Police chiefs start fightback against senior politicians' spin

 

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The Independent Online

Police officers of all ranks turned on the Government yesterday, angrily rejecting claims by ministers that it was only the intervention of politicians that helped get a grip on the riots hitting English cities.

Tim Godwin, the acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, took a swipe at people "who weren't there" making judgements about Scotland Yard's handling of the lawlessness – thought to be a reference to politicians who delayed returning from their holidays to deal with the crisis. He was backed by Sir Hugh Orde, another contender for the commissionership, who insisted that the crucial decision to draft 16,000 officers into the capital was taken by senior police officers – and not by the Prime Minister or Theresa May, the Home Secretary, as they had suggested.

A senior source said the Prime Minister had to be talked down from putting the Army on the streets of London at a meeting of the national emergency committee Cobra. Another described him as "idiotic". It comes as a poll for The Independent found that nearly half the public has lost confidence in David Cameron's leadership in the wake of the rioting. The survey by ComRes also found that more than two-thirds of the public are opposed to his plans to cut police numbers.

Last night, in an intervention likely to anger senior officers further, Bill Bratton, the former New York police chief who Mr Cameron said would advise the Government on how to deal with the aftermath of the riots, said young people had been "emboldened" by over-cautious police tactics and lenient sentencing policies.

Mr Bratton said a police force should have "a lot of arrows in the quiver", advocating a doctrine of "escalating force" where weapons including rubber bullets, Tasers, pepper spray and water cannon were all available to commanders. "You want the criminal element to fear them," Mr Bratton said.

Mr Cameron and his advisers will be alarmed by the political fallout from the rioting, which appears to have damaged the Conservatives' law-and-order credentials.

At lunchtime yesterday, the Prime Minister tried to bring the police back on side as he paid tribute to officers' bravery and insisted that police commanders, not politicians, were in charge of the response to the riots. "Clearly there was a need for more [police] on the streets," he said. "There was a need to change tactics and I think it is right that police took those decisions."

Mr Cameron earlier told MPs that "far too few" officers had been deployed when the trouble started and police had initially treated the violence "too much as a public order issue" rather than as one of criminality.

Sir Hugh, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, was scathing about Ms May's claim that she had ordered the tougher approach that brought calm. He said police had deployed reinforcements to trouble-hit districts, adding that the return of politicians from holiday to Westminster was "an irrelevance". He also warned that the cuts would become harder to implement as the next election approached. "Getting into years three and four it is getting tighter."

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, hit out at critics of the police: "Anybody can have 20/20 hindsight about decisions that could have been taken on Saturday night."

Simon Reed, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation, accused Mr Cameron of "denigrating" the police.

A south London-based sergeant, who helped co-ordinate anti-riot operations in one borough this week, said there had been incredulity among police officers: "The idea that David Cameron had to come back from Tuscany to tell us how to do our job is offensive."

Politicians vs Police

"We need more, much more police on our streets and we need even more robust police."

David Cameron

"The police lost control and a fully-fledged riot followed ... In Clapham, the mob ran amok for more than two hours before the police regained control. That is simply not acceptable."

Theresa May

"There were simply far too few police deployed on to the streets. And the tactics they were using weren't working."

David Cameron

"The fact that politicians chose to come back [from holiday] is an irrelevance ... The more robust policing tactics ... were not a function of political interference; they were a function of the numbers being available to allow the chief constables to change their tactics."

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers

"People will always make comments who weren't there."

Tim Godwin, acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner

"To [criticise the police] publicly is denigrating ... the brave officers who were working those nights. Officers up and down the country will be very slighted by what this Government said."

Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation

David Cameron's Week

Monday

The Prime Minister announces that he will cut short his holiday in Tuscany.

Tuesday

After arriving in the UK in the small hours, David Cameron follows a morning meeting of the Cobra committee by telling reporters that rioters will "feel the full force of the law". He condemns "sickening" violence, announces the recall of Parliament for Thursday, says the number of police officers on the streets of London will be increased from 6,000 to 16,000 – and insists that "if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment". He later meets police and fire officers in Croydon.

Wednesday

Mr Cameron tells the media that water cannon will be available to the police "within 24 hours", should they be needed to quell rioters, and says that baton rounds are already authorised for use by police. He also visits West Midlands emergency service chiefs in Wolverhampton.

Thursday

Addressing a recalled House of Commons, Mr Cameron promises to do "whatever it takes" to restore order and outlines a series of possible new measures, including curfews, the use of the Army, cracking down on hoodies and facial coverings and giving police the power to shut down social networks. He also says that "far too few" police officers were initially deployed for the riots and that the police treated the disturbances "too much as a public order issue".

Friday

He interrupts a visit to a fire station in Salford to discuss police tactics: "Clearly there was a need for more on the street. There was a need to change tactics."