HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Cambridgeshire Constabulary


1. The purpose of this evidence submission is to provide evidence to the committee of the views of Cambridgeshire Constabulary around the large scale public disorder that occurred around the country during August 2011.

2. Cambridgeshire Constabulary supplied Police Support Units as mutual aid resources from the beginning of the disorder and continues to supply units to date.

3. The evidence supplied on this submission has been provided by a number of members of staff who were involved in the Cambridgeshire policing operation.

4. In terms of police and community relations the Constabulary has recently responded to two English Defence League (EDL) demonstrations in the county. Community relations forged before, during and after those events provided us with the mechanisms for effective communications with the people of Cambridgeshire.

5. The Constabulary has used social media widely during the large scale disorder, particularly Twitter and the use of our force web-site. We tweeted 80 times and we have increased our followers three fold from 1,200 to 4,000. Images of disorder suspects received more than 21,000 hits and resulted in eight arrests. The force had a 200 per cent increase in web-site traffic (from 6,600 to 13,300) during the period. Our officers did use social media during public order deployments.

6. The Constabulary did not see evidence of any particular groups in promoting disorder.

7. Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)/National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) guidance is considered sufficient.

8. Deployment of officers was challenging for the Constabulary in terms of numbers, time and distances involved.

9. Whilst many forces train to Common Minimum Standards this is not consistent with the tactics undertaken by the Metropolitan Police.

10. The Constabulary responded effectively to requests from the Police National Information Co-ordination Centre (PNICC) and deployed 120 officers per day for a considerable period of time. The force only has 240 officers Police Support Unit (PSU) trained and abstraction has stretched the forces resilience.

11. Our force lost contact with the members of planning teams from other forces which did create some challenges for us logistically.

12. Cambridgeshire Constabulary is of the opinion that our officers are well trained in public order. We use Common Minimum Standards as our tactic type. We train with our regional colleagues and the training has been observed by the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and has received praise, particularly through its use of members of the public, including young people, as role players.

13. We are of the opinion that present legal powers are sufficient.

14. The Constabulary did have extremely limited resources throughout the period both in staffing and equipment terms.

15. Anecdotally, we do not believe that our officers were not operationally affected by the age demographic of “rioters”.

16. We believe that Riot Damages Act 1886 is unhelpful and that the legislation should be re-visited.

17. We recommend that the presumptions around large scale public disorder are considered by the committee.

18. The Constabulary does not consider any of the evidence submitted to be sensitive.

19. The Constabulary does not wish any of its officers or staff to provide oral evidence.

20. Cambridgeshire Constabulary acknowledges that this submission will become the property of the Home Office Committee and that no public use may be made of it without permission.


1. Police relations with communities where violence took place before the riots including similarities with and differences from previous public disorder events:

1.1Cambridgeshire has had two recent large scale demonstrations involving the English Defence League (EDL). Similarities with the recent incidents may be that unresolved issues within the community became the catalyst, the trigger point, for violent incidents seen around the country. Underlying issues and unresolved grievances with sections of the community towards the EDL within Peterborough may have contributed to a recent violent assault within the city. Such catalysts provide the trigger points for violent incidents which then take on a “life of their own”.

1.2Our policing response to the EDL demonstrations included a significant communications and engagement plan. Social media provided active and valuable channels throughout the policing operations. As a result the county suffered no significant disorder.

1.3During the recent incidents Peterborough formed a Multi Agency Communications Group (MACG). The group contained a representative from the Youth Parliament.

2. The role of social media in spreading disorder and in the response to it:

2.1Cambridgeshire Constabulary made extensive use of social media during the recent countrywide events.

2.2A significant amount of information that was posted by the public on Twitter about disorder within Cambridgeshire and we used this information to respond to reports of incidents. For example, the constabulary investigated a report posted on Twitter of a fire being lit in Peterborough and that this may be related to the large scale disorder. When officers visited the scene they discovered that the report of smoke was in fact steam from the Nene Valley Railway.

2.3We used Twitter, our force website and e-cops (an e-mail subscriber service) to keep the public up to date about our current county situation. Our objectives also included dispelling rumours and requesting information to identify individuals involved in our single incident of disorder.

2.4From 8–14 August the force tweeted 80 times and responded to 69 @mentions or joined with other Twitter conversations relevant to national tensions and their local impact.

2.5The constabulary’s Twitter following increased more than three-fold from 1,200 to 4,000 during this period and most new followers continue to follow our feed extending its value as a tool to regularly communicate with the public online.

2.6Nine images of individuals connected with a single public order incident in Cambridge received more than 21,000 hits. They were extensively re-tweeted including two images re-tweeted by over 100 users. Eight of the 14 arrests resulted from Twitter.

2.7The force received a significant number of messages of support and thanks from the Twitter community which were posted internally and played a role in boosting the morale of officers and staff.

2.8There was a 200% increase in traffic, from 6,600 to 13,300, to the force website during this period. 60% of those visiting our site were new.

2.9The constabulary recognises the advantages and disadvantages of social media. Our Corporate Communications Department is an integral part of policing operations and the use of social media is a legitimate operational front line tactic. The speed and span of communications through social media can “outstrip” the ability of police to respond in a traditional way. Our view, based on our successful experience is that if this does occur we should use social media to counteract this.

2.10During debriefs we identified anecdotal evidence of officers broadcasting images from the disorder using Facebook to illustrate what they were facing. This prompted some calls locally to ban the use of such devices by officers. However, this needs to be set against the operational benefits of using those devices to enable details to be sent to those self same officers.

3. The role of organised groups in promoting disorder:

3.1Cambridgeshire Constabulary did not see any particular groups seeking to promote disorder.

3.2Any incidents of disorder tended to be caused by individuals seeking to fuel their own agendas and to maintain the momentum of disorder experienced nationally. The EDL were trying to make a conscious effort to distance themselves from the disorder and it’s associations with their ideals.

3.3An operational officer performing mutual aid suggested that there was “no organisation in any groups”. He also described disorder in London as “anarchy at its earliest beginnings with people doing what they pleased”.

4. The role of the IPCC, HMIC and ACPO/NPIA public order guidance:

4.1The Constabulary has no knowledge of, and is not in a position to comment on the activities undertaken by the IPCC following the shooting in London which is cited by many commentators as a trigger for the public disorder which followed. However, our extensive experience of dealing with critical incidents such as the recent disorder and many before (eg Soham, the Bichard enquiry, an adverse inspection report, deaths in custody, community cohesion issues and murders of victims from minority groups) have all demonstrated the value and importance of good, timely, consistent and repeated communications work from a senior spokesperson. It follows that the IPCC must do the same.

4.2The view of the force is that ACPO/ NPIA guidance around public order is sufficient and that no further guidance or clarity is required. The full range of tactical options currently being trained is well able to meet the risks we experience. The issues from our observations related only to the logistical issues of getting sufficient officers on the ground quickly enough to use these tactics.

5. The techniques used by the police to quell the rioting, including: a) Decisions taken over the deployment of police officers (availability of officers, response times), b) The use of standard techniques: containment, dispersal, specialist public order officers, dogs, horses, c) The deployment of non-standard techniques: armoured police cars, baton rounds, water cannon, curfews:

5.1Decisions taken over the deployment of officers should properly reflect the extant need to respond to threat harm and risk informed by intelligence. In Cambridgeshire we incrementally increased the availability of resources by extended tours of duty, cancellation of rest days and finally “back to back” shifts for all officers. A further step of a cancellation of holiday leave was considered but not required to meet with requests from Police National Information Co-ordination Centre (PNICC) and our local demand. Our view therefore is that it was not any shortfall in resources that presented deployment problems, but simply the inescapable logistics of getting these officers on the ground.

5.2Whilst many forces train to Common Minimum Standards this is not consistent with the tactics undertaken by the Metropolitan Police. Clearly, any joint deployment in the future will be hindered if this is not changed.

6. Variations in the responses of different police forces:

6.1Cambridgeshire Constabulary responded to a PNICC request to provide mutual aid for the disorder problems.

6.2We were able to provide two Police Support Units (PSU) to the Metropolitan Police District (MPD) during the first week of the disorder as well as providing two within our own force. This continued, for example over the weekend 3–5 September Cambridgeshire PSUs were still being deployed to the MPD to support policing operations in London.

6.3This deployment involved 120 officers every day. The constabulary has approximately 240 officers trained in PSU.

6.4With normal abstraction for rest days and sickness our force resilience was stretched and at one point we decided to send drivers down to the MPD to ensure the safe return of our officers due to the long number of hours that our officers were deployed.

6.5Consideration should be given to re-visiting national mutual aid agreements in order to recognise the differences between pre-planned and spontaneous incidents.

7. Lessons to be learnt from the police response to previous public order incidents:

7.1We have no specific comments to make within this area.

8. Training of officers to deal with riots:

8.1Cambridgeshire Constabulary is of the opinion that its officers are appropriately trained for public order policing whatever the scale.

8.2The force trains to Common Minimum Standards (CMS) along with the majority of forces.

8.3Our views around the use of tactic types are contained in previous paragraphs, however, it is important to recognise the affects of this on training. It is as impractical to train two tactic types together as it is to deploy them together. When training together individual forces maintain interoperability by using their own tactic types and maintaining effective communications about the objectives to be achieved.

8.4Regional forces visit Cambridgeshire to take part in public order exercises. During these exercises forces will use either Metropolitan Tactics or CMS and use the interoperability described in paragraph 8.3.

8.5The regional exercises described in paragraph 8.4 have been observed by officers and staff of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and the force has received positive comment about them.

8.6PSU training within Cambridgeshire is as “life like” as possible and uses members of the public as role players including young people. This provides officers with the most realistic conditions and ensures that our officers are proportionate in their actions.

9. Whether there were any constraints on the police such as limited resources or powers:

9.1We believe that the present legal powers are sufficient to effectively police public disorder situations.

9.2The constabulary did have limited resources during this period. An operational commander described resourcing during this period as “cut to the bone with no surplus, no fat”. At times there were gaps in our resourcing that were dynamically risk assessed to avoid compromising local response to crime and disorder.

9.3Vehicle resilience proved challenging for the constabulary. Our garage staff were fully stretched keeping our vehicles going. At one stage we had to hire vehicles to maintain our resilience.

10. Whether there should be any changes to the legislation regulating normal policing processes during times of major disorder:

10.1We believe that the current legislation provide us with all of the necessary options we need.

11. Whether the age of many of the rioters constrained the police in their use of anti-riot technique:

11.1Anecdotal evidence from our officers that were deployed in London during the first week suggests that there were no particular age groups involved in the disorder.

11.2We would refer to comments made in paragraph 8.6 and the use of young people in the public order training environment. A public order tactics advisor suggests that this helps officers in live situations. The same officer went on to stress the importance of this issue as it helps our officers train for the reality of situations.

12. The application of the Riot Damages Act 1886:

12.1The Riot Damages Act is unhelpful. The arson in Croydon was, arguably, not part of riot. It is not clear whether media terms such as “riotous behaviour” are a de facto determination that an incident was, in fact, a “riot”. It would be helpful to revisit this legislation.

13. To revisit relevant recommendations made in previous Home Affairs Committee reports into policing the G20 protests and Knife crime, and other relevant recommendations, to assess if they have been implemented by successive governments:

13.1An operational commander suggested that at present the presumption is that the starting point for the police in protest situations is that protest is assumed to be peaceful. The historical approach was that police traditionally assumed that protest would be violent unless it could be seen that it was not.

13.2We would wish the committee to consider the presumptions around policing large scale public disorder.

September 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011