Belfast Telegraph

A damaging blow to London's image

The images seen on our television screens of the violence in parts of London are reminiscent of some of the darkest days of the Troubles on this side of the Irish Sea. Street rioting, burning vehicles and wrecked shops are scenes we are fairly familiar with in Northern Ireland even in very recent times, but when they happen in the capital they cause surprise. Yet much of what went on in the streets of Tottenham at the weekend and in other boroughs last night follow well established patterns.

Some people have tried to draw a parallel between this violence and the serious riots at the Broadwater Farm estate in the same area in 1985. That was at a time when racial tension was at its height and the depth of suspicion between the largely white Metropolitan Police and back youths was intense.

Although both riots began after the shooting of a young man, the current violence has little to do with the death. Instead it was, as the Home Secretary Theresa May said, sheer criminality exploiting a tense situation.

A number of factors were at play - the events took part in areas of high deprivation and high unemployment where gang culture is embedded and Twitter and other social networking media was used to help organise the violence.

Nothing can excuse the wanton destruction which followed and which was carried out by people with little or no knowledge of the man who died. It is obvious that police were unprepared for the initial violence, taking too long to respond and allowing the rioting and destruction to gather momentum. However the response when it came was fairly robust and a large number of arrests have been made. The ordinary people of the areas affected will expect those rioters to be subjected to the full force of the law.

Yet these are worrying images to be spread around the world with the Olympic Games in London only a year away.

In this region we often note how television pictures of violence help to create a distorted image of the province. The same will be argued in London, yet there is no doubt that the rioting will be damaging to the image of the capital.

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