England riots study: Anti-police anger 'was factor'


England rioters in their own words

Anti-police sentiment was a significant factor in the summer riots in cities across England, according to a study on causes of the unrest.

The study by the London School of Economics and the Guardian newspaper involved interviews with 270 rioters.

Of those interviewed, 85% cited anger at policing practices as a key factor in why the violence happened.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said it was not surprised such a study saw police cited as a factor.

"But August also showed the ability of our police to restore order using robust, common sense policing in the British way," it said.

Four consecutive nights of looting and arson in August left five people dead and led to more than 4,000 suspects being arrested.

'I cut holiday short to join riots'

'Daniel' was on holiday abroad when he started receiving viral messages about the unrest, including images of burning police cars in Tottenham.

"As soon as I saw that, I was happy, like. For some reason I just wanted to be there. I actually wanted to burn the cars," he said.

"What I've been through my whole life, police have caused hell for me... now was my opportunity to get revenge."

Interviewed on the BBC's Newsnight, he said the government had made it hard to get jobs, cut people's benefits, and made university unaffordable.

"We thought, 'Okay, you want to financially hurt us?' We'll financially hurt you by burning down buildings.

"That was the best three days of my life."

The riots broke out in Tottenham, north London, on 6 August, two days after the fatal shooting by police of 29-year-old Mark Duggan, and subsequently spread to other parts of the capital and other English cities.

Rioters from London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Salford were questioned for the LSE-Guardian project.

It is the only study so far into the worst civil unrest for a generation involving in-depth large-scale interviews with people who actually took part in it.

Of the 270 rioters interviewed only about 30 have been arrested as a consequence of their involvement.

The riots were characterised by widespread looting and arson attacks on both businesses and homes.

The BBC's Newsnight programme has had exclusive access to the results of the LSE-Guardian study.

At the time Prime Minister David Cameron said the unrest had been driven by criminality and devoid of political meaning.

"This was not political protest, or a riot about politics, it was common or garden thieving, robbing and looting," Mr Cameron told the Commons.

Many of those interviewed admitted they had been involved in stealing, saying that a perceived suspension of normal rules presented them with an opportunity to acquire goods, often describing the riots as a chance to obtain "free stuff".

However, time and again the interviewees, regardless of where they lived, said they felt like they had been taking part in anti-police riots.

Line of police officers in riot gear walking past a burning car in Hackney on August 8 2011 in London Many interviewees described the violence as a chance to get back at the police

"When we came across a police car it felt like we hit the jackpot," one rioter said. "We thought we'd just kind of violate just like they violate us."

Of the 270 people interviewed, 85% said policing was an "important" or "very important" factor in why the riots happened.

It was second only to poverty, which saw 86% of rioters class it as one of the main causes. Eighty percent claimed that government policy was an "important" or "very important" factor, while 79% said the same of unemployment.

The interviewees repeatedly expressed frustrations about their daily interactions with the police, saying that they felt hassled, bullied and complaining that they were not treated as equals.

The focus of much resentment was police use of stop and search which was felt to be unfairly targeted and often undertaken in an aggressive and discourteous manner.

'Sense of injustice'

Seventy per cent of the rioters said they had been stopped and searched in the last year.

And time and again interviewees described the violence as a chance to get back at the police.

"It was war and for the first time we was in control, like we had the police scared, like there was no more us being scared of the police," one rioter said.

"We actually had the choice of letting officers off the hook or seriously injuring them."

Although mainly young and male, those involved in the riots came from a cross-section of local communities.

Furniture store on fire in Croydon (8 August 2011) The riots spread from London to other English cities, including Birmingham and Manchester

Half of those interviewed were black, but they did not consider the unrest to be "race riots".

Rioters identified a range of political grievances, but at the heart of their complaints was a pervasive sense of injustice.

For some this was economic - the lack of money, jobs or opportunity. For others it was more broadly social - how they felt they were treated compared with others.

Many mentioned the increase in student tuition fees and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

Just under half of those interviewed in the study were students. Of those who were not in education and were of working age, 59% were unemployed.

Jobless numbers

Last week, the government-backed Riots, Communities and Victims Panel published its interim report into the causes of the riots and how a repeat of events could be avoided.

Darra Singh, the chairman of the panel - set up by the government - said the findings of the LSE-Guardian study mirrored some of those in its report.

He said: "We identified that rioters' motivations included the perception that they could loot without consequence, and for some - as the Guardian have also found - a desire to attack the police."

The panel found that in many areas there was "an overriding sense of despair that people could destroy their own communities".

It said there was no single cause of the riots, but said it was shocked at the "collective pessimism" among the young people it had spoken to.

Mr Singh said: "The focus for the second phase of the riots panel's activity is to look more closely at the underlying causes of rioting we identified, including youth unemployment, trust with the police, the role of brands and consumerism, values and parenting.

"As such we look forward to seeing more of the Guardian and LSE's findings."

The Metropolitan Police said it was doing everything it could to learn from the summer's events.

An Association of Chief Police Officers statement said it would be "quite odd" if in a survey of 270 rioters a high proportion did not cite the police as a factor in their behaviour.

It said the disorder was "unprecedented in its scale of violence and the way in which events escalated rapidly".

It added that not enough police officers had been available initially and it eventually required 16,000 of them to restore order.

"Of course the way in which those events took place and were seen by others through the media had an impact on confidence in the police, and it is important that lessons are learned from all the different processes and reports investigating what happened," Acpo said.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said there was never any excuse for what happened in August.

He said: "Of course there are issues of policing that need to be looked at, issues of hope and opportunity for young people, those things need to be looked at, but as I say, I don't think there can ever be an excuse."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    in the picture of the blazing bulidings on this page lies the real answer.
    the police stood and watched (with fire engines and crew parked up nearby) while a tiny fire could have easilly been extinguished, i watched in disbelief and anger as the fire very slowly spread 10 minutes later it was still confined to one small corner shop, still no action 20 mins later they decided to act - see the photo

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    Rubbish. The people in Tahir Square and in Benghazi were angry and distrustful towards the police, so they either protested peacefully and/or attacked the police. They didn't go around stealing widescreen televisions.

    And it's not about poverty either, if they really were wanting of the basics of life then they'd have been stealing chickens, bedding, baby food and light bulbs, not X-Boxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    No it wasn't - the notion that they could get away with it because the police seemed unable to co-ordinate a response in a suitably robust manner to prevent them was what caused the riots.
    All else is simply post riot attempts seeking a reason for something which simply didn't have one more extensive than nicking stuff when it was publicised that police were not actively policing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    Seems a silly survey. What would you expect them to say? 'I just wanted a new TV'...... waste of time.........

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    There are certainly some issues to face here such as why does every High Street in poorer parts of the nation have at least two pawnbrokers on it? Its not because the needy are not in regular need but hatred of the police is neither here nor there,people stole because they are not well off and they were presented with an 'open goal' in most,though not all cases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    Why are minority groups more likely to be low income earners and disaffected? Deep divisions exist in our society, in 2011 we are still basically fostering a disparate class system. The poor are ghettoized, targeted by police and alienated. Ten % of population control approx seventy % of the nation’s wealth, doesn’t leave much for everybody else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    This may not be widely know but it is ANY HMG first priority to protect the civilian population.
    There is a clue here ( Civil ).
    If normal forces of law cannot protect them.. Marshall Law must be declared..
    Curfew and Looters and Scum and ( Uncivilised ) Shot on Sight !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    All these social workers and public sector mouth pieces being paid to say what caused a riot!!! what a waste.

    Am I the only one wondering what sort of idiot asks a rioter (80% of whom had prior criminal convictions) if they think the police were to blame?

    It's like asking a poacher what they think of gamekeepers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    This is the biggest load of pish i've ever read. Shame on you BBC, putting the boot into the police ... again!

    Rampant criminality explains the riot; nothing more. Criminal scum will look for anyone to blame apart from themselves, which is exactley what they did in these 'interviews'. They're violent liars, they can not be expected to tell the truth, or accept responsibility for their actions

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    @ indiansummer42

    You can expect a call from the worlds governments anytime soon.

  • Comment number 384.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    Indiansummer42 - so please tell me how that policy is working out in America?

    Don't let facts get in the way of your idiotic ideas!

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    British society has got some deep rooted problems- as is evidenced by the racist, fascist, authoritarian I'm all right jack comments we see on articles like this.
    Capitalism is dying a-it's going to be messy.
    If the do gooders just let the police sort it out... what? and cart them off to concentration camps? Do you want the police to have unlimited powers and freedom to use violence? Good luck !

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    "Anti-police sentiment a significant factor..." - i guess most criminals are "anti-police" if you think about it!

    I was anti-police when I was caught speeding -for all of 5 min. I didn't incite violence or rioting and I didn't go looting!

    Lack of morals is probably a more significant factor. People with morals respect the police and laws, people with morals protest peacefully, thugs don't!

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    They were criminals, really nasty people who should unquestionably be punished, but it's deeper than that. We have to look at why they were criminals?, why did they act in this way?, why do they feel left out of society?

    We must be tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. The Death Penalty, taking their benefits away or any other silly suggestions will just make things worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    For comment 357 try http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8934016/UK-riots-police-had-to-use-their-own-mobiles.html
    The BBC have their own agenda to push - hence 'England Riots' for events triggered in a part of London where few 'English' people would be safe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    353. PH73 "Idiots like you have a lot to answer for. Most of us think the police do a pretty good job against all the odds." better get the police to lock up all the "idiots" then. what odds? it's not like people have a choice whether crimes goes up or down they still get paid. the police protect the establishment and their property, not the people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    I'm sorry, but no, i'm a black male and i grew up in Newham with a single parent, i grew up with these types and its all just excuse - i have 2 degrees and im an aerospace engineer. i own a car and a house. Was it luck? Like hell was it
    neighbourhood? poor? ethnic? ALL excuses. So the police hate you, so? that doesnt stop you from being a citizen.
    Sick to death of excuses, no damn responsibility

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    This "report" is yet another example of totally unreliable drivel that the news media in general, and The Guardian in particular, produces that purports to be some sort of authoritative view. The looters and vandals are lucky they live in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    351 little old me
    for crying out loud people this study does not try to excuse rioters etc.
    surely you know by now the animals in the right wing enclosure have to be fed some juicy bits to vent their spleen on, to encapsulate their brains range of understanding in a few words, "hang the poor it's all gordon browns fault".


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