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Friday, August 12,2011

Londoners who saw worst of riots have mixed views on police

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

LONDON — With calm returning to Britain's damaged cities, residents of some London neighborhoods on Friday complained that police seemed unwilling or unprepared to take on rioters who burned cars and looted shops on their streets.

Officials said that about 1,700 arrests had been made nationwide, but Scotland Yard added that the number was "changing all the time."

Those appearing in court included resentful youths from low-cost housing estates, middle-class opportunists and children out for thrills and free goods.

Londoners who endured the worst of the violence on Monday and Tuesday nights had mixed views of police action.

Lia Smith, who runs a cafe on Clarence Road in the low-income East London neighborhood of Hackney said she watched police in riot gear line up at the end of the road as a crowd moved in Monday evening.

"They smashed up and looted the local shop, a small convenience store down the road and they burnt every single car in Clarence Road," she said of the mob. "The police stood and watched for about two hours before they tried to stop things — once everything had been set on fire."

She said her cafe was not looted, but that the window cracked because of the heat of the burning cars.

However, when rioters moved on to central Hackney's Mare Street, where chain stores of major retailer such as Marks and Spencer are located, police "fought much harder," she said. "They lined up with police dogs and police lines to protect the big businesses, but when it came to local shops and people, they didn't seem to care."

Nick Palmer, a self-employed builder, said police stopped the bus he was on in West London late Monday and told passengers to evacuate because the road was closed due to rioting.

He said the rioters simply avoided the police. "I passed a brick wall that had been smashed to provide them with missiles to throw at windows. I picked up a brick and a stick, and with my dog marched through a wall of young thugs coming towards me, looking as mean as I could," he said. Police did not intervene, he said.

Charles Donovan, a 37-year-old writer, said a woman in upscale Notting Hill told him of overhearing police in the street below asking each other where central London's Trafalgar Square was.

Police reinforcements were sent in from outside of London, and many had no idea of the city's geography. "Pretty unnerving," Donovan said.

Heather Shabal, manager of the Le Bijoux cafe in St. John's Wood, a wealthy residential area in North London, reported a better police response.

She watched a gang of 16 hooded and masked youths snatch mobile phones and laptops from terrified customers on sidewalk tables outside her cafe Monday night. "They smashed the cafe windows, and all the cups and plates, but didn't have time to get inside."

"They attacked the coffee shop round the corner first and they must have called the police ... who'd been roaming in the area and came immediately, chased the gang away and arrested them," she said.

The gang was in a central London magistrates court Thursday. All 16 were denied bail and were referred to a higher court.

Among those arrested Friday was a suspect in the killing of Richard Mannington Bowes, 68, who was beaten by rioters Monday night as he tried to put out a fire. He died in a hospital early Friday, bringing the total number of fatalities in the violence to five.

Two men also were arrested for shooting a man who was found dead in Croydon, South London during rioting Monday night.

Courts in London are still working, day and night. Most of the defendants are charged with burglary, theft, or arson. Sentences tend to be swift and tough. One boy caught with a case of bottled water from a looted supermarket was given six months in jail.

Those allowed out on bail, left courts surrounded by television cameras. Some covered their heads; others were openly defiant and hurled abuse at the media.

Police were quick to answer Prime Minister David Cameron's statement Thursday that they had been unprepared when violence first broke out Saturday.

Hugh Orde, a senior police officer and a former police chief of Northern Ireland's police force, angrily rejected suggestions that it took politicians returning from vacation to get control of the violence.

"The tactics decided by chief officers and their staff ... and the robust policing tactics we chose to adopt, delivered," he said in a BBC interview.


(c) 2011, Los Angeles Times.

Visit the Los Angeles Times on the Internet at http://www.latimes.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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