British lawmakers blame flawed police tactics for riots

19th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

A failure of police tactics during England's riots in August caused the unrest to escalate into the worst for a generation, British lawmakers said in a report published Monday.

The impression that police had lost control, particularly in London, encouraged rioters to go on a spree of looting and vandalism over four nights, said the report from the cross-party home affairs committee.

"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," said opposition Labour party MP Keith Vaz, the committee chairman.

"This situation might have been avoided had police appreciated the magnitude of the task," he added.

Police have already faced criticism over their response to the initial outbreak of violence in the north London district of Tottenham on August 6, which was sparked by a fatal police shooting.

Officers appeared to pull back and the lawmakers said this initial reluctance to confront the rioters encouraged the spread of copycat unrest to other cities, causing widespread destruction and five deaths.

"The single most important reason why the disorder spread was the perception, relayed by television as well as new social media, that in some areas the police had lost control of the streets," the report said.

The report, "Policing Large-Scale Disorder: Lessons from the Disturbances of August 2011," also criticised police for a catalogue of other failures.

These included failing to quickly flood the streets with large numbers of officers, not giving businesses in affected areas early and consistent advice, and an inadequate system for loaning officers between forces.

Debate has raged about the underlying reasons for the unrest, but the committee admitted it could shed no new light on the issue.

"Unlike some events in the past, including riots in the 1980s, there does not seem to be any clear narrative, nor a clear element of protest or clear political objectives," it said.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said the report had identified issues that needed to be addressed by police reforms currently under discussion.

© 2011 AFP

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