Leeds riot blamed on police crime crackdown

Inner-city violence: Pub and cars burnt out as 150 go on rampage after drugs, weapons and stolen goods are seized in raids
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The Independent Online
Police yesterday said that a clampdown on crime had been at the root of a three-hour outbreak of violence in Leeds.

The violence flared in the Hyde Park area of the city after police executed three warrants following a tip-off about armed robberies. But the West Yorkshire force insisted the tough policy on crime was justified and the police would not back off.

Rumour and paranoia had made the area volatile during several weeks preceding Monday night's outbreak of arson and skirmishes with 100 riot police, residents said yesterday. Up to 150 youths set fire to cars and a pub, threw petrol bombs at police, and damaged property.

During the police raids that triggered the violence, drugs, weapons and stolen property were found. "The police were not heavy-handed, and this community does not want weapons in its midst," a witness said. "The police vehicles were attacked by local youths who did not want the arrests to take place. They just do not like the police."

Hyde Park, a mixed area of Victorian terraces and modern public housing, has a high rate of burglary and a flourishing trade in soft drugs. Burglar alarms and iron grilles on doors and windows are common.

Alarmist accounts of the raids raised tensions among the youths, who claimed police had assaulted women, torn ornaments from the walls and, in one incident, searched for drugs in a child's genitalia. "These are police with attitude. They have a gym where they work out, they're body- building to police this area, and they've been provoking people now for two or three months," one youth said.

Suspicion was aroused about police tactics in the area when high-intensity lighting was installed around the Jolly Buffer pub - still known locally by its former name, the Newlands - which had developed a reputation for illegal drug-dealing.

Under new ownership, the pub - which was burnt out in Monday night's violence - had attempted to improve its image, but one of the joint licensees was wrongly suspected by local youths of being a former police officer. The other licensee was injured in an attack by youths two weeks ago, since when the pub had been closed.

With commanding views of an area where local youths congregate, the pub was also believed to house a police surveillance unit which gathered intelligence for the recent raids.

Nathan Evans, a community activist, said the Hyde Park area did not suffer from racial tensions, but lacked facilities for young people who felt neglected. "I've been waiting for three months for something like this to happen because there is nothing in this area for anybody," he said.

Superintendent Steve Smith, the local police commander, insisted that tactics would not be revised. "We would be letting the public down if we were to back off from arresting people for crime in a high crime area," he said. "This is about criminals and a reaction to policing in the area.

"It appears to me that there was a reaction to the very success of those operations."