Straw defends policing of May Day riot

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The Independent Online

Jack Straw rejected criticism yesterday of police tactics during the May Day riots which saw extensive damage to property and the defacing of Winston Churchill's statue and the Cenotaph.

Amid Tory claims that the "restrained" police tactics had not safeguarded the public and property, the Home Secretary said English Heritage had ignored police advice by failing to put up hoardings around the Cenotaph.

As well as the defacement of Churchill's statue in Parliament Square and the Centotaph in Whitehall, a number of other statues in the area were desecrated with graffiti. Specialist cleaners began work yesterday to remove the daubings.

As police launched a national hunt for those responsible for the riots, which left 12 people injured and caused £500,000 worth of damage, Tony Blair called on the public to name those in volved. On a visit to inspect the damage to the Cenotaph, the Prime Minister said he had nothing but "contempt" for the rioters and called on the public, including relatives and friends to identify those responsible.

Police will use television footage and photographs to identify the hard-core rioters. They hope to detain 200 more alleged offenders today to add to the 95 already arrested.

English Heritage countered Mr Straw's claims by saying that police had warned it that wooden hoardings could provide a hiding place for bombs and be used as ammunition for rioters. Police also advised that they would pay special attention to the Cenotaph, but no extra police were provided, the agency said.

As Mr Straw met Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to discuss the lessons of the riots, the Prime Minister indicated he would review arrangements for future demonstrations. "There's a long tradition that people in this country are entitled to demonstrate lawfully, but that right should not be abused in this way. This kind of thing cannot happen again."

In an emergency statement to the Commons, Mr Straw condemned the "mindless violence" of those involved in the anti-capitalist demonstration. "What was witnessed in central London yesterday was criminality and thuggery masquerading as political protest," he said. "In our democracy, there is neither reason nor excuse for such appalling behaviour."

The Home Secretary rejected Tory claims that police had allowed demonstrators to break the law, pointing out that if the protest had not been contained in Whitehall, tourists and shoppers throughout the West End would have been at risk.

"The police did not allow illegal acts to take place," he said. "What they had to do was to make these fine judgements in order to prevent worse disorder and violence taking place."

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, condemned the violence and warned of public concern over the amount of disorder "allowed" before police moved in. She said there had been "considerable restraint'' before police intervention took place.

Ken Livingstone's rivals for London mayor tried to link the independent candidate with the riots, claiming his support for direct action encouragedanarchy on the streets.

Labour will publish press advertisements today showing photos of the defaced Cenotaph alongside his comments on the last City riots. But Mr Livingstone dismissed the row and condemned the rioters as "mindless thugs".

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