Police cleared of blame for riots

Inner-city flashpoints: Birmingham counts cost of trouble as inquiry into Bradford rejects 19 complaints
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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

An investigation into last year's Bradford riots, which caused more than pounds 1m worth of damage, has cleared the police of any wrongdoing despite a series of complaints from sections of the city's Asian community.

The Police Complaints Authority announced yesterday that allegations of police misconduct during the three days of disturbances were "without foundation".

Despite the findings, at least two of the 19 people who made an official complaint, mainly involving allegations of assault and unlawful arrest, are to take civil action against the West Yorkshire police force.

For three nights last summer several hundred Asian youths held running street battles with police in which petrol bombs, bricks and bottles were thrown. The trouble had apparently started after the arrests of two youths for allegedly obstructing a footpath while playing football. Forty-one people were arrested after the disturbances, some of whom are still awaiting court appearances.

The PCA, which oversaw an investigation by officers from the West Midlands police force, said it had decided that no officers would be disciplined.

One officer involved in the first arrests is to receive advice and re-training after the PCA said he had used the wrong powers to detain a suspect.

Nineteen complaints were examined during the inquiry, of which eight were dropped and two were not investigated. One case involved an Asian woman who said she and her baby had been jostled by police and her clothes torn.

PCA member Caroline Mitchell said: "The allegations which were made were very serious and the public concern is understandable and widespread, but unjustifiable public disorder resulted. It is our conclusion that these allegations were without foundation."

Ms Mitchell stressed the PCA placed particular emphasis on independent witnesses and medical and forensic reports. "There's no question of a cover up - we are not frightened to take action," she said. "It was a full and independent inquiry under a very senior officer. We are independent, and the fact is there was no evidence."

PCA inquiries have been consistently attacked over the years for not being objective because they rely on police officers to investigate other officers.

Aurangzeb Iqbal, solicitor for two of the Asian youths who made complaints against the police, said that his clients were taking civil action.

Javed Iqbal, 20, and a juvenile who cannot be named, appeared before Bradford magistrates last September charged with threatening behaviour and assault connected with the riots. Both were cleared.

Mr Iqbal said the decision that one officer is to be retrained proved the grievances were not without foundation. "The PCA should have gone much further, but at least this proves it was not a complete whitewash and I do not think there will be a backlash from the community," he said.

Mohammed Ajeeb, a local councillor and former mayor of the Bradford, said the report was disappointing. "It's not a question of anyone shouldering the blame; it's a question of perception," he said. "There is a belief that when the police deal with ethnic minorities they are not fair, and that perception has not changed."

Mr Ajeeb insisted that there would not be a backlash against the police, despite the community's frustration.

Norman Bettison, the Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, said the force was pleased that officers were not being held responsible for "the action of troublemakers".

He added: "Many police officers felt personally saddened that their good work suffered setbacks as a result of the disturbances. They view it as an isolated and shocking incident."

Among some of the explanations given for the riots are the high level of unemployment among male Asians, a lack of training, and poor education, and the breakdown in influence of the family and community.