UK Riots: Courts Handling Nearly 700 Cases

Riot

First Posted: 08/12/11 10:11 PM ET Updated: 10/12/11 06:12 AM ET

LONDON - Thousands of extra police officers were stationed on Britain's streets, as the country faced its first weekend since riots raged through the country's suburbs and town centres, leaving a scarred landscape of broken glass and torched buildings.

Police in London, which saw the worst violence, have charged almost 700 people with violence, disorder and looting, and the city's mayor said Londoners wanted to see tough sentences handed out to the guilty. Hundreds of stores were looted, buildings were set ablaze and five people died amid the mayhem that broke out Saturday in London but then spread out across England over four nights.

Police, meanwhile, hit back Friday against claims they were too soft in their initial response to the disorder.

Prime Minister David Cameron said officers had been overwhelmed at first, outmanoeuvred by mobile gangs of rioters. He said "far too few police were deployed onto the streets. And the tactics they were using weren't working."

That changed Tuesday, when 16,000 officers were out on London's streets — almost three times the number of the night before. Cameron said the extra officers will remain on patrol through the weekend.

Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, acknowledged that police had faced "an unprecedented situation, unique circumstances" — but said it was police themselves, rather than "political interference," that got the situation under control.

"The more robust policing tactics you saw were not a function of political interference," he told the BBC. "They were a function of the numbers being available to allow the chief constables to change their tactics."

Cameron vowed "swift justice" for perpetrators, and courts were struggling to cope with a flood of defendants.

Across the country, more than 1,700 people have been arrested. Courts in London, Birmingham and Manchester have stayed open around the clock since Wednesday to deal with hundreds of alleged offenders.

The alleged looters and vandals included an 11-year-old boy, a teenage ballerina, a university English student from a prosperous commuter town, and Natasha Reid, a 24-year-old university graduate who admitted stealing a TV from a looted electronics store. Her lawyer said she had turned herself in because she could not sleep for guilt. A judge told her she would probably go to jail when she is sentenced later.

Another was Chelsea Ives, an 18-year-old chosen as a volunteer ambassador for next year's Olympic Games. She is accused of burglary, violent disorder and throwing bricks at a police car during riots in north London on Sunday.

Newspapers reported that Ives was charged after her parents saw her rioting on TV and turned her in. She was ordered detained until a court appearance on Wednesday.

Mayor Boris Johnson said it was fitting that "significant sentences" were being handed down.

"That is, frankly, what Londoners want to see," he said.

Although the rioters came from all Britain's ethnic communities, the violence stirred fears of heightened racial tensions — especially in Birmingham, where three South Asian men were killed Tuesday when they were hit by a car, reportedly driven by black youths.

Hours later Tariq Jahan, whose 21-year-old son Haroon was killed, urged calm. So far, he has been heeded.

"This is not a race issue," he said. "The family has received messages of sympathy and support from all parts of the community — all races, all faiths and backgrounds."

Home Secretary Theresa May said she was banning a march planned for Saturday by the far-right English Defence League in the central England town of Telford amid fears of violence.

The violence was triggered by fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four who was gunned down in north London's Tottenham area on Aug. 4 under disputed circumstances. A protest demanding justice on Saturday devolved into a riot, which spread to other parts of London and beyond.

Britain's police watchdog apologized Friday for "inadvertently" giving the impression immediately after the shooting that Duggan had fired at officers. The Independent Police Complaints Commission said, "We may have verbally led journalists to believe that shots were exchanged."

A gun was found in the car Duggan was travelling in, but ballistic tests showed that a bullet found lodged in an officer's radio was police issue.

Britain's Parliament was called back from its summer break for an emergency debate on the riots Thursday, with Cameron promising authorities would get strong powers to stop street mayhem from erupting again.

He said authorities were considering new powers, including allowing police to order thugs to remove masks or hoods, evicting troublemakers from subsidized housing and temporarily disabling cellphone instant messaging services.

He told lawmakers that he would look to cities like Boston for inspiration, and mentioned former Los Angeles, New York and Boston Police Chief William Bratton as a person who could help offer advice.

The prime minister's office office said Friday that Cameron had spoken with Bratton and thanked him for agreeing to make himself available for a series of meetings in the U.K. this fall to share his expertise tackling gang violence.

Bratton "will be providing this advice in a personal capacity and on an unpaid basis," it added.

Bratton told The Associated Press on Friday evening, however, that he's giving a free consultation that he hopes will turn into a paid contract.

Bratton — who gained fame by fighting crime with innovation and bravado as he headed police departments in New York, Boston and Los Angeles — confirmed to the AP in a phone interview that Cameron had called him Friday seeking his expertise.

"We can definitely take some of the lessons here and apply them there," Bratton said. During his conversation with Cameron, Bratton said, "he thanked me for my willingness to work for them, and I thanked him for the opportunity."

Cameron also said earlier this week that the government, police and intelligence services were looking at whether there should be limits on the use of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook or services like BlackBerry Messenger to spread disorder.

BlackBerry's simple and largely cost free messaging service was used by rioters to co-ordinate their activities, Cameron's office said. An 18-year-old woman was charged Friday with using BlackBerry messaging to encourage others to take part in violence.

Several others have been charged with inciting violence on Facebook and Twitter.

The government said it planned to hold talks with police chiefs, Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry manufacturer Research In Motion Ltd.

But any move to disable the services temporarily is likely to be strongly opposed by civil libertarians.

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Filed by Christian Cotroneo  |