Northern Ireland

'Looting frenzy' on city streets

Police make arrest in Manchester
Image caption Stephen took this picture of police arresting a looter

I was dressed in jeans and T-shirt while standing among the rioters on Oxford Road in Manchester late on Tuesday night.

What distinguished me from the majority of them was the fact you could see my face.

Most others had balaclavas or scarves covering their faces as they moved effortlessly from shop to shop. Their attempt at anonymity was their blatant badge of criminal intent.

The new Tesco store shopfront was battered apart within seconds and about 20 male thieves crawled in.

They were followed by five or six young women, dressed as if they were going out for a Saturday night. All with the sole intent to steal. They were in a frenzy. "Free booze!!" they screamed.

I've heard and facilitated a lot of discussion over recent days on Radio 5 live and BBC NI about how angry these people might be for feeling left behind. People have asked whether society and British politics have let them down.

I saw hundreds of criminals last night and few seemed angry to me. If anything, they were laughing out loud as they satisfied their lust for anything and everything that they could grab for free.

Police tactics

By the time the police arrived at the Tesco store the majority had run away. Not too far away - just about 100 yards - because that is where their next target was.

Dogs were sent into the supermarket and a few of the rioters were caught, arrested and put into the back of a police van.

Stretched to the limit, the police moved on and within seconds another gang - different people but roughly the same size of about 10 - were attacking the next shop in line, a Sainsbury's.

Within seconds they were in and out again, within minutes the police were back but it was too late again.

I spoke to a senior source in the PSNI yesterday who feels the failings within the policing tactics are obvious. He suggested that both the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police were reacting well to get to a scene, but failing to hold the territory after they had dominated it.

Image caption Cars were burnt out in Salford

React, dominate and hold was how he described it. A back-up team to achieve the "hold" objective was vital, he suggested.

To be fair to the GMP, they seemed to do this later in the night and gained significant advantage as a result.

The smash and grab nature of the looting in Manchester city centre contrasted with the situation in Salford. It was eerily quiet when I got there about 01:00 BST, but the gangs were still out.

Rioters stood face to face with the police. Bricks that had been hurled at the police lay all over the road. The off-licence had been raided and glass was strewn over the footpath outside Salford Shopping City.

The carcass of a burning car lay in the middle of the road, metal railings had been ripped up and placed as barriers.

We needed to move quickly as we were getting attention from one of the gangs. As we retreated and turned a corner, a boy of about 15 or 16 was filling a bucket with fuel in the local petrol station.

NI comparison

The prime minister has talked about water cannon and baton rounds being "available" if needed.

Many in the Nolan Show and Talkback audiences have been asking why the water cannon have not been sent.

These riots are completely different to the NI model.

In Northern Ireland, riot situations tend to consist of large stationary crowds who are confronting the police. In Manchester, the crowds were numerous but small - and they ran away from the police.

Consequently, the water cannon may have been next to useless in Manchester. These vehicles are large and cumbersome and I cannot envisage how they would have helped prevent looting last night.

As the law-abiding community gets angrier, they seek more and more possible solutions.

What about baton rounds? I doubt they would stop the widespread looting.

The Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines call for "proportionate force".

Imagine the reaction if a police officer shot a baton round at an unarmed teenager who had stolen designer gear under his arms... or sausage rolls? Greggs, a popular chain of bakeries, was decimated.

This was vicious theft. Maybe a more effective tactic may be less sensationalist - the police need to dominate the main city areas and seal them off so that the looters do not have access.

As someone who spends half my week in Northern Ireland and the other half in England, the differences between a typical NI and English riot couldn't be more stark.

If this is not nipped in the bud in England soon, I wonder if it is only a matter of time before the looters stop running away from the police.