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 762.

    755. JockTheRipper
    "@ 749 Phosgene (Chief Constable of the internet police)
    I notice you keep referring to yourself as 'we'. Do you have some kind of split personality disorder, or are you just a lowly moderator working for the BBC?"
    No need to try to be insulting. I keep referring to myself as "we"? Really?
    Please tell me which posts these are and I'll explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 761.

    Clearly the lessons learned from the riots in the middle east have been ingnored.A show of force was wrong according to cameron now with the UK in terminal social breakdown the world is laughing at cameron.People have had enough of these cowboys no more right wing device engineering.Forget the police and the police state Britain.Give the poor access to courts jobs and stamp down on gov corruption

  • rate this

    Comment number 760.

    @744. Richard -- I hope things are improving. What you experienced sounds awful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 759.

    Billy The Bull
    ... the wealth divide has widened under a LABOUR government where some CEO's and senior directors now earn 70+ times the average wage of their employees. That is UNFAIR & ROTTEN!"

    There's a lot top be said for the John Lewis model, where the highest pay is a fixed ratio to the lowest. If the boss wants a pay rise, *everyone* gets one. A *real* incentive to perform.

  • rate this

    Comment number 758.

    Richard 744
    My Dad was a Tory and he actually cried when Winston Churchill was rejected in the 1945 general election. That said I have never voted Tory or Labour and for many years hoped that my "protest vote" for the Liberals would do some good - but it has proved to be futile and now like so many people I don't know who to vote for although I rather like the UKIP party getting us out of the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 757.

    The police were not "timid" - watching them on television I would have thought rather that they chose to be an "audience" to crime happening right in front of their eyes, rather than act as policemen.

    That empowered the criminals. Thus the subsequent nights of more crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 756.

    748. KenSpare
    "Well spotted phossy. Must be honest, I didn't think you would get that one.
    Now carry on with Jock the Ripper. I'm enjoying it. I think he might have a slight edge on you though."
    You misunderestimate me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 755.

    @ 749 Phosgene (Chief Constable of the internet police)

    I notice you keep referring to yourself as 'we'. Do you have some kind of split personality disorder, or are you just a lowly moderator working for the BBC?

  • rate this

    Comment number 754.

    clearly the money spent on the extra police est 200million could solve this economic problem.Clearly the police are patseys in the war of whos right and whos wrong in thing is sure when the money runs out and the police go home the problems will remain.When it comes back who will be to blame.clearly this situation is engineered by cameron who must resign before the killing starts

  • rate this

    Comment number 753.

    David looks for the US and L.A. to solve it -
    *law and order!
    *David, the hardliner
    *Full force of the law - he said this also after the student´s protest when Camilla and Charles car was hit by students

    David ....ONE MORE TIME!

  • Comment number 752.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 751.

    One thing that should be apparent to any UK Citizen,when problems arise,Politicians become invisible.No one can depend on a Politician to provide protection.We can all depend on any Politician,pointing the finger at someone else.They are always blameless.Not their fault.
    Look forward to the day when a leadeing member of our Constabulary stands for Parliament.
    Milliband and Cameron beware.

  • rate this

    Comment number 750.

    I am all in favour of harsh sentences for the looters but hope they are not confused with the protesters.
    Considering the police and IPCC have misled the public concerning the killing of the man in question I am mindful that this whole episode will be misused to increase police powers further.
    Those who believe everything should remember the countless lies told us by police + government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 749.

    741. JockTheRipper
    "I make no bones about my views"
    Unlikely: you wheedle and get insulting when asked to explain wthether you just said what we thought you said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 748.

    Well spotted phossy. Must be honest, I didn't think you would get that one.
    Now carry on with Jock the Ripper. I'm enjoying it. I think he might have a slight edge on you though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 747.

    Well done Wadsworth Council ,obviously a council with a bit of integrity and courage ,eviction orders should be taken against EVERY person that rioted ,along with a complete cessation of any "rights" accorded to non-rioting ,decent members of society ,that should include all benefits, education ,even medical and legal rights ,accorded to them under the system they have attacked and hate so much .

  • rate this

    Comment number 746.

    Talking of social justice the super rich city bankers have so much to answer for and it is a complete travesty that they are allowed to receive any bonuses in the current economic climate. Likewise it is a DISGRACE that the wealth divide has widened under a LABOUR government where some CEO's and senior directors now earn 70+ times the average wage of their employees. That is UNFAIR & ROTTEN!

  • rate this

    Comment number 745.

    741. JockTheRipper
    "Or how about the amount of hard drugs being peddled in this country by immigrants?"
    You don't even know "the amount of hard drugs being peddled in this country by immigrants"! Nor do the police! That much is obvious...

  • rate this

    Comment number 744.

    "Billy The Bull
    .. spoke very eloquently and never "lost it" to the hecklers. Other things,like their views on social justice,made a lot of good sense and I was won over by them."

    I was a raging Tory until a bout of homelessness, then years later living on a sink estate. The the 2008 crash finished by business. No party represents my views now. There are is no black & white, only shades of grey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 743.

    724. JockTheRipper
    "I will repeat myself again, because you clearly have problems with your literacy skills.
    ... The word does refer to the people that you mention"
    Then, surely, my literacy skills are pretty good because I spotted it straight away and called you on it repeatedly while you offered paltry excuses and even worse insults.

    Anti-Semitic remarks are seriously uncool.


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