UK Politics

Nick Clegg announces panel to hear from riot victims

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Media captionNick Clegg: "I want them [the rioters] to face their victims"

An independent communities and victims panel will be set up to hear from those affected by the riots, the deputy prime minister has said.

Nick Clegg said it would not be a full public inquiry, but would report back to all three main party leaders.

He also said rioters who were not jailed would have to take part in community payback schemes in the areas and "look their victims in the eye".

Labour leader Ed Miliband has been calling for an inquiry into the riots.

He has accused the government of resorting to "knee-jerk gimmicks" in response to the disorder which affected London, Birmingham, Manchester and several other cities last week.

'Orange clothing'

In a speech in Whitehall, the deputy prime minister said those involved must be both punished and "made to change their ways".

"That's why those people who behaved so despicably last week should have to look their victims in the eye," he said.

"They should have to see for themselves the consequences of their actions and they should be put to work cleaning up the damage and destruction they have caused so they don't do it again."

He said those convicted but not jailed would be made to go out into the communities they vandalised wearing "orange clothing" to carry out clean-up work.

And he urged anyone with ideas about what work they should do to contact their local probation service.

Mr Clegg said the victims' panel would be chaired by an independent figure with knowledge of some of the issues concerned and would report back in six to nine months.

"It won't be a public inquiry, it won't be established under the Inquiries Act, but it will serve as a way in which victims and communities can have their voice heard," he said.

As well as the panel, Mr Clegg said the Cabinet Office would be tendering for a contract to do research into the communities affected by the disturbances to find out more about "what happened, who did what and why they did it".

Mr Clegg said he wanted to break the "dismal cycle of repeat crime" which was reflected in the fact that 60% or more of the adults in court because of last week's disturbances had previous convictions or were known to the police.

In an effort to do that, he announced a pilot scheme - to be launched in two regions - in which all offenders leaving jail will be "met at the prison gates by providers in the Work Programme" who will make sure they go through a "tough process" to get into a job.

He said there would "be an element of compulsion" to require all offenders to take part, but did not give details about any sanctions.

'Grassroots process'

Mr Miliband welcomed the fact that the government had "responded to calls for a commission into the riots".

"It's only by listening to the communities affected that we'll get the solutions we need to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.

"A commission reporting to all three party leaders gives us the chance to come together, work together, and make the changes we need."

But the Labour leader said the "real lesson" from the riots was that "people want visible, effective policing", and therefore, the public would not understand why ministers were pressing ahead with planned cuts to police budgets that will see officer numbers reduced.

Image caption Offenders taking part in community payback wear orange jackets to make them more visible

Asked whether ministers had responded to pressure from Labour, Mr Clegg said: "It's not a question of who has persuaded who of what. There have been various discussions between the party leaders over the weekend and, indeed, yesterday.

"We are not there yet in terms of the details, [but] the principle is really clear. We don't want a grandees committee, we want a grassroots process where people in the communities affected and the victims who have been so damaged and hurt can give their views."

Several senior Liberal Democrats have expressed concern about demands from Conservative ministers, including David Cameron, to strip those convicted over the riots of benefits and council housing.

Mr Clegg said he did support the idea but warned that it must be thought through.

"Of course, you need to be proportionate, of course, you need to be careful, of course, you don't want to create unintended consequences where the taxpayer ends up footing more of the bill or we create more social problems or problems of law and order.

"But the principles are clear: there is conditionality in our benefits system, you can't just expect a blank cheque whatever you do, that there are consequences for your actions - that's built into the system already.

The deputy PM dismissed the suggestion that the riots were linked to the coalition's spending cuts.

"It is simply ludicrous to suggest that someone smashed a window to steal a BlackBerry, to steal the latest pair of Adidas trainers, because they didn't like government policy," he said.

"If you don't like government policy come and protest in Parliament Square."