Home Secretary Theresa May ordered the cancelation of all police leave to counter the threat of further rioting across England after Prime Minister David Cameron said his government had started a “fightback.”
May told police throughout the country to adopt tactics used by London’s Metropolitan Police, who put 16,000 officers on the streets last night and restored calm to the capital after three nights of looting and arson in Britain’s worst rioting since the 1980s. While London was quiet, violence escalated elsewhere, particularly in Manchester, the largest city in the north.
“We needed a fightback, and a fightback has begun,” Cameron told reporters outside his Downing Street office this morning. “We will do whatever is necessary to restore order on our streets.”
Cameron said courts will sit through the night and water cannons have been put on standby. Police in mainland Britain have never used the vehicles for riot control. Officers were already authorized to use rubber bullets to curb disorder.
More than 750 people have been arrested in London and at least 500 others in provincial cities since Aug. 6, when the unrest began in the north London suburb of Tottenham, after a local man, Mark Duggan, was shot and killed by police who stopped his car intending to make an arrest. Police have said the violence since then is “copycat criminal activity.”
The violence has led shops and offices to close early, forced the cancellation of soccer games and raised security concerns a year before London stages the 2012 Olympic Games, as the deepest budget cuts since World War II cost more than 30,000 police jobs across the country. Cameron has recalled Parliament for an emergency session tomorrow.
May held a conference call with police forces around England and “ordered all special constables should be mobilized, all police leave should be canceled, and the robust tactics used on Tuesday by the Metropolitan Police adopted by all forces dealing with public disorder,” according to a statement released by the Home Office.
The prime minister said the scenes of looting and arson this week showed parts of society were “sick,” presenting police and politicians with a new challenge. “It’s as much a moral problem as a political one,” he said.
Cameron, who when in opposition said some young thugs needed “more love,” told reporters today he wanted “stronger penalties” for wrongdoers, with people convicted of violent disorder jailed. He said that he wouldn’t let “phony concerns about human rights” stop the publication of pictures of suspects.
“Sentences are already being passed, courts sat through the night last night, and will do again tonight,” Cameron said. “It is for the courts to sentence, but I would expect anyone convicted of violent disorder to be sent to prison.”
Cameron shrugged off suggestions from London Mayor Boris Johnson, a member of his Conservative Party, that the violence meant the government should review cuts to the police budget.
“We won’t do anything that will reduce the amount of visible policing on our streets. We won’t do anything that will put the public at risk,” Cameron said. “The last 24 hours has demonstrated we can get a lot out of what we currently have.”
“It’s not necessarily about huge sums of money,” Johnson later told Sky News television as he toured Enfield, one of the north London suburbs hit by rioting. “All I want to make sure is we keep the numbers up” of police on the streets.
British police are normally unarmed, and tactics for dealing with angry crowds in recent years have focused on containment, with regular use of the tactic of “kettling,” where groups are surrounded for hours and then gradually released. This technique was used last year in London against students protesting higher tuition fees.
This week, Londoners have accused the police of standing by as rioters attacked property. As disturbances spread across the city on the nights of Aug. 7 and 8, officers were unable to deploy kettling effectively, and looters could flee. Yesterday, the prime minister told commanders to use tougher tactics.
Johnson said that people could use “reasonable force” to protect their property, though he added that “I don’t want to see vigilantism.”
Greater Manchester Police said this afternoon that an 18-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of arson after a branch of Arcadia Plc’s Miss Selfridge fashion chain in the city center was set alight last night. The force said earlier that it made 113 arrests overnight. Firefighters extinguished 155 fires and about 100 homes or businesses were damaged.
West Midlands Police, who cover the city of Birmingham, said they’d made 163 arrests overnight and this morning and opened a murder inquiry after three men were killed in a road collision. Around 300 people have been arrested since the disorder began.
In Nottinghamshire, around 90 people were arrested overnight, mostly for arson and criminal damage. Five police stations were attacked with homemade firebombs. Merseyside Police made 50 arrests overnight.
Though the student protests descended into unrest last year, this week’s rioting has been the worst in London since at least 1985, when violence broke out in Tottenham in the north of the city and Brixton in the south -- both areas with large black populations -- after the deaths of black women during police searches.
A YouGov Plc poll published today found 85 percent of adults saying that most of those involved in the rioting would go unpunished. Ninety percent backed the use of water cannons, 77 percent supported the use of the army and 33 percent said they thought police should be able to use firearms against rioters. YouGov questioned 2,534 adults on Aug. 8 and 9.
English soccer leagues said yesterday they’ll decide tomorrow whether this weekend’s games, including the opening of the Premier League season, will take place as scheduled. Bristol Rovers said its home Carling Cup match against Watford tonight was postponed at the request of police, becoming the fifth to be called off since the disorder began. Tonight’s England-Netherlands exhibition match at London’s Wembley Stadium was canceled yesterday.