On Thursday 4 August 2011 officers from the Metropolitan Police shot and killed a 29-year-old man, Mark Duggan. Those who knew Mr Duggan felt that the Police had questions to answer over the shooting and gathered peacefully outside Tottenham Police Station on Saturday 6 August 2011. Later that evening violence broke out in Tottenham which saw vehicles and property destroyed as well as widespread looting. At the time the incident was attributed to the shooting of Mr Duggan by the Metropolitan Police and the anger towards the Metropolitan Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. While this would have been no excuse for the violence it at least provided what could be considered as an understandable explanation for the events seen in Tottenham throughout that evening.
On Sunday 7 August 2011 violence broke out in other London boroughs, mainly concentrated in Enfield, but was also to be found in Wood Green and Ponders End. Similar scenes were seen in these areas as had been witnessed in Tottenham the previous night with police vehicles and busses being damaged, buildings being broken into and items stolen from shops and buildings being set alight. General civil disorder was notable in London. Initially these incidents were also linked to the shooting of Mr Duggan on Thursday 4 August 2011.
Further civil disorder broke out during the late afternoon and early evening of Tuesday 8 August 2011 and began to spread beyond London with scenes of disorder and looting reported in Birmingham. News channels were still reporting the shooting of Mark Duggan as being a cause of the violence seen on Sunday and Monday evening, however, this would not appear to be a credible position to hold.
Certainly an argument could be made that the violence that erupted in Tottenham on Saturday was linked, even if only a tenuous link, to the shooting of Mr Duggan. However, the scenes on Sunday and Monday were taking place nowhere near the shooting of Mr Duggan and certainly reports suggested that many involved in these incidents did not even know who Mr Duggan was or that he had been shot by Police. It would appear that those intent on acting in a criminal way had spotted an opportunity to behave in a way society simply will not tolerate. The wide-spread nature of these incidents, and indeed the lack of any real planning, makes the situation very difficult for the police to deal with. The police have limited resources and with these incidents happening simultaneously in three or even more London boroughs at any one time means that the police are instantly on the back foot. They cannot hope to contain the violence and take control of the streets once again when the riots are happening in pockets around the city.
Further to that there is the events taking place in Birmingham. These cannot possibly be linked to the shooting of Mr Duggan in London. Again these incidents can only be being perpetrated by those intent on causing damage to property and stealing goods from shops.
These incidents must be divorced from the shooting of Mr Duggan, which is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. There may very well be, and there probably is, a lot of anger surrounding that shooting. Reports suggest that the shots allegedly fired by Mr Duggan resulting in Metropolitan Police Officers killing him were in fact fired by police officers. If true, this would be another shooting by the Metropolitan Police in circumstances which are less than satisfactory and possibly even criminal. The investigation into what happened prior to the shooting of Mr Duggan must not be compromised in anyway. The IPCC must be allowed to conduct that investigation properly and fully in order that the friends and family of Mr Duggan get the answers they need and deserve and to ensure that anyone who has acted criminally in that incident are brought to justice. Regardless of whether Mr Duggan had been involved in criminal activity or not he has been killed and his death deserves proper investigation, his family deserve answers and the memory of this man must not be tarnished by behaviour that is quite simply unacceptable.
There can be no proper reason for the mindless destruction of property, especially when those intent on causing that destruction are also placing the lives of others in danger. Many of the commercial premises that have been set alight are either below or in close proximity to residential premises. While the commercial premises may well be empty it is very likely that people will be in the residential property above or around the locus and if they become trapped they will most probably be killed.
Many have tried to pass these events off as a form of protest. This it is not, what is being witnessed in London and laterally in Birmingham is organised rioting. It’s criminality of a very serious nature and criminality that the police are going to struggle to deal with as it unfolds. There will undoubtedly be a significant investigation to identify those involved in this behaviour with the view of identifying those involved and prosecuting as many of them as is possible. It is guaranteed that the Courts will come down very hard on individuals who have been involved in these riots. There have been a huge number of very serious offences committed and it really is only a matter of time before someone is killed as a direct result of these riots. Lengthy prison sentences should be expected by anyone convicted of offences relating to these riots. If the local prisons are full then those convicted will just have to be moved to prisons outside of London and the South of England.
It is understandable that many in the areas affected are angry with Government cuts that are closing their local services or with the assault on the welfare state or any other Government policy that is negatively impacting upon them. It is understandable that many in these areas are angry with the police. However, it is highly unlikely that when these people decided to take to the streets or even while they are out there that they are even thinking about the youth centre that has closed, will close or is under threat or about their local library or any other local service that has been cut or is under threat. They are criminals seizing an opportunity to act violently, cause damage and bring mayhem to the streets in the belief that they are acting with impunity. No doubt many involved will never be detected, arrested and convicted. It is a fact of like that when so many people are involved in such large scale disorder that some will slip through the net and the police will fail to identify them and bring them to justice. However, a significant proportion of them will be detected and will be put through due process over the coming months as the police investigate these offences. Those involved may feel as though they are getting away with it and that they are beating the police.
Hundreds have already been arrested following the first two episodes of violence and scores of people have been charged with offences. Shockingly an eleven year old was charged with burglary following one of these incidents. It is disturbing to know that children as young as eleven are involved in these riots. However, it is not surprising.
Much more can be said on this issue and these are just some initial thoughts and views. More will be written here and elsewhere over the coming months on these incidents. However, it is important that the lawlessness being witnessed now and the shooting of Mark Duggan are not confused. They are unrelated and should not be presented as being related.