Riots Q&A: What really happened? And, what happens next?

 

Why did this happen?

The million-dollar question. Everyone has a theory. Chronologically, it began on 4 August, when Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of three, was shot dead by police in Tottenham. The handling of the shooting, particularly by the Metropolitan Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, seems to have made a bad situation worse. About 100 people staged a vigil on Saturday 6 August, marching towards Tottenham police station. It escalated into outbreaks of violence, looting and arson, but there was nothing inevitable about what followed. A perfect storm of school holidays, rising living costs, warm weather, cautious police tactics, rolling TV news and social media arrived, with deep-seated social and cultural problems, including poverty, failing schools, gangs, joblessness, materialism and poor parenting, playing a part.



Why did it spread?

Factors include a combination of solidarity between deprived areas, relentless television coverage, the reluctance of police to step in and the apparent ease with which looters made off with stolen goods. By Sunday, there was trouble in Enfield, Islington and Walthamstow, spreading to areas including Bromley, Camden, Clapham, Croydon, Ealing, Hackney, Lewisham and Woolwich on Monday. On 9 August, rioting broke out of the capital, reaching Birmingham, West Bromwich, Manchester, Salford, Leicester and Wolverhampton.



Just how much damage was done?

The Association of British Insurers has put the bill at an estimated £200m, though many small businesses and homeowners will not have had contents insurance, so the real cost could be much higher. Under the 1886 Riot Act, anyone who has property damaged in a riot can apply for compensation from their police force, with no limit on the size of claims.



How many people got involved?

It is hard to tell. Police are combing thousands of hours of CCTV footage and, in a handful of high-profile cases, parents have turned in their own children, while others have given themselves up. Scotland Yard expects eventually to bring 3,000 people to justice in London, but, given the number of forces involved around the country, the final figure could be double that.



Could it have been prevented?

It's hard to see how. The scale and randomness of the looting made it near impossible for police to predict – or prepare for – how far it spread.



Is this the same as the anti-cuts riots?

Not really. The student demonstrations in the autumn and the anti-cuts march in the spring began peacefully, escalating into attacks on symbols of power and wealth, notably the Tory party HQ, Prince Charles's car and Fortnum & Mason. What marked the riots last week was the looting, suggesting those taking part were motivated by greed rather than politics.



So who was rioting?

The knee-jerk brigade was quick to condemn a young, predominately black, underclass. The truth, as ever, is rather more complicated. Perpetrators include a youth ambassador for the 2012 Olympics, a teaching assistant and the daughter of a millionaire. But the magistrates' courts have also heard familiar tales of family breakdown and disrespect for community and the police, as the spotlight was shone once again on an oft-forgotten section of British society. For many, looting a store will have provided an adrenalin rush and sense of power lacking from their everyday lives. They did it because they realised they could.



Was race an issue at all?

Not initially. It was more about class than race. In parts of London, some deprived areas are predominately black, whereas in, say, Manchester, the rioters were mostly white. In Enfield, there were reports of about 200 vigilantes taking to the streets. One man said he was pursued by people who shouted "get the blacks and Pakis".



When does community spirit turn into vigilantism?

About 700 Sikhs turned out to defend their temples and homes in Southall, west London, many armed with swords and hockey sticks. Others patrolled the streets with bats and broken pool cues. To a large extent it was fuelled by concern that there were not enough police on the streets.



Are Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to blame? And can we just clamp down on social media?

People who use technology to keep in touch every day of their lives obviously did so during the riots. Information could be passed quickly, and in the case of BBM, was not publicly viewable. However, several people have already been charged with inciting violence online while others have been caught flaunting their looted wares on Facebook. And part of the fightback was online, including the co-ordination of the clean-up and police forces using social media to dispel rumours of trouble. As for shutting down Twitter, do we really want to share social networking policy with Iran and China?



Could the police have done more?

The police insist not, but in the early stages, in particular, eyewitnesses complained that officers appeared reluctant to step in. A culture of political correctness and concern about policing of the G20 may have blunted the response. After recent anti-cuts demonstrations, police adopted tactics to contain and disperse troublemakers. In short, officers turned up ready to police a protest but the rioters did not play by the rules and just disappeared into side streets.



Why not let rip with water cannon, plastic bullets and baton rounds?

It's not very British for a start. It made a nice soundbite for David Cameron and tapped into public anger, but they are almost utterly unsuited to dealing with fluid, moving crowds. After years of police attempts to work closely with community groups, opening fire on the streets would seem a return to the bad old days.



Why can't we just send in the Army?

Tim Godwin, the acting Met commissioner, has said he would rather be the last man left in Scotland Yard, with all his management team out on the streets, before he asked for the Army. Not a great advert ahead of the Olympics next year, with tourism chiefs using the slogan "You're Invited".



Are spending cuts, including to the police, to blame?

There's very little to suggest the riots were connected with the rioters' perception of policing. The later surge in police numbers, from 3,000 to 16,000, shows what can be done. Even after the cuts, police forces will be able to muster large numbers for one-off events. The bigger problem could be detection rates for run-of-the-mill crimes.



What about the Government's response?

David Cameron's lauded reputation for spin seems to elude him at these big moments, with him often appearing behind the curve for 48 hours, as he did when in Afghanistan as the phone-hacking scandal erupted. Attacking the police also seems to have backfired. As Sir Hugh Orde said: "The fact that politicians chose to come back is an irrelevance in terms of the tactics that were by then developing." Ouch.



Why was everyone on holiday at once?

No 10 needs to get a wall chart and some coloured stickers to make sure the Prime Minister is not in Tuscany while his deputy is in the South of France, Home Secretary in Switzerland and his Chancellor taking a double dip on a log flume in California. Two-thirds of people think ministers were slow to get back from their holidays, and the majority would prefer the Government to have been even tougher. No politician has managed to capture the public mood.



Are pockets of society sick, as David Cameron says?

Yes. And it was ever thus. Human beings can be a grim lot sometimes. It just comes as more of a shock to the comfortable inhabitants of the Westminster bubble when these groups make their existence felt.



What about the previous Labour government – should it share any of the blame?

Ed Miliband sought to rise above the politics, while also attacking cuts to the police. His call for an inquiry seems opportunistic – and ultimately doomed. The idea that all was well among Britain's youth until the Tories took power is fanciful and Harriet Harman's attempts to link looting and arson to cutting the educational maintenance allowance were roundly ridiculed.



Is it all simply a four-day wonder?

In a summer as unpredictable as this – remember hacking? – no sane person would definitively say it was a passing fad. But nor would they predict the complete breakdown of society.



What happens now?

Expect the police to be tougher on the streets, while the courts will mete out tougher sentences to make an example of the perpetrators. It might not be fair, but it could recalibrate the justice system. Most of the spending cuts people refer to have not been made yet, and the riots will be used as another argument to put off tough decisions. But the problem with deep-seated social problems is they are hard to solve for politicians who like eye-catching easy wins around election time.

Contributors: Matt Chorley, Emily Dugan, Kunal Dutta, Sarah Morrison and Andrew McCorkill

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?