England riots: Police could get wider curfew powers
Ministers are considering introducing new area-wide curfew powers, in the wake of last week's riots in England.
Theresa May said police would be given new powers to tackle gangs and new guidance would be issued to English and Welsh forces on public order policing.
The home secretary said politicians would always back the use of "robust" policing that was legal and reasonable.
Meanwhile Acting Met Commissioner Tim Godwin rejected claims officers had held back in London when rioting began.
Giving evidence to the Commons home affairs committee, he said: "I don't believe for one second that the men and women of the Met were timid, which is an accusation that's been levelled at us which I have refuted but, more important than that, the vast majority of the people that make up this city, the Londoners, refute that."
He also told MPs that suggestions that politicians and police had been "at loggerheads" were unhelpful and had been "overplayed".
In other developments:
- Police say they prevented attacks by rioters on the Olympic site and London's Oxford Street after picking up intelligence on social networks such as Blackberry messenger and Twitter
- An independent panel will be set up to hear from the victims of the riots and disorder last week
- West Midlands Police Authority's chairman said he was angry at "inaccuracies" in a speech by the home secretary in which she criticised the actions of police authorities outside London over the riots
- Three men are jailed in Manchester for their part in last week's disorder in the city
- A 16-year-old boy charged with the murder of Richard Mannington Bowes, 68, in Ealing, west London has been remanded in custody.
- A man is arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after two police officers were hit by a car as they chased looters in north-east London.
- In Leicester, those convicted of taking part in disorder will be barred from bars and shops
- As of noon, 1,277 people had appeared before the courts on charges relating to the disturbances, 64% of those charged were remanded into custody, the Ministry of Justice says
Rioting which began in Tottenham, north London, last Saturday spread over the following days to different parts of the city as well as parts of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Gloucester and Bristol.'Damned if they do'
On Tuesday, Mrs May praised the bravery of those on the front line but said that she had been told that some officers had felt "because of criticism of police tactics in the past" police had felt "damned if they do and damned if they don't".
Have normal sentencing guidelines been dispensed with in the aftermath of the riots?
A magistrate in Camberwell suggested that her court had been given a government directive to pass only custodial sentences.
She hastily retracted that statement.
There's been no directive from either government or the senior judiciary, but magistrates' court clerks are advising benches to consider whether their powers of punishment, limited to six months imprisonment for single charges, are sufficient.
No diktat then, but there's certainly an atmosphere fuelling tough justice.
We've seen it in the magistrates' court in the case of Nicolas Robinson, a 23-year-old man of previous good character who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months for burglary.
He stole £3.50 of bottled water.
That's punishment far in excess of existing guidelines.
And on Tuesday we saw some of the first crown court sentences passed in Manchester.
They too are considerably tougher than would normally be the case.
The judge made it clear that the riots meant that normal sentencing guidelines could be departed from.
Such judicial 'departures' are bound to be tested on appeal.
She told the audience, which included police chiefs: "As long as you act within reason and the law, I will never damn you if you do."
Police chiefs themselves had not wanted to use baton rounds and water cannon, instead relying on a surge of officers and "robust policing" alongside community support.
But she said "strong, enforceable powers" were needed to help police deal with anti-social behaviour, gangs and criminality.
She said dispersal orders - which allow police to move on groups of people from certain areas - had been used "to good effect" and were part of anti-social behaviour measures which were being reformed to make them more "effective and enforceable".
Police would get stronger powers to enforce gang injunctions and remove face masks, she said.
And ministers are considering new curfew powers - to allow "general curfews" to be imposed on a specific area in England and Wales, rather than being linked to specific individuals, and to allow them to be imposed on more youngsters aged under 16.
"It's clear to me that as long as we tolerate the kind of anti-social behaviour that takes place every day up and down the country, we will continue to see high levels of crime, a lack of respect for private property and a contempt for community life," she said.
"So we will make sure the police have the powers they need. But we also need to be clear that when they use them, and when they deliver the kind of robust policing that worked this week, they have the support of the politicians and the public."
She also made clear that the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner will be a British officer - following speculation that a US crimefighter, such as former New York police chief Bill Bratton could be considered for the role - saying she had "no time for the pessimism which says we cannot find from amongst our ranks a tough crime fighter, equipped to lead the Met".
Mrs May has written to Sir Denis O'Connor, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to ask for clearer information to be provided to police forces in England and Wales about the size of deployments, tactics, when it is appropriate for other police forces to provide help and "an appropriate arrests policy".
He warned earlier this year that more than two in five forces were unprepared to help police major protests.
And Mrs May took issue with critics who say the government's planned 20% cuts to central police funding would lead to thousands of police officers' jobs being axed. She said the cuts actually amounted to 6%, when other sources of funding were taken into account.
But Paul McKeever, of the Police Federation - which represents rank and file officers in England and Wales - said the speech was a "real slap in the face" for police, as Mrs May was "ploughing on ahead regardless with cuts which everyone in the police force say are detrimental."
Campaign group Big Brother Watch raised concerns about the possibility of "blanket curfews" saying they ran "contrary to any concept of a liberal and democratic values".
And Labour leader Ed Miliband said the government's determination to press on police cuts was worrying: "The lesson the public wants them to learn is that visible, effective policing increases public confidence and increases safety on our streets. That is why they should rethink their police cuts."Police tactics
Police last week defended their handling of the riots, rejecting suggestions from Mrs May and Prime Minister David Cameron that restoration of calm had been due to political intervention.
But Mr Godwin told the home affairs committee the relationship between police and Mr Cameron and Mrs May had been "very supportive" and differences had sometimes been "overplayed".
"The perception of us at loggerheads is not helpful in terms of responding to the situation we are confronted with," he said.
But he added that it was "sometimes forgotten" that decisions were taken "in the heat of the moment" without the benefit of hindsight.
Mr Godwin said there had been no "pan-London" order not to arrest suspects - but said it was ultimately a decision taken locally, as making arrests could mean taking two or three officers - and a van - off the streets. The Met had a history of gathering evidence to make arrests later, he said, and it was a "numerical decision".
"It depends how many [officers] you have. On the Monday night, as assets started to flow in, we were arresting more as the night went on and then, after that, it's the relentless pursuit of those that follows."
Police had doubled the number of officers on the streets of London on Sunday but had not expected the "unprecedented" extent of disorder which subsequently broke out across 22 out of the 32 London boroughs on the Monday night, he said.