Lack of confidence in the police response to the initial riots in London led to further disturbances across England, an independent report has found.
The vast majority of people interviewed for a study of the causes of the disorder said they believed the “sole trigger” for disturbances in their areas was the perception that the police “could not contain” the scale of rioting in Tottenham, north London, and then across the capital in August.
“Lack of confidence in the police response to the initial riots encouraged people to test reactions in other areas,” the Riots Communities and Victims Panel found.
“Most of the riots began with some trouble in retail areas with a critical mass of individuals and groups converging on an area.
“Rioters believed they would be able to loot and damage without being challenged by the police. In the hardest-hit areas, they were correct.”
The findings were outlined in a series of recommendations in the interim report detailing the “sometimes horrifying and tragic” accounts of people’s experiences of the disturbances.
The study found there was no one single motivating factor for the riots.
“We heard a range of motivations from the need for new trainers to a desire to attack society,” it concluded.
The report’s recommendations included an overhaul of the 1886 Riot Damages Act to ensure that victims of the riots receive compensation quickly.
The panel had not heard from anyone who had received a payment under the act, with forecasts that by March next year “barely half” of the smallest and only one in ten of the largest claims will have been paid.
Local authorities and emergency services should review procedures for helping and evacuating residents and bystanders caught up in riot areas including through designated “safe havens”, the report found.
Police authorities should “immediately” review their emergency plans to ensure they properly cover public disorder on the scale of the August riots.
Darra Singh, chairman of the panel, said the riots could happen again if immediate action was not taken.
“Our findings support the view that had the police response in Tottenham and more widely in London been more robust, the riots would not have spread elsewhere in England.
“Our research has also led us to conclude that riots of this nature will happen again unless immediate action is taken,” he said.
The report said the panel estimated that between 13,000 and 15,000 people were “actively involved” in the riots between 6 August and 10 August. More than 4,000 suspects have been arrested, with nine out of ten already known to the police.
More than 5,000 crimes were committed, including five fatalities, 1,860 incidents of arson and criminal damage and 1,649 burglaries. The final bill could be around £500 million.