Riots could happen again warn police officers

A police officer outside a burning in shop during the riots in Manchester Photo: ITV Granada

Almost a year on from the summer riots that took hold in Manchester, Salford & Liverpool and a stark warning has been issued from police officers themselves that they expect the riots to happen again, and within the year.

In a comprehensive study into last summers disturbances undertaken by the London School of Economics, hundreds of officers have given their accounts of how the riots unfolded, expressing their belief that worsening social and economic conditions could lead to further such scenes.

Nearly all of the officers interviewed described the unrest as the greatest physical and psychological challenge of their careers and officers of all ranks said they were astonished no colleagues were killed.

One superintendent from Greater Manchester Police said he expected more disorder within the year.

When asked if rioting will happen again, he said: "I think if you have bad economic times, hot weather, some sort of an event that sets it off...my answer is: yes, it could.

"Because I don't think anything has changed between now and last August, and the only thing that's different is people have thought: riots are fun."

In an in-depth report into the riots from the accounts of police officers, the forces involved generally rejected criticism of the tactics deployed during the trouble, but admitted they were stretched to the limit by the scale and speed of rioting and left totally overwhelmed in places.

The report also reveals:

  • Forces across England did not know how to respond to social media networks, particularly encrypted BlackBerry messaging, which enabled rioters and looters to organise and at times outmanoeuvre police.
  • Control rooms were swamped with intelligence from the internet and unable to sort rumour from fact, leading to mistakes when deploying resources. A bronze commander from Manchester said they would receive a report of 50 masked men 'on Regent Road' - only to find out that they weren't there.
  • Their decision to rely on CCTV evidence as the basis for later arrests has been vindicated by the prosecution of more than 3,000 individuals for riot-related offences.
  • Police in Manchester and Liverpool, who had greater time to prepare and were faced with less extensive disorder and were able to deploy proportionately greater numbers of officers.
  • Police were largely content with their equipment and training. One of the most common complaints from frontline officers was lack of food and water.

The report comes as the HMIC, the body that independently assess police forces and policing delivers a separate report to Parlaiment about the numbers of front line officers that will be left after the budget cuts take hold, and a time when police are warning that a reduction in numbers will leave seriously effect their ability to deal with any unrest.

Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, said police would struggle to cope with further disorder if the proposed austerity measures went ahead and urged the government to take "urgent stock" of the results of the study.