Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Reading the Riot Act

(Pic : BBC News)

Perhaps I'm tempting fate, but IMHO we've probably seen a peak of the rioting in London.

The bigger issue now, is whether copycat looting and rioting spreads in any meaningful way to other large cities in England over the coming nights.

It's been said that the Metropolitan Police make up a quarter of all police resources in the UK. Yet last night, on an ordinary working day, they visibly lost control of parts of the UK's capital. I don't think there are any excuses on their behalf, they were caught with their trousers down and outmaneuvered by "feral" inner city thugs and criminals via social media.

The police are also no doubt tired, cranky and overstretched by now. The London Fire Brigade also. We have to remember there are ordinary people behind the riot shields and fire engines. They're not super humans.

What can the UK government and/or London Mayor do to restore order?

The relevant legislation is the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

One of it's definitions of an "emergency" is an "event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare in the United Kingdom".

Some of the Act's provisions have already been enacted. The England friendly versus the Netherlands has been called off, as have several other mid-week football games. There are also provisions for curfews, limiting movement and protecting key buildings and services.

Is drafting in outside forces sustainable if the rioting spreads?
If we see similar scenes like we have in Croydon in other cities - even with the cancellation of police leave and the drafting in of extra resources from other forces - then the UK Government may have no other option than use full emergency powers.

Recalling parliament is a futile and pointless gesture. At the moment there needs to be leadership, not debate or political opportunism. That can wait until the situation is under control.

The "hang-em, flog-em" brigade are calling for baton rounds, water cannons and the army to be put on the streets. Although I don't believe for an instant that these options will be taken off the table, they're only worthwhile as an absolute last resort.

Using plastic bullets and water cannons would set back public-police relations in these so-called "communities" a generation, while using the army is an admission of failure/defeat by the police.

This isn't Grand Theft Auto.

Troops on London streets less than a year before the Olympics? It was never going to happen. No doubt that will disappoint armchair generals like Nigel Farage and the 24-hour news channels.


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