UK riots claim pensioner's life as police defend tactics
Riots in England claimed a fifth life Friday with the death of a pensioner who confronted looters in the worst unrest for decades, as a row over policing the violence erupted between top officers and politicians.
More than 1,500 people have been arrested over the rioting in London and other English cities this week, and the courts sat for a third consecutive night on Thursday as they dealt hundreds of cases.
Police in London meanwhile arrested a 22-year-old man on suspicion of the murder of a man attacked by a mob during looting on Monday.
Richard Mannington Bowes, 68, was set upon in the affluent west London suburb of Ealing, which experienced some of the worst violence during the four nights of rioting, as he attempted to stamp out a fire started by a gang of youths.
He died in hospital late Thursday, the fifth fatality after the deaths of three men in Birmingham who were run over as they defended local businesses, and the shooting of a man in Croydon, south London.
The attack on Mannington Bowes "was a brutal incident that resulted in the senseless killing of an innocent man," said Detective Chief Inspector John McFarlane of London's Metropolitan Police.
Inquests were due to open Friday into the deaths in Birmingham, England's second biggest city, which saw three young men of South Asian origin mown down by a car as they stood guard against looters outside a petrol station.
On the political front, a row escalated between police and politicians as both sides sought to deflect blame for the crisis.
The police have been criticised for their reluctance to crack down hard on the first riot in the north London district of Tottenham on Saturday, saying the cautious approach encouraged unrest to continue and spread across the country.
The number of officers on the streets of London was boosted from 6,000 to 16,000 after the unrest escalated and the same number remained on the streets of the capital on Thursday.
In an emergency session of parliament Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron said police would be given extra powers to prevent future trouble but also voiced criticism of their tactics.
"Initially the police treated the situation too much as a public order issue -- rather than essentially one of crime," he told lawmakers.
Home Secretary Theresa May has also said there were not enough officers on duty on Monday, the worst night of the unrest during which police in London arrested more than 300 people.
But senior officers hit back Friday in rare public attacks on the country's political leaders, who last year introduced tough austerity measures which include cuts to police forces across Britain.
Tim Godwin, the acting head of the Metropolitan Police, pointedly noted that "people will always make comments who weren't there", and defended the policing of the riots.
"With the unprecedented scenes that we found in London, I have got some of the best commanders that we have seen in the world... that showed great restraint as well as great courage," he told reporters.
Cameron and May were on holiday when the riots broke out, and returned early this week to take control, but senior officer Hugh Orde, who represents Britain's police chiefs, said their presence was an "irrelevance".
He also criticised a claim by May that she had ordered police forces across the country to cancel all staff leave, saying that she "has no power whatsoever to order the cancellation of police leave."
Courts across the country, which have been working round the clock to process cases, faced another busy day on Friday to deal with the more than 500 people charged over the disturbances.
Despite Cameron's criticism that many of the rampaging youths came from broken homes with absent parents, there was growing evidence that adults were willing to report their own children to the police over the riots.
In Manchester, a mother marched her 15-year-old son down to the local police station after she recognised him in pictures of rioters prising open the shutters of a shop on Tuesday, police said. He was arrested on suspicion of looting.
Among those hauled before the courts on Thursday was an 18-year-old girl from London who is a youth ambassador for the 2012 London Olympics. She was accused of throwing bricks at police and stealing from shops.
© 2011 AFP