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Two years after the riots: The Government, not David Lammy, are learning the lessons

By Harry Phibbs
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Two years ago rioting broke out in London and then in other parts of the country. It started in Tottenham and at the time the Labour MP David Lammy was commended for his non-partisan approach. He strongly condemned the rioters and said there were no excuses - while Ken Livingstone blamed spending cuts.

So it is all the more disappointing that Mr Lammy is now seeking to score points, complaining about the Government's response. He says the issue has been "buried" and that declining to implement most of the 63 proposals from the Communities and Victims Panel is an "insult" to the victims.

To talk of the response being "buried" is odd as it has been announced in a press release. That highlighted one specific response - regarding new guidance for firefighters. But in the third paragraph, the Government's general response was highlighted.

The new guidance to firefighters is important. There were delays dealing with arson during the 2011 riots due to firemen being ordered not to respond if there was any risk of attack from rioters. Of course the response of the police (initially) was also unduly risk averse and that has also been addressed. The new guidance for the fire brigade also embraces a more proportionate, common sense approach.

The old guidance said:

"Officers in charge should not hesitate to withdraw personnel or appliances if endangered by rioters" (Home Office, Chief Officer Letter 7/93, para 2.5)

"Reinforcing appliances are unlikely to be available in the numbers normally expected at a single major fire it could be also be undesirable to have too many appliances at an incident." (ibid, para 6.3).

The new guidance offers a more sophisticated risk-based approach, stressing the importance of training, and careful liaison with the police at the scene. It also encourages the use of social media to
inform and update the public:

“Prior to committing personnel into any hazard area, the Incident Commander must take account of the actual information available regarding the incident at the time. This will assist them to make effective operational decisions in what are recognised as sometimes dangerous, fast moving and emotionally charged environments.

A thorough safety brief prior to deployment of all personnel who are required to be within the hazard zone must be carried out. 

Communication of new or changed risks must continue throughout the incident.

Fire and Rescue Authorities may also consider it appropriate, depending on the severity of the public order, to inform fire and rescue personnel who have the potential to either attend an incident (within or near) or have to travel through (or near) a hazardous area.

Utilising an Inter Agency Liaison Officer and other sources of intelligence as appropriate can assist the Incident Commander by advising on multi-agency tactics, designated safe routes, prioritisation of incidents etc." (page 10, new guidance).

Does Mr Lammy agree with these changes? Given the arson that took place in his constituency he surely can't seriously regard the issue as unimportant.

Not that this is the only matter the Government has addressed. Often the areas of rioting reflected problems with gangs. Here there has also been some progress. The Metropolitan Police created the new Trident Gang Crime Command in February 2012 with the aims of:

  • enforcement – identifying and pursuing the most harmful gangs and gang members through proactive investigations and operations;
  • prevention and diversion – identifying young people on the periphery of gangs and working with partners to divert them; and
  • tasking and coordination – monitoring gang-related activity to ensure the right resources are targeted in the right places.
The result has been:

Since April, the Metropolitan Police report that more than 2,000 known gang members have been arrested, many of whom have been charged with serious offences. Stabbings and shootings in London continue to fall, with overall serious youth violence down by over 28 per cent, equating to 1,557 fewer victims; knife injuries involving those under the age of 25 also reduced by over 28 per cent, equating to 436 fewer victims; and shootings down by over 18 per cent, equating to 77 fewer victims. In addition, over 340 firearms have been seized by the Metropolitan Police last year alone. During 2012, Trident Gang Crime Command-led investigations have seen offenders sentenced to a total of 1,334 years, including 16 life sentences.

On schools the Government has given teachers authority to maintain discipline. The Government's response adds:

We are also establishing an increasing number of sponsored Academies as we think the strong support and external challenge of an Academy sponsor is the best way to improve schools that are consistently underperforming. Wherever possible we want to find solutions that everyone can agree on but, where underperformance is not being tackled effectively, the Secretary of State has powers to intervene to help ensure standards are raised.

I wonder how many of those rioting in 2011 were pupils, or former pupils, of failing schools.

In Tottenham, children are getting a better chance in life due to new management where schools need it. For example, the Harris Primary Academy, Philip Lane, is offering children a better education than was provided when it was Downhills School under the remit of Haringey Council. Yet Mr Lammy opposed the change.

The Troubled Families initiative is another important way of fixing our "broken society."

The most alarming aspect of the riots was the way the criminals thought they could act with impunity. Councils, in their capacity as landlords, can help ensure there are consequences. The Government's response says:

Many rioters chose to move out of the locality in which they lived in order to do damage in neighbouring areas. We are therefore taking action to enable landlords to impose housing sanctions on tenants and members of their household where they choose to wreck other people’s local communities as well as their own. Following consultation, we have included provisions in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill to enable landlords to seek to evict tenants where they or members of their households are convicted of riot related offences, committed anywhere in the UK.

Haringey Council opposes evicting rioters. But I am sure the overwhelming majority of their law abiding tenants and those on the waiting list for a council tenancy would welcome evictions. What does Mr Lammy think?

The trouble with the cross party panel's report is that many of their recommendations, while well intentioned, are vague. More support for this, better liaison for that, a review for the other. I don't blame Simon Marcus or the other panel members. It is the nature of a committee that you end up with bland, lowest common denominator stuff in order to reach agreement. It would probably have been more interesting if, having reviewed the evidence, each panel member had given his or her individual recommendations.

There can never be a guarantee that a riot won't start and that it won't be copied. However, the Government's response on how best to deal with the symptoms and causes is sensible and robust. Mr Lammy should stop sniping and recover the more constructive spirit he showed two years ago.


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