmingham, and Manchester have stayed open around the clock since Wednesday to deal with hundreds of alleged offenders.
The alleged looters and vandals included an 11-year-old boy, a teenage ballerina, a university English student from a prosperous commuter town, and Natasha Reid, a 24-year-old university graduate who admitted stealing a TV from a looted electronics store.
Her lawyer said she had turned herself in because she could not sleep for guilt. A judge told her she would probably go to jail when she is sentenced later.
Another was Chelsea Ives, an 18-year-old chosen as a volunteer ambassador for next year’s Olympic Games. She is accused of burglary, violent disorder, and throwing bricks at a police car during riots in north London on Sunday.
Newspapers reported that Ives was charged after her parents saw her rioting on TV and turned her in. She was ordered detained until a court appearance on Wednesday.
Mayor Boris Johnson said it was fitting that “significant sentences’’ were being handed down.
“That is, frankly, what Londoners want to see,’’ he said.
Although the rioters came from all Britain’s ethnic communities, the violence stirred fears of heightened racial tensions - especially in Birmingham, where three South Asian men were killed Tuesday when they were hit by a car, reportedly driven by black youths.
Hours later Tariq Jahan, whose 21-year-old son, Haroon, was killed, urged calm. So far, he has been heeded.
“This is not a race issue,’’ he said. “The family has received messages of sympathy and support from all parts of the community - all races, all faiths and backgrounds.’’
The violence was triggered by the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four who was gunned down in north London’s Tottenham area on Aug. 4 under disputed circumstances.
A protest demanding justice on Saturday devolved into a riot, which spread to other parts of London and beyond.
Britain’s police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, apologized yesterday for “inadvertently’’ giving the impression immediately after the shooting that Duggan had fired at officers.
A gun was found in the car Duggan was traveling in, but ballistic tests showed that a bullet found lodged in an officer’s radio was police issue.
Britain’s Parliament was called back from its summer break for an emergency debate on the riots Thursday, with Cameron promising authorities would get strong powers to stop street mayhem from erupting again.
He said authorities were considering allowing police to order suspects to remove masks or hoods, evicting troublemakers from subsidized housing, and temporarily disabling cellphone instant messaging services.