Monday, 8 August 2011

In the public interest

In general, I have always been a law abiding sort of cove. Knowing just enough of the law to let me go up to the edge of offending, However, today I throw caution to the winds,

What follows comes from today's (8th August) edition of The Times and is hidden behind a pay wall. Well, like a kid scrumping apples, I've scaled the wall and return after filling my pockets. Why? I regard the paper as a document of record and repository of sense. As I understand it, the pay wall idea came from News International. The same NI under command and control of the now discredited Rupert Murdoch. The media use the excuse that when they choose to go crook they do it because a matter is of great public interest. As I see it, their second editorial today deals with a matter of great public interest and thus falls within my purlieu. So, sit back, relax and enjoy.

The real victims of Saturday night’s violence are the innocent local residents

For those residents forced to watch powerless on Saturday night as their high street was set aflame, their shops and businesses looted and their homes devastated, the riots in Tottenham are a great personal tragedy. For the nation as a whole, and London in particular, they raise a number of questions about our police service and the communities in which they operate.

Why are we again seeing violent attacks by young people in our capital city? Why is Tottenham again the setting for such ugly scenes?

What is unquestionable is that the failure of the police to deal effectively with the violence unleashed on Saturday night has meant that the people of Tottenham are paying a high price for disorder on their streets. The community is already one of the capital’s poorest. Many of those who have suffered the most are those who deserve to do so the least: the law-abiding majority in the community. Already the stories are striking: a young Asian father whose apartment was set alight and subsequently gutted as he watched, helpless; an elderly pub landlady, petrified by thugs and forced to barricade herself in.

The pretext for the street violence which caused such havoc was anger sparked by the death of a local man, Mark Duggan, shot last week by the police in controversial circumstances. An investigation has been launched into the killing. Initially it seemed that there had been an exchange of fire when the police were in pursuit of Mr Duggan, but details emerged last night to suggest that Mr Duggan was carrying only a replica weapon and that the only shots fired were by the police. For a force already under pressure for failures in other areas, the reports hardly bolster confidence. They underline the need for new, and effective, leadership at the top of the Metropolitan Police. For all the disconcerting elements in the Duggan case, it is nevertheless important to maintain a sense of perspective. There is a clear distinction between legitimate, peaceful protest and the shocking images of destruction and looting. It is right that the grieving relatives of Mr Duggan should be provided with clear answers; but that desire for justice does not confer a free pass on the thugs, some apparently from outside the area, who caused the subsequent chaos. As David Lammy, the local MP, writes in The Times today (see page 20), this “was an attack on the whole of the Tottenham community”.

Mr Lammy says that relations between the police and local people on the Broadwater Farm estate have improved immeasurably since the infamous riots of 1985. So why was communication from both sides seemingly absent in this case? Why too did the police struggle yet again to handle a potentially incendiary situation? All this makes the imminent appointment of Sir Paul Stephenson’s successor as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police a most pressing matter for the Home Secretary. Applications for this vitally important role close on Friday; a successor is expected to be in place by September.

Names in the frame include Bernard HoganHowe, former Chief Constable of Merseyside Police (currently acting Deputy Commissioner), and Sara Thornton, an impressive Chief Constable at Thames Valley Police. Whoever gets the job will quickly need to show leadership, common sense and a real appetite for justice.