COMMONS

Home Affairs Committee concludes police failed to appreciate magnitude of riot task

19 December 2011

The Home Affairs Committee publishes its report into the August riots today

Conclusions

The committee concluded:

  • What ultimately worked in quelling the disorder was increasing the number of police officers on duty and flooding the streets with police.  The committee regrets that this did not happen and regards the operation to police the disorder in many towns and cities, and particularly in London, as flawed.
  • Although all the events are grouped together in the public mind as the "August riots", they were different phenomena in different cities and even in different parts of the same city, making it difficult to draw generalised conclusions
  • The single most important reason why the disorder spread was the perception, relayed by television as well as social media, that in some areas the police had lost control of the streets.
  • Some of those who took part in the disturbances undoubtedly did use social media to communicate with each other, but television also played a part in spreading the disorder
  • The death of Mark Duggan was a significant factor in the disorder that took place in Tottenham.  A potentially tense situation was made worse by failures of communication on the part of the Metropolitan Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
  • All police forces should have a communication strategy in place so that if it is decided that there is a credible threat of severe public disorder, all business in the affected area are given early and consistent advice about what action they should take.  This did not happen in August.
  • The Government should urgently clarify whether police authorities will be able to recover the total cost of policing the riots.  The August disturbances were an exceptional series of events and, at a time when police authorities are being asked to make significant savings quickly, they should be assisted in meeting the cost of the policing operation
  • The victim's surcharge, which is currently payable at a flat rate of £15, should be reviewed to consider whether it should be increased for public order incidents where the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 could be invoked
  • The Government should speed up the process of reimbursing people under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886
  • The committee commended police forces that made positive use of social media to inform and reassure the public during the disorder
  • It would be unhelpful to switch off social media during times of widespread and serious disorder

Comments from the Chair

Rt. Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Committee said:

"Individual police officers acted with great bravery, and we commend them for their actions. However, in London and other areas, in contrast with the effectiveness of police responses in some towns and cities, there was a failure of police tactics. This situation might have been avoided had police appreciated the magnitude of the task.
We urgently require a rapid improvement in police training to deal with public disorder.  We urge the police to act more quickly in future and to review the arrangements for loaning officers from one force to another in this type of scenario.
The death of Mark Duggan was a significant factor in the disorder that took place in Tottenham. A potentially tense situation was made worse by failures of communication on the part of the Metropolitan Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. This was preventable and led to 'copy-cat riots'.
For those who lost their homes and businesses, the state effectively ceased to exist—sometimes for hours at a time. This is an utterly unacceptable situation and should never occur again. We must ensure these innocent bystanders receive the payments they are entitled to under the Riot (Damages) Act."

Further Information

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