Riots: Police defend handling of crisis after criticism


Sir Hugh Orde: "The home secretary has been quite outstanding"

Police chiefs have defended their handling of this week's riots despite criticism from the prime minister.

Association of Chief Police Officers president Sir Hugh Orde rejected suggestions that the restoration of calm was due to political intervention.

Acting Met Police commissioner Tim Godwin said comments were being made by people "who weren't there".

David Cameron said police did make mistakes over numbers and tactics - but also praised the bravery of officers.

Mr Godwin denied police had been too "timid" in their initial response to the riots on Saturday - but he said that "if police officers had the benefit of hindsight as foresight we would obviously do things slightly differently".

Ministers and police chiefs have clashed over who was responsible for bringing about a surge in police numbers on the streets of London from 6,000 on Monday to 16,000 on Tuesday.

Politicians 'irrelevant'

Mr Cameron returned from holiday on Monday night and called an urgent meeting of emergencies committee Cobra.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the prime minister had been "very much in charge" of that meeting.

At the heart of the row is the question of operational independence.

Senior officers value their right to decide tactics without political interference above almost anything else. Set priorities, agree strategy, hold us to account, they say, but don't meddle in what we do on the ground.

The formula works when the going's good - but when it's as tough as it has been this week the tensions between police and politicians are all too evident.

The issue of operational independence has added meaning because the government is pressing ahead with plans for directly-elected officials to oversee police forces in England and Wales. Elections are due to be held next year.

Police are largely against the idea, fearing greater political interference with candidates promising more on policing than can be delivered at a time of budget cuts.

But Sir Hugh - who is seen as a leading contender to become the next Met Police commissioner - told the BBC that the subsequent restoration of calm on Tuesday night had not been down to political intervention.

"The fact that politicians chose to come back [from holiday] is an irrelevance in terms of the tactics that were by then developing," he told BBC Two's Newsnight.

"The more robust policing tactics you saw were not a function of political interference; they were a function of the numbers being available to allow the chief constables to change their tactics."

Senior police sources have told the BBC that plans to increase officer numbers in London were well advanced before the Cobra meeting on Tuesday.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw has learned that Scotland Yard made several calls to the Police National Information Co-ordination Centre on Monday requesting additional support.

Home Secretary Theresa May said she spoke by conference call to all police chiefs on Wednesday and "ordered that all special constables should be mobilised, all police leave should be cancelled and the robust tactics used on Tuesday by the Metropolitan Police adopted by all forces dealing with public disorder".

But Sir Hugh said she had "no power whatsoever" do that - and decisions about staffing were a matter for force commanders.

'Vital distinction'

He later denied there was any rift with the government and said the home secretary had given him "quite outstanding" support.

"She has praised police officers. She understands the complexity of the world in which we live and I think she very clearly understands that we cannot get it right all the time," he said.

"But let's be very clear on one thing - the vital distinction between policing and politics remains. The police service will make the tactical decisions, and quite rightly and robustly, we should and must be held to account [by politicians]."

Richard Mannington Bowes

Mrs May also sought to play down any suggestion that the government's was seeking to take credit for restoring calm, insisting: "What I accept is that the people who got the riots under control were the police."

The prime minister said police chiefs took the decision to increase officer numbers and change tactics, and the Cobra meeting helped commanders "by showing there was political backing for the changes they wanted to make".

But Police Federation vice-chairman Simon Reed said the suggestion that police had changed their approach after the government stepped in was "a cheap shot" - and Sir Hugh was "clearly upset".


"It's a slight on the professionalism of the police service and the rank and file because some of the language, some of the tone used, was that they were too timid - almost that they weren't brave enough.

"Rank and file officers will be very upset about those comments because these were unprecedented levels of violence that we saw."

Ian Hanson, chairman of the Greater Manchester Police Federation, also said it was "disingenuous of politicians to say that they [had] sorted the problems out".

Labour have said the riots show that planned cuts to police budgets - and in turn, officer numbers - should be abandoned.

Shadow Home Office minister Vernon Coaker told the BBC the government should be given the same sort of protection from spending cuts as the health and education sectors.

And he accused David Cameron and Theresa May of "playing politics" with policing and trying to "take the credit for tough and correct action taken by the police while at the same time trying to pass the buck for any criticisms back to them".

The Police Federation said that if the riots had happened in a year's time - with "10 or 12,000 fewer officers" - police would not have been able to mobilise resources in the way they have done this week.

But during Thursday's debate, the prime minister insisted the cuts were "totally achievable" without any reduction in the visible policing presence and said that a "surge" of officers - as seen in recent days - would still be possible in future.

In other developments:


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  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    The whole country has failed to raise these kids, not just the parents. The actions of these stupid kids tells us that we have failed to school them properly, we have failed to create a culture of discipline and honour, we have failed to provide them with an equal playing field to their middle class friends, and protect them from harmful media. I blame myself, and I'm grieving for a lost britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    I think the public and the government are being verry unfair to the police in that they expect them to use force/whatever means fit the situation to prevent the looting and violence that was witnessed over the past few days when if they do use force and hurt one of the 'thugs' they could louse their jobs, in a situation such as this the forces should be allowed to use the same force as the thugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Cameron rants on about community and responsibility but takes none for himself! this is the last straw for me I think - I'm going to look into immigration I'm disgusted to say I'm English! I honestly hate everything about this country when I was once proud, we're a backwards state with backwards leaders and scum for residents too concerned about that 42" TV and what they can get from benefits!

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    Did Orde really say "no power whatsoever" - if the Home Secretary does not have control over the Met then who does??

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    The boys at the top of the Police did a terrible job, they were too slow, too soft and lost control. Inexcusable.

    To have police stand by and put their own safety ahead of the public is also a disgrace.

    Personally I think the Police were slow to respond because they have been getting a bashing off the politicians and public recently, they let it develop so they could then say, 'look you need us'

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    damned if they do, damned if they don't. For too long we've had police officers admonished for being too heavy handed. Now for being too stand offish? It's a fine line, but if they go in on an armed gang before they're ready, They'll just end up with more casualties. Take the shackles off; for too long the do gooder PC brigade have put the rights of the criminal in front of the hard working PC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    "Rain stopped 'play' -- as simple as that. Nobody in authority should be congratulating themselves."
    Imbecilic comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Funny - if bankers/politicians were under such scrutiny in 'our society' I doubt this would have happened - ie. society would actually be social.
    Calling everyone 'mindless yobs' shows that nothing has changed since the 80's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    62 Pud
    I have no argument against risks of carrying a gun, but what wasn't clear and is probably still being investigated is how did the police knew Duggan had a gun? Was he waving it around in a threatening manner or with intent? Did he take it out to surrender it, or did he even take it out? All we know for certain is that the bullet that hit an officer was police issue, which was earlier denied

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Senior police officers seem to be being added to the list of discredited professions (MP's and journalists). They should stop moaning and show a professional backbone.

    Cuts or no cuts would not have directly affected the initial response of the Police to the situation. The fact was that the Police were caught out by the circumstances.

    That is not to criticise them, as circumstances were new.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Its inevitable I suppose that now we're having what looks like a competition by politicians and commentators on who can come up with the best soundbite.The issues are too serious for that.The police are dammed if they do,dammed if they don't.I see the so called do-gooders are already trawling the net for images of police brutality and screaming human rights.With rights come responsibility. cont...

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    How, on the first night of rioting, could the police have predicted how fast it would escalate? And just how would these wordy MPs cope with actually being out there in the mob, with missiles, violence, fires raging and only a riot shield for protection? Our police (and the other emergency services) do a brilliant job in the most difficult circumstances. Easy to criticise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Tomlinson and de Memendez were countless times to be seen on television. Wouldn't it be interesting to hear from policeofficers how that affected their behaviour the last days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    If anyone thinks the answers to this are simple,think again.The people being charged and prosecuted come from all walks of life,in work,in higher education & kids.They have none of the usual claims of hardship or deprivation.Demonising benefit claiments is wrong.Using hardship/deprivation as an excuse doesn't wash,the vast majority of the riots was nothing more than wanton criminal acts and murder

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Quite rightly the authorities are asking whether rabble rousers on social networks are partly to blame. What I find sickening though is that when the country needs leadership, direction, and statesmanship, the first thing our Prime Minister does is to blame the police for getting their tactics wrong. That's our leader, pompous, sef-righteous, and now, it seems, cowardly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    It was only a few weeks ago that we were discussing accountability and resignations - given the disgraceful cheap shots from the home secretary and prime minister, when will Theresa May accept ministerial responsibility for the 'failures' in policing and resign, as per Carrington with the Falklands?

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Passing the buck aka hot potato
    maybe a more pertinent question should be who caused the biggest resentments among the people prior in the build up to the riots, was it the government or the police.

    singing the blues,
    yes your singing the blues
    you persecute the youths
    and you hide their shoes

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    To be perfectly honest, even after the recent police corruption allegations i'm far more inclined to trust the word of this man than any politician currently in cabinet, especially May who seems to completely lack the ability to answer simple questions (e.g. the Today programme 10/08/11). I'm all for 'robust policing', but please lets all have a definition of exactly what that means.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Just heard that someone has been sentenced to 6 months in prison for stealing a botttle of water. Has my 100% approval.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    I feel, it is the coordination between the police force and cabinet ministers were the attributes of success to restore England from normalcy.

    It is unfair to be greedy!!! Anyways great work by the cops and the government


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