Riots 'justice system wake-up call'
The violence and looting in high streets across England was a "wake-up call for the criminal justice system", the head of Scotland Yard has said.
Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin said the fact that four-fifths of those arrested had previously had contact with the police and three-quarters had a criminal record raises serious questions for the police.
His comments came as Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke and London Mayor Boris Johnson said the riots were a result of a "broken penal system" which fails to stop "a feral criminal underclass" from reoffending.
"I think this is a wake-up call for the criminal justice system," Mr Godwin said. "We have in London been seeking to speed up justice, make it more relevant, make it more relevant to communities, and that's something that we need to do. The amount of people who have previous convictions does pose questions for us."
It was "absolutely essential" to look at which type of offences had previously been committed by those with criminal records, he said. "The key for us is that crime has to have a consequence."
Asked about the swift and tough sentencing in the wake of the riots, he added: "I think the criminal justice system has shown what, in fact, it can do. I think that did have an impact."
London Mayor Boris Johnson also said society needed to consider what was happening to offenders when they were behind bars.
Giving evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, he said: "We need to ask as a society what is happening to these people (after they have been jailed). How are we changing their lives so they don't come out again and go back to gangs?
"Out of these events, good must come. We have got to look at issues around members of, as Ken Clarke referred to them this morning, members of the feral criminal underclass. What was going to make you more likely to riot? It was previous contact with the police, and that's the problem that we need to tackle."
Earlier, writing in The Guardian, Mr Clarke said the "broken penal system" had failed to stop the "criminal classes" from reoffending. He said that there was "a feral underclass, cut off from the mainstream in everything but its materialism" and called for Government action to tackle "an appalling social deficit" revealed by August's unrest.