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 454.

    Although i believe all the looters need tough justice, it is worth remembering that most people come out of prison far worse than when they went in, having learned new tricks from more dangerous, career criminals.

    Prison did Raoul Moat a world of good, he came out a model citizen didn't he!!

    We need a mix of both the stick and carrot. Neither one on their own will work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    It appears that the best way for the underclass to get themselves out of poverty is to steal a large flat screen TV and other electrical consumer items.


  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    The biggest problem in the UK is the Government giving everything to the people that dont want to work or respect anybody whilst allowing the rich to get richer and middle classes fund everything in this country.

    I come from a working class family and my children will grow up well behaved and respect the law because i will teach them manners and respect. Most the rioters lack the latter

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    The police must be allowed to control riots using all force at their disposal and unfettered by the EU Human Rights Act.

    Many officers hold back from dispensing abit of old fashioned law & order to the rioters for fear of being filmed by the press. It follows that the press should be excluded from any area where there is rioting.

    Let's start with removing the rioters outside St Pauls!

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    It was flawed, they should have been cracking heads at the first opportunity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    You're right.
    I harbour no notions of kinship toward the subhuman trash that abounds in our fine cities.

    My lack of emotions towards people is also no barrier to my being right.

    Or do you think we must all flourish a fashionable tendency to emote & empathize in order to find workable solutions to the excess of feral, 'useless mouths'?

    Look where "hugging the hoodie" has brought us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    439 PNorth
    So in retalliation you have now upped the charges from rioting - to attempted murder?
    Lets see if we can get you to accuse rioters of Genocide before the end of the day

    You have all the classics - well by your yardstick there should have been no riots since the middle ages as nobody had it as hard as they did back then.

    Strange how you selectively use comparisons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    On a slightly different angle, it's funny to look back at the statements from politicians immediately after the riots - shut down social media was probably the most stupid. (Guess which 'leaders' of our country came up with that one?) A close second was the initial comments from the 'knowledgeable' that these were race riots. Third, firm action, firm action going forward....yawn....

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    It wasnt the police or gang culture's fault.It wasnt a political protest that set it all off. On the surface it was 'criminality'.But what needs to be looked at is the cause:the marginalised youth;the surpressed working class;& the extensiveness of consumerism & materialism -after all, if having 'things' wasnt important, wasnt seen as succesful, the rioters wouldnt have anything they want to loot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    17 Minutes ago
    What is rather amusing is all the Frank's and others who come here and talk about what a hard life they all had -

    Where did I say that I had a hard life? As my Mum said "we don't have much but we do see life".

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.


    True, I think the mods are earning their keep today! It seems that some people can't debate properly without being offensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.


    Well actually they do although they may not be the same as those held by you or I.

    I am, however, interested as to whom you had in mind as the "relative who dealt drugs...". Perhaps you might elaborate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    425. writingsstillonthewall

    Some fair points there but on my council estate my dad would not only have beaten me black and blue and handed me over to the cops personally. Even Cameron has said 'Where are the parents?' Where are the parents even when the kid is in court. One from Wood Green said her parents were 'too busy' to show up. At least some parents had the decency to hand their kids in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    @ 418 'BluesBerry'. I'm sorry to strongly disagree with your post. Rioting, like anarchy, is not the answer in the UK. Yes, times have changed, but lawless behaviour, like riots, affects the most vulnerable - families, women, elderly and children.

    The law-abiding majority in UK must not accept rioting as an 'excuse' for anything. We expect the police and our elected government to protect us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    "437. chubattack

    Fair number of posts being removed by the moderators here."

    Yes, including me for suggesting that someone who described the riots as 'minor property damage' might feel differently if his property had been targeted. Not sure what I said wrong??

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    "More people died from wasp and bee stings in Britain last year than died in the riots don't you think you should put things into perspective?"

    real poverty? many had benefits, a home, mobile phones, laptops etc before they rioted - real poverty exists in places like africa.

    There is no excuse for rioting, looting or attempted murder by burning homes with kids still inside down

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    Getting tough on crime and the causes of crime. Ive been hearing this for the best part of 60 years and the best solution that any government has come up with is engagement, jobs, opportunity and decent housing. Crime will fall but those who still commit it should have harsh sentences. We should also be encouraging people to take up hobbies and interests plus teaching coping skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    A fair number of posts being removed by the moderators here. Wouldn't it have been nice if, when the rioters were in full flow you could have pointed some kind of gadget and moderated them away too!

    "See that one there with the iron bar? Moderate him!" zzzzzzz pop. Problem solved.

    Not for good you understand. I'm not advocating death by laser, just some kind of Star Trek 'beam to jail 'device.

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    I suggest you try wikipedia definition 1 for the word in question.
    You may find it illuminating.

    You appear to not know the meaning of the word!

    There is no need to thank me.

    It would appear you think technology is at fault (the cause of the riots?) when it merely enabled them. So why should it, likewise, not enable a better service in terms of law and order for the forces of peace?

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    I found it gagging to her the STI, IDS say that the UK and EU will impose sanctions on various east European countries that were violent against their people for protesting against unfair elections etc etc etc...
    ODD what would he say if the EU and rest of world imposed sanctions on the UK for the use of police and military on protestors against our UNELECTED govt we are having to endure?? eh....


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