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
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
“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
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.
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