Surprising picture emerges of alleged British rioters

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From an organic chef and an opera house steward to a university student, a surprising picture emerged on Wednesday of some of the alleged troublemakers behind Britain's worst riots for decades.

While many involved seemed to fit a picture of youngsters from broken families marginalised by society, the first court appearances of some of the more than 1,000 people arrested suggested a broader cross-section took part.

In London alone, a total of 770 people have been arrested over the violence and at least 105 have been charged. Reports said at least 40 appeared in court Tuesday as authorities seek to fast-track suspects to clear the backlog.

Fitzroy Thomas, a 43-year-old organic chef, was accused with his brother Ronald, 47, of smashing up a branch of the Nando's chicken restaurant chain in Clapham, south London, the Times daily reported.

The pair pleaded not guilty in a London magistrates court and were remanded in custody, the paper said.

Nan Asante, 19, who recently started work as a steward at an outdoor opera venue in the upmarket London district of Holland Park, reportedly pleaded not guilty to looting a supermarket in the capital.

Another alleged rioter was a 20-year-old student at Essex University near London, Banye Kanon, according to reports, which said other suspects included a youth worker and a forklift truck driver.

The apparent involvement of such people in the riots will only deepen the debate over who and what was behind the outbreak of violence.

As the left-leaning Guardian newspaper pointed out: "There is no simple answer to the question: who are the rioters?"

While many were young men from poor areas, the rioters came from different racial groups, women also joined in and the ages of those involved ranged from their teens to their forties, said the paper.

Many commentators saw an element of opportunism -- as police lost control of the streets to hooded gangs, others helped themselves from shops after their windows were smashed.

But gangs of hooded youths from deprived areas were undoubtedly some of the main participants in the trouble, leading some to conclude that society's failure to integrate poor communities was a long-term cause of the riots.

In Manchester, where riots broke out on Tuesday, gangs in their late teens and 20s, often riding bicycles, roamed the streets until late into the night, smashing shops and looting, AFP journalists reported.

"There's a body of very angry young people out there -- young people who have been marginalised systematically within society for decades," education expert Professor Gus John told AFP.

"I think to a large extent, it's an outpouring of pent-up anger against the police, but also total frustration with their situation as people who see no future for themselves."

Some however rejected arguments that social conditions played a role and simply demanded a swift crackdown on the perpetrators.

The rightwing Sun tabloid, Britain's biggest-selling daily, asked readers to "shop a moron" on a front page emblazoned with CCTV images of alleged rioters.

"This unrest isn't about 'wider social issues' or poverty," wrote youth and community worker Shaun Bailey, a former parliamentary candidate for the ruling Conservative party, in the paper.

"It is about robbery. And people's businesses, homes and livelihoods are being destroyed in the process."

© 2011 AFP

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