Wednesday, August 10, 2011

London tries tripling police presence to end riots

By DANICA KIRKA and JILL LAWLESS - Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — London began nearly tripling the number of police on its
streets Tuesday to try to end Britain's worst rioting in a generation —
three nights of looting and burning by poor, diverse and brazen crowds of
young people. Meanwhile, however, the chaos spread to at least one more
major city.

Scenes of ransacked stores, torched cars and blackened buildings
frightened and outraged Britons just a year before London is to host the
Olympics. London's Metropolitan Police force said Tuesday it would flood
the streets with 16,000 officers over the next 24 hours, but acknowledged
they could not guarantee an end to the violence.

"We have lots of information to suggest that there may be similar
disturbances tonight," Cmdr. Simon Foy told the BBC. "That's exactly the
reason why the Met (police force) has chosen to now actually really 'up
the game' and put a significant number of officers on the streets."

In Manchester, which previously hadn't seen violence, police said seven
people were arrested Tuesday as youths rampaged through the center of the
northwestern city. Firefighters said a clothing store in the city center
and a disused library in nearby Salford were set on fire.

Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney of the Greater Manchester police
department urged residents to avoid the city center. "A handful of shops
have been attacked by groups of youths who have congregated and seem
intent on committing disorder," he said.

The riots started Saturday with a protest over a police shooting in
London's Tottenham neighborhood, but have morphed into a general
lawlessness in London and several other cities that police have struggled
to halt with ordinary tactics. While the rioters have run off with
sneakers, bikes, electronics and leather goods, they also have torched
stores apparently just for the fun of seeing something burn.

Rioters, able to move quickly and regroup to avoid the police, were left
virtually unchallenged in several neighborhoods, plundering stores at

Police in Britain generally avoid tear gas, water cannons or other
strong-arm riot measures, but they said they were considering the use of
plastic bullets — blunt-nosed projectiles designed to deal punishing blows
to rioters without penetrating the skin. Such weapons, formally called
baton rounds, still are used to quell riots in Northern Ireland but have
never been used by police in Britain itself.

Stores, offices and nursery schools in several parts of London closed
early amid fears of fresh rioting Tuesday night, though pubs and
restaurants were open. Police in one London district, Islington, advised
people not to be out on the streets "unless absolutely necessary."

In central England, police said they made five arrests in Birmingham and
dispersed a small group of people who torched two cars in the center of
West Bromwich, a nearby town. Shops were targeted by rioters in the city
of Wolverhampton, police said.

In London, riots and looting have flared from gritty suburbs along the
capital's fringes to the posh Notting Hill neighborhood. The disorder has
caused heartache for Londoners whose businesses and homes were torched or
looted, and a crisis for police and politicians already staggering from a
spluttering economy and a scandal over illegal phone hacking by a tabloid
newspaper that has dragged in senior politicians and police.

"The public wanted to see tough action. They wanted to see it sooner and
there is a degree of frustration," said Andrew Silke, head of the
criminology department at the University of East London.

So far more than 560 people have been arrested in London and more than 100
charged, and the capital's prison cells were overflowing. Several dozen
more were arrested in other cities. The Crown Prosecution Service said it
had teams of lawyers working 24 hours a day to help police decide whether
to charge suspects.

Silke said it will be hard to control the rioting until police make larger
numbers of arrests.

"People are seeing images of lines of police literally running away from
rioters," he said. "For young people that is incredibly empowering. They
are breaking the rules. They are getting away with it. No one is able to
stop them."

The unrest was Britain's worst since race riots set the capital ablaze in
the 1980s. Groups of young people set buildings, vehicles and garbage
dumps on fire, looted stores and pelted police officers with bottles and

London's beleaguered police force noted that it received more than 20,000
emergency calls on Monday — four times the normal number. Scotland Yard
has called in reinforcements from around the country and asked all
volunteer special constables to report for duty.

A soccer match scheduled for Wednesday between England and the Netherlands
at London's Wembley stadium was canceled to free up police officers for
riot duty.

Police launched a murder inquiry after a man found with a gunshot wound
during riots in the south London suburb of Croydon died of his injuries
Tuesday. Police said 111 officers and 14 members of the public were hurt
over the three days of rioting, including a man in his 60s with
life-threatening injuries.

Prime Minister David Cameron — who cut short a holiday in Italy to deal
with the crisis — recalled Parliament from its summer recess for an
emergency debate on the riots and looting. He described the scenes of
burning buildings and smashed windows as "sickening," but refrained from
tougher measures such as calling in the military to help police restore

"People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to
restore order to Britain's streets and to make them safe for the
law-abiding," Cameron told reporters after a crisis meeting at his Downing
Street office.

Parliament will return to duty on Thursday, as the political fallout from
the rampage takes hold. The crisis is a major test for Cameron's
Conservative-led coalition government.

Other politicians visited riot sites Tuesday — but for many residents it
was too little, too late.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was booed by crowds who shouted "Go
home!" in Birmingham, while London Mayor Boris Johnson — who flew back
overnight from his summer vacation — was heckled on a shattered shopping
street in Clapham, south London.

Johnson said the riots would not stop London from "welcoming the world to
our city" for the Olympics.

"We have time in the next 12 months to rebuild, to repair the damage that
has been done," he said. "I'm not saying it will be done overnight, but
this is what we are going to do."

Violence first broke out late Saturday in the low-income, multiethnic
district of Tottenham in north London, after a protest against the fatal
police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four who was
gunned down in disputed circumstances Thursday.

Police said Duggan was shot dead when officers from Operation Trident —
the unit that investigates gun crime in the black community — stopped a
cab he was riding in.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating the
shooting, said a "non-police firearm" was recovered at the scene, but that
there was no evidence it had been fired — a revelation that could fuel the
anger of the local community.

An inquest into Duggan's death was opened Tuesday, though it will likely
be several months before a full hearing.

Duggan's death stirred memories of the 1980s, when many black Londoners
felt they were disproportionately stopped and searched by police. The
frustration erupted in violent riots in 1985.

Relations have improved since then but tensions remain, and many young
people of all races mistrust the police.

Others pointed to rising social tensions in Britain as the government
slashes 80 billion pounds ($130 billion) from public spending by 2015 to
reduce the huge deficit, swollen after the country spent billions bailing
out its foundering banks.

Many rioters appeared to relish the opportunity for violence Monday night.
"Come join the fun!" shouted one youth as looters hit the east London
suburb of Hackney.

In Hackney, one of the boroughs hosting next year's Olympics, hundreds of
youths left a trail of burning trash and shattered glass. Looters
ransacked a convenience store, filling plastic shopping bags with alcohol,
cigarettes, candy and toilet paper.

In Croydon, fire gutted a 140-year-old family run department store, House
of Reeves, and forced nearby homes to be evacuated.

"I'm the fifth generation to run this place," said owner Graham Reeves,
52. "I have two daughters. They would have been he sixth.

"No one's stolen anything," he said. "They just burnt it down."

On Tuesday, as Londoners emerged with brooms to help sweep the streets of
broken glass, many called for police to use water cannons, tear gas or
rubber bullets to disperse rioters, or bring out the military for support.
Although security forces in Northern Ireland regularly use all those
methods, they have not been seen on the mainland in decades.

Conservative lawmaker Patrick Mercer said that policy should be reconsidered.

"They should have the tools available and they should use them if the
commander on the ground thinks it's necessary," he said.

The government rejected the calls.

"The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon," Home
Secretary Theresa May told Sky News. "The way we police in Britain is
through consent of communities."

The riots could not have come at a worse time for police — a year before
the Olympic Games, which Scotland Yard says will be the biggest challenge
in its 182-year history.

The government has slashed police budgets as part of its spending cuts. A
report last month by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary said the
cuts — a third of which have already taken place — will mean 16,000 fewer
police officers by 2015.

Opposition Labour lawmaker David Winnick said the government should scrap
its plan to cut police numbers.

"I think it's absolute madness in view of what's happened over the last
few nights," he said.

The force also is without a full-time leader after chief Paul Stephenson
quit last month amid a scandal over the ties between senior officers and
Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers, which are being investigated for
hacking phone voicemails and bribing police for information. The force's
top counterterrorism officer, John Yates, also quit over the hacking

Police representatives say officers are demoralized, and feel a sense of
betrayal by politicians and their leaders.

Constable Paul Deller, a 25-year veteran working in a police control
center during Monday's violence, said the rioting was "horrific."

He acknowledged there were not enough officers on the streets to stop it,
but said "we gave it everything we could."


David Stringer, Raphael Satter, Sheila Norman-Culp, Meera Selva and
Stephen Wilson contributed to this report.

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