Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Differences on riot response emerge

David Cameron has denied there is a rift between police and politicians over the handling of riots
The Prime Minister responded to senior police officers, who said it was their decision to increase police numbers during the riots

Police and politicians are embroiled in a bitter war of words over the handling of the devastating riots that swept England.

David Cameron was forced to play down tensions after senior officers hit back at criticism of their response to the crisis.

Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tim Godwin complained of negative comments from people who "weren't there" when the violence began - an apparent jibe at politicians, such as the Prime Minister, who were on holiday. And Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, dismissed the idea that ministers deserved credit for quelling the disturbances.

The differences emerged with police across the country still on high alert despite relative calm over the past couple of days. The "surge" on the streets of London is expected to be maintained until at least next week. Courts are working through the weekend to clear a huge backlog of cases involving those suspected of looting and other offences. Some 1,600 people have now been arrested, with around 800 already having appeared before magistrates.

According to government figures, two-thirds of those charged have been remanded into custody rather than bailed while they wait for cases to be heard. Only 122 of the individuals who have gone to court so far are under 18 - despite speculation that children were behind much of the trouble.

In other developments a 22-year-old man was arrested over the murder of pensioner Richard Mannington Bowes, who was attacked as he tried to stamp out a fire in Ealing on Monday. Mr Bowes, 68, became the fifth victim of the riots when he died in hospital just before midnight on Thursday. And Wandsworth Council became the first local authority to serve an eviction notice on a tenant, whose son has been charged in connection with riots. Mr Cameron has indicated his support for such moves.

An inquest into the deaths of three men in Birmingham who were run down by a car while guarding shops from looters was told that police are seeking further suspects, having already arrested four people. The hearing into the deaths of Haroon Jahan and brothers Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir, was adjourned with coroner Aidan Cotter ordering that their bodies should be released for burial next Wednesday.

In an emergency session in the House of Commons on Thursday, Mr Cameron said "far too few" officers had been deployed when the trouble first started. Police initially treated the violence "too much as a public order issue" rather than as criminality. But asked about the criticism of Scotland Yard yesterday, Mr Godwin replied: "I think after any event like this, people will always make comments who weren't there."

He said the public should be "proud" of the way police chiefs had reacted to the rioting. "We were able to nip this in the bud after a few days," Mr Godwin said. "I think the issue around the numbers, the issue around the tactics - they are all police decisions and they are all made by my police commanders and myself."

Referring to political intervention, Sir Hugh said: "Let's be very clear on one thing - a vital distinction between police and politics remains. The police service will make the tactical decisions and quite rightly and robustly we should and must be held to account. If not the system fails."

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