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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tottenham riots: Police not anticipated' extreme violence

Rioters throwing petrol bombs battled police in north London overnight, setting patrol cars, buildings and a double-decker bus on fire in some of the worst disorder seen in the British capital in recent years. About 200 people rained missiles and bottles on riot officers near Tottenham
police station after a protest at the fatal shooting of a man by armed officers earlier in the week turned violent.
Mounted police and riot officers on foot in turn charged the troublemakers, to push them back.

Eight officers were taken to hospital, one with head injuries, as rioters attacked buildings including banks, shops and a supermarket and torched three police cars in the main road near the local police base.

Television pictures showed a blazing bus surrounded by rioters and hooded youths pelting an abandoned police car with rocks and missiles.

While the bulk of the disturbance had been brought under control early on Sunday, pockets of trouble were still erupting nearby.

"These are very distressing scenes for Londoners in general and the local community in particular," said Commander Stephen Watson.

"It's important we emphasise that the safety of the public is of paramount importance to us. Our intention at this time is to bring things to as swift a conclusion as we can. Our absolute aim is to restore normality."

The trouble broke out on Saturday night following a peaceful demonstration over the shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan, who was killed after an exchange of gunfire with police on Thursday.

Duggan had been in a taxi when it was stopped by armed officers as part of a pre-planned operation. One policeman escaped unhurt after a bullet struck his radio. Duggan's death is being investigated by the independent police watchdog.

The violence followed a demonstration by members of the community outside Tottenham police station to demand "justice" for the family of Duggan, a father of four, who was shot after police stopped the minicab he was driving in.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating the incident, which also saw a police officer shot, the bullet reportedly lodging in his police radio and leaving him with minor injuries.

Hanstock said the death was "extremely regrettable". He said it was "absolutely tragic that someone has died, but that does not give a criminal minority the right to destroy businesses and people's livelihoods and steal from their local community".

"There was no indication that the protest would deteriorate into the levels of criminal and violent disorder that we saw," he added.

As soon as the situation became apparent, riot police were deployed and support called in from other forces as officers were "subjected to bottles, petrol bombs and other missiles", he said.

Police had kept a "dignified" presence at the vigil, and there was nothing to indicate it would be "anything other than a peaceful demo", he added.

But community leaders had warned of tensions following Duggan's death. Nims Obunge, a street pastor who was with the Duggan family at the police station protest, said the family and the community needed answers.

"I was here [at the police station] for five hours before this incident kicked off. Someone died on Thursday, a man was shot in our community and the community cried out for justice," he said.

The IPCC, which took over the investigation after the shooting, said it had been in contact with the family. Scotland Yard sources said they were not allowed to communicate with the family because the inquiry was being handled by the IPCC.

The IPCC confirmed that the first time the Duggan family had been taken to identify his body or see it to pay their respects had been on Saturday afternoon, some 36 hours after his death.

"The fact is that someone was killed in our community and the family came over here to say: 'Give us answers as to why this happened,'" Obunge said.

"They didn't get the answers they wanted. Why was this family not supported? They did not receive the proper support. They stood outside here for five hours waiting for acknowledgement."

On Sunday morning, a section of Tottenham High Road, where the trouble started at about 8.30pm, was cordoned off and a line of police officers stood facing the crowd of locals that had gathered.

The local MP, David Lammy, said "a community that was already hurting has now had the heart ripped out of it". The community had been "smashed" by "mindless, mindless people", he said, adding that many "were not from Tottenham" but had come from miles away to loot and join in the violence.

There were questions concerning the policing, he said, and over how a legitimate, peaceful protest had been able to escalate.

The London mayor, Boris Johnson, said he was "appalled at the scenes of violence and destruction in Tottenham".

The deputy mayor for policing in London, Kit Malthouse, told Sky News that officers had coped "with the cards they were played very well" and insisted they had been adequately prepared.

"Nobody predicted the level of violence, arson and looting that was going to take place," he said. "Nobody thought that the protest would necessarily degenerate into that kind of activity, and there is no reason why they should have done.

"The critical thing is ... were we able to mobilise forces fast enough to deal with what did arise? We did get a significant number of officers out there to deal with it in good time."

Senior political figures were united in their condemnation. The home secretary, Theresa May, said: "I condemn utterly the violence in Tottenham last night." She paid tribute to officers "who put themselves in harm's way".

Residents said they had been driven from their homes and had lost everything. Stuart Radose had to flee his flat above a Carpetright shop in Tottenham High Road as fire ravaged the building.

"We've gone back this morning and it's a complete shell," he told Sky News. "Everything we had is gone. It's just mad. So many people have lost everything. It's just crazy. It looks like it's the second world war. It looks like the Blitz where we were living.

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