'Feral underclass' behind riots: London mayor

6th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The "feral criminal underclass" behind England's worst riots for a generation must be tackled, along with the penal system that fails to turn their lives around, London Mayor Boris Johnson said Tuesday.

Johnson said that 83 percent of those arrested were known to the police and three in four had a criminal record, while only 20 percent were gang members.

"What was the key factor that was going to make you more likely to riot? It was previous contact with the police, and that you had a criminal record," he told a parliamentary committee hearing.

"If you look at the overwhelming preponderance of people involved in the riots it was those members of society and that is the problem that we need to tackle."

Last month's riots, which began after police shot a man dead in north London, saw thousands of masked youths in London, Birmingham and Manchester involved in widespread looting, arson and violence that left five people dead.

"We have to consider as a society what is happening to these people" once they are jailed, Johnson said.

"How are we changing their lives to make sure that they don't come out again and reoffend?"

He said there was a "real difficulty... in finding adequate punishments and adequate ways of turning their lives around."

Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke earlier blamed a "broken penal system" for the riots -- "one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful", he wrote in The Guardian newspaper.

Johnson said politicians also had to look at failings in the rioters' background.

"Out of these events good must come," the mayor said.

"We have got to look at the issues around... members of the feral criminal underclass. We've got to look at how we minimise their potential dragged into crime.

"We've also got to look into what's going on with the police."

Johnson said police were not lobbying him for a "great panoply of weapons" such as water cannon and rubber bullets.

But when they catch criminals, officers do want society "to support them in making sure those people go behind bars", he said.

"That, at the moment, is not happening."

He also said society needed to consider what it was asking its police to do, given the risk of officers' careers being wrecked if found guilty of using excessive force.

Asked about those behind the riots, he said: "There was a hardcore of people determined to cause trouble. They had the communications and ways of telling others to come and destroy shops.

"And then there were people who just happened to be there."

He said shutting down social media messaging during the riots to stop word spreading of trouble had been discussed, but the idea was dismissed as intelligence material would be forfeited.

Johnson said the new commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police would be announced on Monday. There are currently four candidates.

© 2011 AFP

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