Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Time to get tough on rioting thugs

Most people viewing the television pictures of rioting in London and hearing the stories of the business owners who have lost their livelihoods will have been astonished by the sheer scale of the disorder and the wanton nature of the violence.

In Northern Ireland we have lived with, and deplored on a regular basis, what is often described as mindless violence, but it was only in the very darkest early days of the Troubles that we saw rioting, looting and burning to parallel what has happened in London in recent nights.

While it would be a gross exaggeration to say that the violence - along with the sporadic outbreaks of trouble in other major English cities - heralds a breakdown in law and order, it does demonstrate in the most graphic terms that when those with no respect for authority find the opportunity to cause mayhem the results can be quite terrifying. There is no moral code or apparent social cohesion to rein in the lawbreakers. The behaviour of some of the rioters and looters was primeval and bestial, robbing even people who had been injured in the disturbances.

No sophisticated democratic society can tolerate such behaviour in its midst, even if the openness of society makes dealing with the lawless thugs more difficult.

It is up to the decent law-abiding citizens of the capital to give the police every assistance by identifying those rioters captured on CCTV or by giving any relevant information to the authorities. The international damage done to London's reputation, especially since it is to play host to next year's Olympic Games, is incalculable at this stage.

That is why it is important to flood the streets with police to quell the disturbances as quickly as possible and why riot control weapons such as water cannon and plastic bullets - used in Northern Ireland almost as a matter of routine - should be deployed if the violence continues on the scale of recent nights. There is nothing so demoralising to ordinary citizens as to see rioters given an apparent free rein to indulge in violence.

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