PM blasts ‘unacceptable’ social media craze that led to Oxford Street looting

Rishi Sunak warned that the ‘full force of the law’ will be applied to those taking part in antisocial and criminal flashmobs organised online.

Patrick Daly
Tuesday 15 August 2023 18:24 BST
Youths run into a McDonalds store on Oxford Street in central London (Aaron Chown/PA)
Youths run into a McDonalds store on Oxford Street in central London (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

The Prime Minister has blasted the organising on social media of looting and disruption as “appalling” and “unacceptable”.

Rishi Sunak warned youngsters tempted to get involved in future antisocial and criminal flashmobs that they will be “met with the full force of the law”.

It comes after young people gathered in London’s Oxford Street last week in a suspected TikTok-inspired raid of shops following a viral shoplifting call on the social media platform.

Footage showed police wielding batons in a clash with dozens of young men and wrestling some of them away, while officers on horseback helped to disperse hundreds of people in Europe’s busiest shopping street on Wednesday.

That type of behaviour is simply unacceptable in our society

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

West End stores were forced to close their shutters and lock customers inside during the looting bid, which was reportedly inspired by a social media craze encouraging people to take part in an “Oxford Street JD robbery”.

The Metropolitan Police arrested nine people and issued 34 dispersal orders during the incident.

Mr Sunak, asked what he made of the incident in the capital, which occurred while he was on holiday in the US, told broadcasters: “I have got to say it is appalling. Criminal damage, criminal behaviour is unacceptable.

“I fully support the police in bringing those people to justice.

“I want anyone watching who is thinking about this, who sees something like this, to know that they will be met with the full force of the law.

“Because that type of behaviour is simply unacceptable in our society.”

His comments come after Donna Jones, chairwoman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), said social media crazes were a sign of “societal breakdown”.

She said parents should be disciplining their children and teaching them that such acts are “morally abhorrent” to prevent further incidents.

The Conservative Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner, as well as referencing the Oxford Street incident, also highlighted a craze in Southampton in which a “handful” of 15 to 17-year-olds took paracetamol to see who could stay in hospital the longest.

The former magistrate told the PA news agency: “This is incredibly worrying, and somebody needs to call it out.

“This is mindless vandalism, and it’s also criminal activity in terms of shoplifting and theft, looting, mass looting.

“This is taking away police hours from operational policing that they should be doing to keep genuine people that need protecting safe.

“We need to send a clear message – this is not acceptable and the parents need to be held accountable.”

Ms Jones called for parents to be forced to pay the fines for the criminal behaviour of their children under the age of 16, or under 18 if in full-time education.

She also suggested social media companies such as TikTok should investigate and crack down on posts orchestrating flashmobs that encourage criminal behaviour.

A TikTok spokeswoman said: “We have zero tolerance for content facilitating or encouraging criminal activities.

“We have over 40,000 safety professionals dedicated to keeping TikTok safe – if we find content of this nature, we remove it and actively engage with law enforcement on these issues.”

The APCC is the national membership body for police and crime commissioners and other local policing bodies across England and Wales.

A spokeswoman for Southampton City Council said the paracetamol incident involved youngsters aged between 15 and 17 and occurred at Southampton Central railway station but would not provide details of how many youngsters were involved or their condition.

A statement was issued jointly by the authority with Hampshire County Council, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary, Hampshire Isle of Wight Integrated Care Board, South Central Ambulance Service and University Hospital Southampton.

It said: “We are aware of the incident in question and are continuing to work across the appropriate agencies as part of ongoing investigations and to ensure those involved are fully supported.

“We are unable to comment any further.”

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