England riots: Police operation 'flawed' say MPs

Line of police officers in riot gear walking past a burning car in Hackney on August 8 2011 in London Some 299 officers were injured during the five nights of violence in England

The policing operation to tackle the summer riots across England was flawed, a report from MPs has concluded.

The perception that in some areas police had lost control of the streets was the most important reason disorder spread, they said.

The Home Affairs Committee said insufficient numbers of officers were initially deployed and police training for public disorder was inadequate.

The Metropolitan Police said it had outlined what it was doing to improve.

The Policing Large Scale Disorder: Lessons from the disturbances of August 2011 report said flooding the streets with police was what ultimately quelled the disorder.

"If numbers could have been increased more rapidly, it is possible that some of the disturbances could have been avoided," it said.

"We regret this did not happen and, with the benefit of hindsight, we regard the operation to police the disorder in many towns and cities, and particularly in London as flawed."

It said the mutual aid system, under which police officers are transferred to forces in need, could have operated more quickly; it may have left areas which had loaned officers to other forces "vulnerable".

Copycat behaviour

Keith Vaz MP: "There was an absence of effective police tactics in some areas"

The report said anecdotal evidence from some of those convicted suggested the widespread disorder started when people saw police had "lost control" in Tottenham via television and social media. This echoes the findings of the independent Riots Communities and Victims Panel.

"Clearly a feeling existed that desirable consumer goods could be made available by looting. There was a substantial element of opportunistic criminality and copycat behaviour," the report said.

"The absence of a police presence or sight of police officers apparently standing by and allowing criminal behaviour to take place was distressing for those whose homes and businesses were being attacked," it added.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP said: "Individual police officers acted with great bravery, and we commend them for their actions. However, in London and other areas, in contrast with the effectiveness of police responses in some towns and cities, there was a failure of police tactics.

"This situation might have been avoided had police appreciated the magnitude of the task.

"We urgently require a rapid improvement in police training to deal with public disorder. We urge the police to act more quickly in future and to review the arrangements for loaning officers from one force to another in this type of scenario."

He said that, for those who lost their homes and businesses, "the state effectively ceased to exist - sometimes for hours at a time".

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

Mr Vaz told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the committee felt that there should have been better communication between the police and the local business community to ensure that people knew what was happening and how best to protect their livelihoods.

"Those areas where the chief constables had decided to take pre-emptive action and get police officers on the streets quickly were able to contain this violence much more effectively," he added.

The MPs say had more officers been deployed different tactics could have been used. The Met Police is training more police to use baton rounds and is considering buying three water cannon.

Mr Vaz said the committee did not feel water cannon would have helped police in the riots and may have caused "even greater disorders".

Communication failures

Riots broke out in Tottenham, north London, on 6 August, two days after the fatal shooting by police of 29-year-old Mark Duggan. Unrest spread across London and to other cities, including Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol over the following days.

But the committee's report said the specific causes behind the riots were still unknown.

The report criticised the Met Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission over failures in communication with Mr Duggan's family, which it said made a potentially tense situation worse.

The committee also concluded it would be unhelpful to switch off social media during times of disorder, following claims rioters used it to organise themselves.

"People who made an active decision to join in the disorder could equally well have heard about it on the television as on social media," the report said.

The MPs say the government needs to urgently clarify whether the police authorities will be able to recover the £89.827m it cost to police the riots. It says the riots were an exceptional series of events at a time the authorities were being asked to make savings.

They also call on the government to speed up the process of reimbursing people under the Riot Damages Act.

Exceptional criminality

The Met Police said it had already recognised and publicised some of its findings on the issues identified and what it was doing to improve.

A spokesman said: "This includes acknowledging that we didn't have enough officers available quickly enough to respond to the initial disorder or its subsequent unprecedented escalation. As a result we have changed our mobilisation plans."

He added that the force was reviewing how it engaged with local communities and was working with Acpo and the IPCC to ensure communication was more effective in future investigations.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said the report had identified issues it believed was critical to get right within current policing reforms.

"This includes the capacity and ability to move sufficient numbers of police officers around the country when required to protect the public from national threats," a spokesman said.

"We will continue to look at all the various reports into the disorder to examine how the police service can best respond in future to the kind of exceptional criminality seen in August."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    As usual the Politicians are quick to blame the police. How do they expect more officers to be on the streets during times of disorder when this Government is slashing police numbers by the thousands and stealing the pensions? Maybe next time Mr VAZ, you and your colleagues can put on some riot gear and join the front line because you will not have enough officers to do the job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    We blame the police for doing too little during riots and protests. We blame the police for doing too much during riots and protests. Since the death of Ian Tomlinson during the protests back in 2009, we have criticised the police for being "too violent and aggresive". How can the police show authority if we in the public do not allow them to show who is in charge?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I live in the centre of Birmingham and the police stood and watched, while residents lived in fear,even after i phoned the police giving car reg numbers and desriptions it took them 24 hours to reply, and then they want the public to help catch the thugs 6 months later, it takes the mickey ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Its all too easy for people like Vaz to critisize the Police when he wasn't actually involved with Policing the Riots.

    The reason the riots kicked off so fast was the use of the internet and mobile phones. Our Police have never
    had to deal with riots such as this before.

    The Criminals who looted, saw an opportunity and took it without any thought for anyone but themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    It should be the police who decide what weapons they'll use. If the police think rubber bullets and water cannon will restore order more quickly, use them. If the police think they'll make mateters worse then fine, don't use them. It should be the police's decision not some like Theresa May who is more concenered about her awful stillettos than getting her hands dirty on the front line.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    The riots kicked off intitally due to a bunch of people who jumped a peaceful protest by family and friends of man shot and killed by the police. I am not saying that what the police did was right BUT as usual a small minority of people took advantage. The police were caught unawares and I think people, especially the MPs forgot EXACTLY what kicked off these riots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Police do so by public consent. When removed, the riots give you an indication of what happens, and how few people are needed to remove consent to upset the system.

    People should rightly worry about how little power the general public have to police themselves - parents/teachers can't discipline children, public won't come to each others aid - it's the system of law that has done this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    99.makar - thread killer
    The riots are just the oppressed speaking up. Vote me down if it makes you feel better.

    LOL Speaking up for their right to grab a pair of the latest trainers while ignoring a bookshop from which they could have got educative material

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    In the new year, there will be the final realisation from the masses, of the economic mess that has been globally created by the upside down pyrimid system we have in the West, & for us in the UK this is a 10 year job AT BEST to sort out. There's always the potential to riot, but will the British ever have revolution again? or, can the organs of mass control (media, police) control the Sheeple

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Police should issue warnings to criminals before taking action & then get on with it. Withdraw or ... x y z?

    In some countries looting & arson can get the criminal shot by police & armed forces - there is no excuse for the criminal's behaviour and being too soft on these crimes, when in progress, with the police standing off as spectators - encourages more of it

    That is the lesson learned

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Lets stop kidding around,the rioters were not interested in any sort of political protest,they didnt care about who shot who, it was an opportunity to run rampant on the streets of this country and steal as much as possible without getting caught!
    The inquest will only prove that the majority of rioters are unemployable scum with long criminal records who couldnt care less about the general public

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I, for one, am sick and tired of various reports criticising the police and providing the rioters with post event rationalisation. The riots happened because those who took part found it exciting and enjoyed the buzz, as well as seeing it as an opportunity to steal. This was no protest for or against any cause or belief, it was mindless violence for its own sake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    The Police just stood there and did nothing, if they were armed with a gun it would of been better. The Police today are to SOFT. Years ago you used to be scared of the Police. Now I am not scared of the Police. These yobs and Rioters know the Police can't touch them, I blame all these human rights lot. They have got alot to answer to. You can't even smack a child anymore and thats stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Horsewhipping would have been too good for these layabouts. Strasbourg courts should have sentenced them thus

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    It is easy to point the finger at the police. Policing numbers have been cut to 1970 levels. I am sure the police realised and understood the magnitude of the situation. This would be why they stood back and let the rioters get on with it. VAZ and his fellow MP's need to address what ails society and get tough on crime and the causes of crime, not those who are left to sweep up the mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.


    negitivity and right wing agendas from the comments today, lets all try and get along shall we..


    One of the most sensible comments on here and it has been ruthlessly voted down. Herein lies a lot of the problem, we are a selfish nation that only cares about ourselves. The riots are just the oppressed speaking up. Vote me down if it makes you feel better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    The reason for the riots was indeed greed and morality.
    Bankers, politicians etc are able to meet their avaricious habits away from the interest of the police. The rioters thought that they were free to act as they see others do.
    Isn’t it time that the judiciary addressed all thieves and looters?
    How do we encourage the morality of the great majority for those on both extremes of society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Well they better sort out thier plan a little better!

    If food prices continue to rise like they are then these riots are going to be a weekly occurance! Just a real shame out politicans are so blind to see the real issues in this country and use false accounting to mask inflation figures with things that we dont require to live like TV's

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I agree a penal colony is the best idea

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Failure of an open door policy on immigration and the Balkanisation of England by woolly political thinking and multi-culturalism. Funny how Muslim leaders welcomed Camerons 'back-to-Christian-ethics' speech isnt it? The huge missed opportunity was to integrate the population on what we have in common, not that which seperates us.


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