PM forced to deny rift with police

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The Independent Online

David Cameron was today forced to deny a rift with police over the handling of the devastating riots that swept England.





The Prime Minister played down tensions after senior officers hit back at criticism of their response to the crisis.



Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tim Godwin complained of negative comments from people who "weren't there" when the violence began - an apparent jibe at politicians, such as Mr Cameron, who were on holiday.



And Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, dismissed the idea that ministers deserved credit for quelling the disturbances.



The differences emerged with police across the country still on high alert despite relative calm over the past couple of days. Home Secretary Theresa May indicated that the "surge" of officers on the streets would be maintained for some time.



Courts have been working round the clock to clear a huge backlog of cases involving those suspected of looting and other offences. Some 1,600 people have now been arrested, with around 800 already having appeared in court.



The Government also said that two-thirds of those charged have been remanded into custody rather than bailed while they wait for cases to be heard. Only 122 of the individuals who have gone to court were under 18 - despite speculation that children were behind much of the trouble.



In other developments today:



:: A 22-year-old man was arrested over the murder of pensioner Richard Mannington Bowes, who was attacked as he tried to stamp out a fire in Ealing on Monday.



Mr Bowes, 68, became the fifth victim of the riots when he died in hospital just before midnight last night.



:: Mr Cameron indicated his support for councils which want to evict tenants. His comments came as Wandsworth Council became the first local authority to serve an eviction notice on a tenant, whose son has been charged in connection with riots.



"For too long we've taken a too soft attitude towards people that loot and pillage their own community. If you do that you should lose your right to the sort of housing that you've had at subsidised rates," Mr Cameron told the BBC's North West Tonight programme.



:: An inquest into the deaths of three men in Birmingham who were run down by a car while guarding shops from looters was told that police are seeking further suspects, having already arrested four people.



The hearing into the deaths of Haroon Jahan and brothers Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir, was adjourned with coroner Aidan Cotter ordering that their bodies should be released for burial next Wednesday.



In an emergency session in the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Cameron said "far too few" officers had been deployed when the trouble first started. Police initially treated the violence "too much as a public order issue" rather than as criminality.



But asked about the criticism of Scotland Yard, Mr Godwin replied: "I think after any event like this, people will always make comments who weren't there."



He said the public should be "proud" of the way police chiefs had reacted to the rioting.



"We were able to nip this in the bud after a few days," Mr Godwin said. "I think the issue around the numbers, the issue around the tactics - they are all police decisions and they are all made by my police commanders and myself."



Referring to political intervention, Sir Hugh said: "Let's be very clear on one thing - a vital distinction between police and politics remains.



"The police service will make the tactical decisions and quite rightly and robustly we should and must be held to account. If not the system fails."



Mr Cameron insisted that he had not questioned the bravery of the police officers who faced down the rioters.



"They were brave on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. They are brave every day of every year when they put their lives on the line for us. I have huge respect for our police," he said.



"But clearly we needed to act this week to get control of the streets, to get them back for the law-abiding. The police did that, they did change their tactics, they did increase police numbers, that was the right thing to do.



"And through Cobra [the Government's emergency committee] they had the political support of the Government, the Prime Minister and the whole of Parliament to get on and do that."



Speaking on a visit to a fire station in riot-hit Salford, the Prime minister added: "Clearly there was a need for more on the street, there was a need to change tactics.



"And I think it's right that police took those decisions and changed those tactics, and increased the number of police officers.



"Where I think the Government and the police worked well together was through the Cobra emergency planning committee.



"What I think that does is it helps the police by showing that there was political backing for the changes they wanted to make."



Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Mr Cameron's comments were simply a reflection of what police have already said.



On a visit to Nottingham, he said: "The police themselves have acknowledged - as the prime minister described in his statement yesterday in the House of Commons - of course they were taken by surprise, of course events moved very, very fast and of course lessons should be learned, and that is something we should all do together.



"I have seen police officers, senior police officers, the Prime Minister, myself and the Home Secretary working effectively together in Cobra and in meetings in Whitehall over the last seven days."



Mr Clegg also said that police were entirely correct to say they were operationally independent and it was not the role of politicians to interfere.



"They are operationally in charge. That is what British policing is about and it's what it always will be about," he said.



Meanwhile, Mrs May said police numbers in London - which were surged up to around 16,000 earlier this week - would remain high.



Speaking during a visit to Enfield, north London, she said: "We will be sustaining the numbers for a period of time.



"We have had some quieter nights but we are not complacent about that.



"The police will maintain their tough arrest policy, their presence on the streets."



She said officers would be brought in from areas not affected by the riots to help maintain levels if necessary.

PA