PM vows to bring order to streets

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Indy Politics

David Cameron today vowed to do "whatever it takes" to restore order to the streets after four days of looting and rioting brought chaos and destruction to English towns and cities.

Addressing an emergency session of the House of Commons the Prime Minister promised the Government would pay to compensate the victims of the disorder while retaining a reinforced police presence in London.

In a wide-ranging statement he said ministers were keeping the sentencing powers of the courts under "constant review" and pledged to tackle the gang culture which he said lay behind much of the violence as a "national priority".

He said officials were also considering whether they could stop people plotting disorder via social media websites and he opened up the prospect the Army could take on some policing tasks to free up more officers for the front line.

However, during a two hour 45 minute session answering MPs' questions, he fended off repeated Labour demands to rethink planned cuts to police budgets, insisting that they would not affect the numbers of officers on the streets.

As Mr Cameron was speaking at Westminster, police in Nottingham disclosed that an 11-year-old girl was among those who had been charged with criminal damage after she was caught with a group of youths smashing store windows in the city.

And the Metropolitan Police said roughly half of the 240 people who have appeared in court so far charged with being involved in the riots in London are under the age of 18.

In Birmingham, West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims paid tribute to the father of one of three men run down and killed as they were guarding shops from looters.

He said that Tariq Jahan's "powerful and generous" appeal for calm had been "decisive" in preventing a renewed outbreak of violence and tension between communities in the city.

Mr Sims confirmed that they would also maintain a large-scale police presence on the streets until it was clear that "these moments of madness" were "absolutely behind us".

Meanwhile in London, detectives warned the investigation into the attack on a 68-year-old man who tried to stamp out a fire during riots in Ealing on Monday could turn into a murder inquiry as he lay critically ill in hospital.

Addressing a sombre House following the first night of relative peace across the country since the riots erupted in Tottenham, north London, on Saturday night, Mr Cameron said the whole country had been "shocked" by what had happened.

"It is criminality pure and simple. And there is absolutely no excuse for it," he said.

"We will not put up with this in our country. We will not allow a culture of fear to exist on our streets. And we will do whatever it takes to restore law and order and rebuild our communities."

With the total number of arrests across the country now exceeding 1,200, the Prime Minister pledged the perpetrators of the violence would be tracked down, charged, and punished.

In a clear message to the courts - after police said they were "disappointed" at some of the sentences being handed down - he said anyone charged with rioting should be remanded in custody and anyone convicted should expect to go to jail.

Ministers were, he said, keeping the sentencing powers of the courts under constant review and would, if necessary, act to strengthen them.

While Mr Cameron praised the "incredible bravery" of individual officers in confronting lawbreaking "on a scale not seen for decades", he criticised the initial police tactics, saying "far too few" officers had been deployed on the streets.

"Initially the police treated the situation too much as a public order issue - rather than essentially one of crime," he said.

"The truth is that the police have been facing a new and unique challenge with different people doing the same thing - basically looting - in different places all at the same time."

While he did not want to abandon the traditional "British model" of policing, he suggested that troops could be used to take on some tasks - such as guarding - in order to make more officers available for the frontline.

The additional officers deployed to London - taking the total numbers on the streets of the capital to almost 16,000 - would now remain during the weekend, he said.

He confirmed police had been authorised to use baton rounds and could have access to water cannons and announced that officers would be given extended powers to order suspect criminals to remove face masks and coverings.

Gang injunctions - currently being piloted in some areas - are also being extended to the whole country, covering juveniles as well as adults, he said, and he urged councils to use existing powers to evict offenders from social housing.

Mr Cameron said the Government would cover the costs of police authorities paying out compensation to homeowners and businesses affected by the disturbances under the Riot Damages Act of 1886.

He also announced £30 billion in central government funding to help businesses get back up and running and councils to clear up the riot damage.

With many of the attacks having been organised on social media websites, he said the police, the intelligence services and industry would be looking at whether "it would be right" to stop people using them to plan violence.

At the same time, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is to work with the Home Office to produce a report on gangs and gang culture to be published in October.

Mr Cameron said they would be consulting former New York and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton as well as drawing on the experience of successful programmes in Boston in the United States and Strathclyde in Scotland.

"I want this to be a national priority," he said.

With the London Olympics just a year away, he said it was vital that the country demonstrated that it was getting to grips with the problems.

"We need to show the world, which has looked on frankly appalled, that the perpetrators of the violence we have seen on our streets are not in any way representative of our country - nor of our young people," he said.

While Labour leader Ed Miliband said politicians stood "shoulder to shoulder" against the violence, he urged Mr Cameron to reconsider planned police budget cuts.

"Given the absolute priority the public attaches to a visible and active police presence, does the Prime Minister understand why they would think it is not right that he goes ahead with the cuts to police numbers?" he said.