Leading article: A breakdown of trust

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A grim irony about the orgy of anti-police rioting that took place in Tottenham on Saturday night is the fact that this enclave of north London was one of the birthplaces of community policing.

After the murder of PC Keith Blakelock by a frenzied mob at the Broadwater Farm housing estate in 1985, there was a concerted move away from heavy-handed policing. Serious efforts were made to engage with what had been, until then, a profoundly alienated community.

Policing in the capital is generally agreed to have improved significantly since the dark days of inner-city violence in the 1980s. The detested "sus" laws – which were essentially used by the police to harass black people – were repealed in 1981 after Lord Scarman's report on the Brixton riots blamed them for helping to destroy relations between the local community and the authorities.

Further reforms were made after the 1999 Macpherson report into the Metropolitan Police's botched handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation. The Independent Police Complaints Commission was established in 2004 to guarantee that the police force would no longer be in a position to scrutinise itself.

It is true, as the Tottenham MP, David Lammy, argued over the weekend, that the looting and violence in Tottenham on Saturday night was the work of an opportunistic criminal fringe. But this cannot obscure the palpable sense of mistrust of the police that was on display from the wider, law-abiding, north London community this weekend.

The flashpoint for this violence was a fatal shooting of a suspect last week by officers from the Metropolitan Police's Operation Trident team. It is for the IPCC to get to the bottom of that incident. For the police, the challenge is to win back the faith of the people of Tottenham.

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