We still need answers about riots, says Lammy

Tottenham's MP is dismayed by obstacles in the way of a public inquiry into police handling of the disturbances. By Paul Peachey

following the Labour Party's election defeat in 2010, David Lammy's summer holiday last year was supposed to be different. For the first six years of his married life, his luggage was weighed down with ministerial briefing papers and his breaks were always interrupted by calls from civil servants. But any hope that the short holiday he began on 1 August would somehow be more relaxed ended abruptly with a phone call from a senior police officer three days later.

He was told that the specialist police team dealing with gun crime in the black community had shot a man, Mark Duggan, from Tottenham. Mr Lammy headed home to an uneasy calm which swiftly degenerated into Britain's worst riots for decades. He says he had been predicting civil unrest for a year. But he had not expected it to happen so quickly, so close to home and with such ferocity.

In the months that have followed, the Tottenham MP has been a prominent critic of how the authorities dealt with the riots and their aftermath. He is one of the foremost accusers of the Independent Police Complaints Commission's handling of the shooting in the first hours, which contributed to a sense of crisis. The IPCC had wrongly stated that there was a shootout between Mr Duggan and the police.

"I think it's impossible to be the MP for a deprived area in London and not have engaged on different occasions with the IPCC," says Mr Lammy, 39. "We have seen errors at the beginning of this case... this is not just in constituencies like mine, this is not just in the black community, [the IPCC's] credibility amongst the wider general public is now being questioned."

With a budget smaller than the disciplinary body of the Metropolitan Police, the IPCC is struggling to cope with the caseload and, with a significant number of its staff being former police officers, its independence is in doubt. Mr Lammy says: "We have now got to a point where we have to examine how the IPCC functions."

The IPCC inquiry into the shooting has, in part, been hampered and delayed by police officers declining to be interviewed by its team. An inquest into Mr Duggan's death may never be held because, under current legislation, a coroner is not allowed to see police intercept evidence from the minutes before the shooting.

Mr Lammy met Theresa May, the Home Secretary, this month to press her for a change in the law. He highlighted the case of Azelle Rodney, a young black man shot dead by police in 2005, whose inquest was scrapped and whose death will not be subject to a public inquiry until later this year. "It is impossible to conceive of a scenario in which our country has seen four days of mayhem and rioting in which there [was millions of pounds] of damage ... and not hearing answers to what happened to Mark Duggan, given that this all started with his death," he says.

The ramifications of the riots are still felt in the constituency where Mr Lammy grew up and has been the MP for 12 years, and where his father worked as a taxidermist. He highlights several cases, including the Congolese landlord of the Pride of Tottenham pub, who had to scramble on to a roof to elude a knife-wielding mob ransacking the place. The landlord has received only a portion of the compensation he asked for.

Businesses are worried about premiums for next year and more than 660 people are awaiting payments under the riot compensation scheme.

"The barometer of whether we have recovered is whether they are recovering," Mr Lammy says. "We are coming up to the anniversary and these businesses are still struggling."

He praises the police for reducing the use of stop-and-search powers on young people in his area which, he says, has done much to reduce tensions since last year.

He believes this summer's events, from the Jubilee to the Olympics, have bound communities together again. But he says the Government has failed to deal with some of the key issues that led to the riots. More than 2.6 million people remain unemployed and Mr Lammy believes that "on the whole you don't riot if you have a job and a mortgage".

He adds: "I don't sense the kind of tension I was sensing last summer, but the issue of civil unrest will not be judged by one summer."

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