Met chief questions 'feral' comment

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The Independent Online

Britain's most senior police officer today questioned the Justice Secretary's description of those blamed for England's riots as a "feral underclass".

Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin said he would not have used Kenneth Clarke's term, as the officer outlined his vision for the future of policing in the wake of the widespread violence.

When asked by the London Assembly how politicians could help, Mr Godwin called for help to empower disadvantaged communities.

Referring to the comments by Mr Clarke, Mr Godwin added: "I would not use (that term) myself.

"The use of the term feral was first used in about 2000 following the death of Damilola Taylor."

Mr Godwin said there has "got to be a big debate in London in terms of how we empower local communities".

When pressed further about Mr Clarke's comments, he added: "It's a term I would not personally use but I think we do need to understand the level of fear of crime that actually encourages them to join gangs."

Appearing before Assembly members at City Hall, Mr Godwin said morale was as strong as it ever had been at the Metropolitan Police.

He also said next year's operation at the Olympics "will be better as a result of the experience we have had".

"It is a very positive outcome in terms of working together," he added.

Mr Godwin said the force would do everything in its powers to avoid a repeat of the widespread disorder.

He added: "In terms of the future we will make sure that we over-egg the pudding in terms of numbers."

Mr Godwin told MPs yesterday that the crisis last month had been a "wake-up call" for criminal justice.

Mr Godwin had already admitted that the scale of the riots caught police by surprise, adding he wanted to see double the number of specially-trained officers in future.

Mr Clarke and London Mayor Boris Johnson have said the riots were a result of a "broken penal system".

Mr Johnson also said society needed to consider what was happening to offenders when they were behind bars.

Senior politicians and legal figures have expressed widely differing opinions about appropriate punishments for those involved in the violent unrest and looting.

Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, warned on Friday that they should be treated in the same way as other offenders.

But Prime Minister David Cameron has praised the "tough message" that the courts have been handing out.

Mr Godwin is vying with the likes of Stephen House, Bernard Hogan-Howe and Sir Hugh Orde for the Commissioner's job on a permanent basis. An appointment will be announced on Monday.