London police will review the role messages sent via Twitter Inc.’s messaging service and other social-networking sites played in two nights of rioting that led to more than 215 arrests and injured at least 35 police officers.
“The police are ahead of the curve in information technology and would have experience of the use of social-networking sites by troublemakers,” said Steve O’Connell, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which monitors London’s Metropolitan Police Service. “The bad guys were using these sites to target areas quickly. Small bands of ne’er-do-wells were descending on high-quality stores to loot.”
The disturbances began Aug. 6 in the north London suburb of Tottenham, after a local man, Mark Duggan, was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police. Last night, police battled rioters and looters in several areas of the capital. Officers also dispersed youths at Oxford Circus in London’s main West End shopping district and today were trying to suppress incidents in the east London borough of Hackney.
Social media have been used to coordinate demonstrations against Middle Eastern regimes, campaign for Saudi women’s right to drive and for lower prices for cottage cheese in Israel. In the U.K., the use by troublemakers of Twitter -- and mobile phones -- may help authorities identify them and restore peace to London, O’Connell said by telephone.
“My expectation is that the police, like all of us, can access Twitter,” he said. “I would expect the Met to use every technology available to get it sorted out, make the arrests, and bring peace back to our neighborhoods.”
U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May broke off her vacation to return to the U.K. and meet today with the Met Police’s Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin and other police chiefs, Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, Steve Field, told reporters in London.
Sean Garrett, a Twitter spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Of the 215 arrests, 27 have resulted in charges, mostly for burglary, according to the Metropolitan Police website. At least nine officers were injured overnight in what the police described as “copycat criminal activity.” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said today last night’s violence had “absolutely nothing” to do with the death of Duggan.
“It was needless, opportunistic theft and violence -- nothing more, nothing less -- and it is completely unacceptable, and the people who have suffered are those who have lost their businesses, shopkeepers who have lost their shops,” he said.
Looters attacked stores in Walthamstow, Chingford and Ponders End in northeast London as well as in Brixton in the south, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement on its website.
“Officers are shocked at the outrageous level of violence directed against them,” Metropolitan Police Commander Christine Jones said in a statement. “We will not tolerate this disgraceful violence. The investigation continues to bring these criminals to justice.”
Police made 61 arrests and 26 officers were injured in Tottenham Aug. 6 when a peaceful protest for the man shot by police descended into rioting. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating the shooting.
“The IPCC awaits further forensic analysis to enable us to have a fuller and more comprehensive account of what shots were discharged, the sequence of events and what exactly happened,” the commission said in a statement yesterday. It said in an earlier statement during the day that “speculation that Mark Duggan was ‘assassinated’ in an execution style involving a number of shots to the head are categorically untrue.”