POLICE expect a repeat of last summer’s riots and are concerned about how budget cuts will affect their ability to deal with the unrest, according to a study into the disorder.
The majority of officers caught up in August’s unrest believe similar rioting is likely, with many citing worsening social and economic conditions as the potential cause, the survey found.
They also fear their forces do not have the resources to cope with unrest on a similar scale.
A total of 130 officers from eight forces were interviewed as part of The Reading the Riots research conducted by the London School of Economics and the Guardian newspaper. Most gave anonymous accounts of the riots which spread across London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Salford last summer.
Nearly all those interviewed described the unrest as the greatest physical and psychological challenge of their careers and officers of all ranks said they were astonished no colleagues were killed.
One superintendent from Greater Manchester Police said he expected more disorder within the year.
When asked if rioting will happen again, he said: “I think if you have bad economic times, hot weather, some sort of an event that sets it off... my answer is: ‘Yes, it could’.
“Because I don’t think anything has changed between now and last August, and the only thing that’s different is people have thought: riots are fun.”
Police generally rejected criticism of the tactics deployed during the trouble, but admitted they were stretched to the limit by the scale and speed of rioting and left totally overwhelmed in places.
Senior Metropolitan Police officers also accepted they struggled to deploy enough staff to contain the violence during the four days of disorder in the capital. The study reveals the Met failed to activate a national alarm system to call for more resources until the third day of riots, and once officers from other forces did arrive they were hampered by poor communication with central command.
Forces across England also failed to fully act on intelligence gleaned from social media networks, which were used by rioters to outmanoeuvre police, the interviews revealed.
Victims, so-called vigilantes and lawyers who dealt with the aftermath in the courts were also quizzed.
‘It was like a scene from Zulu – 300 people started attack’
IN TOTTENHAM, a police officer was rushing to the centre of the riots: “I knew that police officers had been hurt and things were on fire and it had all got crazy”, the constable said, “and I had to get our guys there.”
“Suddenly bricks and bottles and scaffolding started being thrown at us. And we were like, ‘Jeez, OK it’s actually happening now’. I thought, ‘This is not real, this is like a movie set.’ ”
The officer was struck by the noise as soon as he got out of his van: “Chanting, shouting, things smashing, bricks, bottles, sirens in the distance.
“Next thing I knew, all I could feel were hands clawing down the back of my overalls, trying to grab me and pull me back. There was a moment when I thought, ‘If I get dragged back, there’s so many people here, it’s so dark and chaotic, that might just be it. I might just be gone’.”
After the first day of rioting, the chief inspector returned to the station in Tottenham: “There were police asleep on the floor; in the canteen vending machines had been smashed open by officers desperate for food and drink.”
The second night of rioting, though still notable for violent outbreaks, also consisted of looting.
Surrounding a branch of Curry’s, one officer shouted “Stay back, you are surrounded, don’t come out” but she was met by a looter firing foam from an extinguisher into her face.
A large crowd vastly outnumbering the police began to descend upon them, causing an inspector to shout: “Everyone, get out of here now.”
Whilst attempting to get back into the police van, a brick was hurled through the window: “Then suddenly this machete knife came through and started, like, hacking at his hand [speaking of a colleague]. Thank God he had his gloves on which protected him.”
In Liverpool, the violence was intense although rioters did not reach the city centre: “It was like a scene from Zulu – you know that scene when they all come over the hill? Three-hundred people literally came round the corner into the side street and started attacking us.”
Liverpool officers described the rioters attitude as: “They hate us, with a vengeance... there is a gang element, it’s like a wolf pack.”
In Birmingham, the battle being fought was lost by police and a convoy of vans was forced into a small alleyway “where we were ambushed”.
“They bricked out all of our windows as we were driving through – there wasn’t one van window that was kept intact.”
In Salford, rioting intensified after the weekend. Officers describe the sky as being “black due to the sheer number of missiles in the air”.