11 Aug 2011

British PM admits police too slow to react to riots

11:37 pm on 11 August 2011

British Prime Minister David Cameron says his government will not tolerate riots and looting of the kind that spread across England in the past week, but admitted police were too slow to react.

Police have arrested more than 1300 people throughout the country for violence, disorder and looting since the riots erupted on Saturday in the north London district of Tottenham after police shot dead a man.

At an emergency session of Parliament on Thursday, Mr Cameron told MPs there was no excuse for what he called "opportunist thugs and gangs" and "no legitimate link" with the initial protest against the Tottenham shooting, the BBC reports.

The Prime Minister said the rioting was "not about politics or protest - it is about theft" and he would "not allow a climate of fear to exist on our streets".

However, Mr Cameron admitted there were "far too few" officers deployed as the riots reached a peak on Monday night and that the tactics they had used had failed to work.

He promised that police would be given the power to demand the removal of face masks where riots were feared, and that the army may be called in to help free up officers to deal with troublemakers.

Bolstered police numbers will remain in London throughout the weekend.

Focus on social media

The Prime Minister said officials were also looking into ways to stop people using social media to organise criminal activities.

"Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised by a social media. Free-flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill.

"We are working with the police, the intelligence services and the industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."

Mr Cameron said anyone whose houses or businesses have been damaged can make a claim - even if they are not insured.

Parliament is recalled in time of crisis and this is the 25th time in the past 50 years. It is already the second recall since Mr Cameron was elected prime minister in 2010 - the first being over the phone hacking scandal in July.

Meanwhile, an online petition calling for any convicted rioters to lose all their welfare payments has attracted nearly 90,000 signatures. If 100,000 people sign it, they would trigger a process that could end with MPs voting on the plan.

London raids begin

Police have begun raiding houses across London, with more than 100 warrants issued on Thursday morning.

A heavy police presence on the capital's streets and other cities has prevented a fifth night of unrest.

So far, the Metropolitan Police has arrested 888 people in connection with violence, disorder and looting since Saturday, and 371 people have been charged. There have been more than 300 arrests in other English cities, AFP reports.

Four people have died across the country and dozens of shops and homes have been burned down.

The riots have also sparked a debate about the government's plans to cut police budgets as part of austerity measures to reduce the country's record deficit.

Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday that security chiefs had decided to authorise the use of water cannon for the first time in mainland Britain if required. Officers have already been authorised to use baton rounds - non-lethal rubber or plastic bullets.

The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, ruled out using water cannon or baton rounds for now, saying the tactics were not suited to the current unrest.