London: Re-offending By ‘Feral Underclass’ Blamed For English Riots

6 Sep

NEWS UPDATE:

LONDON (AP) — Three-quarters of those arrested in Britain’s riots last month had criminal records, London’s mayor said Tuesday, blaming the U.K.’s criminal justice system for failing to turn offenders away from crime.

“What was going to make you more likely to riot? It was previous contact with the police, and that’s the problem that we need to tackle,” Mayor Boris Johnson told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee.

The four days of rioting, triggered by a fatal police shooting Aug. 4 in north London‘s Tottenham neighborhood, were the worst civil disturbances to hit Britain since the 1980s. Five people were killed and scores of stores were looted and buildings burned in several cities, including London and Birmingham.

The Ministry of Justice says more than 1,500 people have been arrested and have appeared in court to answer charges from the riots. Some 22 percent of them were aged 10 to 17, and 91 percent were male.

Johnson said three in four had a criminal record, but a full 83 percent of those arrested have had previous contact with police.

Johnson’s comments echoed those of Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, who said in an article in the Guardian newspaper that Britain’s justice system was failing to deal with a “feral underclass, cut off from the mainstream in everything but its materialism.”

“In my view, the riots can be seen in part as an outburst of outrageous behavior by the criminal classes, individuals and families familiar with the justice system, who haven’t been changed by their past punishments,” Clarke wrote.

Tim Godwin, the acting head of the Metropolitan police, said police initially focused on known offenders including gang members. As more suspects are arrested, he said the proportion of those with criminal records may decrease.

He added it was “absolutely essential” analyze the type of previous offenses committed by rioters.

“We have in London been seeking to speed up justice, make it more relevant, make it more relevant to communities, and that’s something that we need to do,” Godwin said. “The amount of people who have previous convictions does pose questions for us.”

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, and  guardian.co.uk,-Riots break out in North London

Kenneth Clarke said that the riots were an ‘outburst of outrageous behaviour by the criminal classes.’ Photograph: Kerim Okten/EPA/Corbis

The justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, has blamed the riots that swept across England last month on a “broken penal system” that has failed to rehabilitate a group of hardcore offenders he describes as the “criminal classes”.

Revealing for the first time that almost 75% of those aged over 18 charged with offences committed during the riots had prior convictions, Clarke said the civil unrest had laid bare an urgent need for penal reform to stop reoffending among “a feral underclass, cut off from the mainstream in everything but its materialism”.

Writing in the Guardian, Clarke dismisses criticism of the severity of sentences handed down to rioters and said judges had been “getting it about right”. However, he adds that punishment alone was “not enough”.

“It’s not yet been widely recognised, but the hardcore of the rioters were in fact known criminals. Close to three quarters of those aged 18 or over charged with riot offences already had a prior conviction. That is the legacy of a broken penal system – one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful.”

He says: “In my view, the riots can be seen in part as an outburst of outrageous behaviour by the criminal classes – individuals and families familiar with the justice system, who haven’t been changed by their past punishments.”

Clarke uses his intervention to call for the coalition government to adopt a “renewed mission” in response to the riots that addressed an “appalling social deficit”.

His comments will reignite the debate on the causes of the disturbances, which the prime minister, David Cameron, has said “were not about poverty”.

The first attempt at an empirical study of the causes and consequences of the riots was announced by the Guardian and the London School of Economics on Monday.

The study – Reading the Riots – will involve researchers interviewing hundreds of people involved in the disturbances. The research, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, will also include interviews with residents, police and the judiciary, and an advanced analysis of more than 2.5m riot-related Twitter messages.

The project is based on a groundbreaking survey conducted in the aftermath of the Detroit riots in 1967 by the Detroit Free Press newspaper and Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

The professor who led the Detroit study, Phil Meyer, is advising on the research into the disturbances in England. The LSE’s involvement will be led by Professor Tim Newburn, head of the university’s social policy department.

There is little agreement in Westminster about the causes of the worst civil unrest in England in a generation. The government has resisted calls for a public inquiry. A “victims’ panel” announced by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, will take evidence from residents in areas where there was rioting and report preliminary findings in November. The four-person panel will be chaired by Darra Singh, chief executive of JobCentre Plus.

A parliamentary hearing into the riots will on Tuesday hear evidence from the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the acting commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Tim Godwin. The home secretary, Theresa May, will speak to the home affairs select committee about the unrest on Thursday.

“There is an urgent need for some rigorous social research which will look, without prejudice, at the causes and the consequences of the recent riots,” Newburn said. “Crucially, it is vital that we speak with those involved in the disturbances and those affected by them to try to understand any lessons for public policy.”

Executives at Twitter’s headquarters in California authorised the collation of 2.5m tweets, pooled from hashtags relating to the riots and their aftermath, so they could form part of the study. A spokesman for the company said: “Twitter provided publicly available information that is accessible to researchers and others.”

The project will also interrogate a second database, compiled by the Guardian, containing 1,100 defendants who have appeared in court charged with riot-related offences. The data, covering more than 70% of the defendants processed through English courts for offences linked to the disorder, indicates that sentencing by crown court judges has replicated the punitive response of magistrates in response to the riots.

An initial analysis of the crown court cases suggests the three most severe sentences relating to the riots were handed to individuals who did not directly participate in the disorder, but were convicted of inciting riots via Facebook.

They include Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan and Jordan Blackshaw, who received four years for inciting riots in their home towns of Warrington and Northwich. None of the messages posted by either individual led to a riot and both men are appealing against their sentences, which were condemned by some quarters.

However, Clarke warns against criticism of the judiciary. “The judiciary in this country is independent and we should trust judges and magistrates to base decisions on individual circumstances,” he writes. “Injustices can occur in any system: but that’s precisely why we enjoy the services of the court of appeal.”

The tone of the justice secretary’s article – his first public response to the disorder – contrasts with that of the prime minister, who has taken a more hardline approach and denied that the riots were connected to poverty.

David Cameron has described the riots as “criminality pure and simple” and blamed the “the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations”.

Clarke writes: “The general recipe for a productive member of society is no secret. It has not changed since I was inner-cities minister 25 years ago. It’s about having a job, a strong family, a decent education and beneath it all, an attitude that shares in the values of mainstream society. What is different now is that a growing minority of people in our nation lack all of those things and indeed, have substituted an inflated sense of expectations for a commitment to hard graft.”

NEWS UPDATE:

By Sivamohan Valluvan.

guardian.co.ukArticle history

Manchester riots

Hundreds of youths joined the riots through Manchester city centre. Photograph: Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty

Alicia Jones (22) knows both Salford and Manchester well. For her it was the negligible role of “race” that was the most surprising feature of the Manchester riots. Having sensed the character of the London unrest, she, mixed-race herself, had anticipated Manchester would assume a racially charged tone. “Things first kicked off in Langworthy, a white area and one of the poorest in the northwest,” she said. “I expected it to be Moss-side, that would be first. If it was Moss-side, then it would’ve been called a race riot. But because of how things happened, it’s better called some kind of class riot.”

Alicia also believes it is a mistake to dismiss the events as apolitical. “For me the riots are valid. Obviously not in the destruction they did. But in what they exposed. It is a true representation of the poor youth’s condition. They are saying: ‘We have nothing. Absolutely nothing.'” If the riots in Manchester were a spectacle of perverse consumerism (‘shopping riots’), by the same token, they also revealed the absence of credible life prospects for many of the city’s young people.

Danny Lee is 23 and from Longsight. Involved in much criminal activity in his own teenage years, he laments that “kids over here don’t really ever think about property and careers, families and pensions.” For them there are no such certainties. Instead, he claims, all they have left is the pursuit of consumerist thrills that provide momentary pleasure.

This disaffection is amplified when considered in light of the regeneration that has become synonymous with post-1990s Manchester. The much-touted revival is mocked by Danny as being uneven, having little to no beneficial impact upon the “rougher” parts of the city. “Look at the Quays,” he tells me. “What does it mean to them [the Salford poor]?”

The boast that Manchester is now the 15th best city worldwide for attracting inward investment is belied by the fact that it also hosts some of the nation’s most disadvantaged wards, where unemployment can exceed 50%. There are, of course, poorer or equally deprived wards in other cities. But in Manchester, the sense of felt disparity is intensified by the “underclass” being a regular witness to a gentrifying, upwardly mobile cityscape which appears increasingly remote.

With regeneration comes a proliferation in Manchester’s consumer options. Yet, for the younger people excluded, it only reinforces their sense of inadequacy. After all, it is as consumers that many of them find some semblance of purpose in the first place. “The riots are about a kind of hatred of themselves,” Alicia explains. “What do they have now that is meaningful?” Until they are able to expect more of their life, to have dignifying long-term goals that many take for granted, these frustrations will only worsen. She concludes that this is the most urgent predicament facing local communities and central government and hopes that now they will take a genuine interest.

Names have been changed; Sivamohan Valluvan is a sociology PhD candidate at the University of Manchester. His work is concerned with issues of race, integration and citizenship among younger members of minority communities

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