HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Southwark Council

Foreword and Executive Summary from Cllr Richard Livingstone, Cabinet Member for Community Safety

The recent disturbances in Southwark had a huge impact on our community, local public services and businesses across the borough. Whatever deep-seated issues may be present in our society, the answer does not lie in tearing down our high streets and there is no justification for such despicable acts of violence. There was a section of people intent on causing needless harm and proportionate justice must be brought to them.

It would be all too easy to draw quick, simple conclusions and formulate hasty recommendations for change, without appreciating and understanding the full facts. In Southwark, these facts continue to come to light. We continue to work with our partners in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to find out who did what and where. This will take time. Our submission to the select committee therefore does not attempt to set out any specific cause for the disorder or definitive conclusions to act on.

Instead, this submission presents some initial findings around the disturbances in Southwark. It introduces evidence which may help in drawing out what lessons need to be learned by the police and others, including what resources and tools (legislative or otherwise) may be required from government. We would also like to offer our future input into the work of the committee, including oral evidence, as we continue to learn more about who was involved in the disorder and what may have caused them to become involved.

In considering the evidence, I would like to draw to the attention of the committee the amazingly positive response of the broader community in the aftermath of the disturbances. Both spontaneously and with the support of the council, people have come together in Southwark in ways that have underlined the strength of our community. This has been more than just through getting involved in the immediate clean-up operation, with a broom in hand, welcome as that was. Local people across the borough have shown a spirit and determination to move on from the disturbances and have wanted to express this explicitly through the “Peckham Wall of Love” and “Walworth Bunting”, photographs of which I attach.

My Cabinet colleagues and I have begun a series of “community conversations”, with the purpose of finding out from people directly why they thought the disturbances happened, what is needed to support local communities and how to help businesses, in particular smaller, independent traders. We are also asking local people what they might do themselves to help prevent such disturbances blighting our communities ever again. We would be pleased to share what emerges from these conversations with the committee, alongside our in-depth local research and analysis.

Initial Findings on the Disturbances in Southwark

1. On Monday 8 August Southwark experienced disturbances across the borough, with concentration of activities in places like Rye Lane, Peckham and on the Walworth Road. The disturbances were a difficult and challenging time for all concerned. Pressure was put on stretched local resources. In some cases businesses reported long delays in police responses because police resources were so stretched during the disturbances.

2. Locally we are in the early stages of a long term police investigation and there will be significantly more arrests and charges that will take place. The council is working with MPS Southwark on those charged with offences related to the disturbances.

3. It is impossible to draw conclusions as to the cause of the riots at this time. There is a considerable amount of evidence that has not yet been fully assessed and the emerging picture appears to vary from one part of London to another. Any change of policy would need to be properly evidence based and relevant to the specific local circumstances.

4. Local analysis of those arrested and charged to date indicates a wide variety of individual circumstances, with no clear pattern emerging. The council is assessing these on an individual basis. Serious disorder was organised through social media sites and involved a cross section from the community. Based on the limited information known at this time, the majority of offending in Southwark is not believed to be linked to gangs. However, that is not to conclusively say that gang elements were not involved.

5. As of the end of August, initial evidence of those arrested for Southwark shows that there were 339 crimes reported and 76 people have been charged. Of those charged, 84% reside in Southwark, 49% were 18-23 years old, 10% were under 18, and some two fifths committed an offence over 2 kilometres from their home address.

6. In some instances, the same home address has been given by multiple people. To date, 53 Council tenancies have been identified as the home address of one or more of those arrested. Initial letters have been sent to the relevant tenants. In all cases follow up action is being taken and each tenant is being visited by experienced officers to explore their individual circumstances and recommend further action where appropriate.

7. It is understood that almost 40% of the charges made so far relate to commercial robbery. 140 local businesses have reported damage and looting to the police. In addition, there are businesses that have not been directly impacted by the criminal activity but lost trade during the period of the disturbances and immediately after (for example, their loss resulted from having to close due to the threat of disorder, rather than because of direct, physical damage). It is important that when considering business support and relief, for example the High Street Recovery Scheme, the government use the most complete and accurate data available.

8. About 50% of the businesses affected are small, independent traders who operate on very low margins and therefore are at greatest risk in terms of survival. Some of these lost special materials which are difficult to replace or even have to be recreated from scratch. Discussions with insurance companies reveal a fear that areas impacted may face punitive premiums. The council has set up an emergency recovery fund of £100,000 to provide immediate support to local businesses to get them “back on their feet” and will closely review whether this provision is enough. The council will also be contributing £20,000 to the Mayor of London’s high street fund. The business community is looking to the government to provide assistance as well, not only to help rebuild our local high streets in the short term but also look at sustainable solutions in the medium term.

9. The committee may wish to consider what work may be required to reassure business that the police will be there to support and protect where necessary in the future. Equally, modern measures to improve business security, including “safe by design” style advice from the police to prevent over-fortification of premises can be examined.

The “Community Conversations” in Southwark

10. In the days following the disturbances the Leader of the Council, Cabinet Members and senior officers met with community representatives and members of the public to listen, learn and respond to what needed to be done by way of help for local areas.

11. This series of community conversations were inspired from the community-led “Peckham Wall of Love”, where local people set up a space to post their messages on what they thought of the disturbances and their affection for their local neighbourhood. The Wall has been retained by the Council as a symbol of the positive and constructive community response to the disturbances and the community conversations continue.

12. The first community conversation took place in Peckham and local people were only too happy to share their thoughts on what happened during the disturbances, what some of the causes may have been and how to move forward positively. One typically heartfelt response was:

“They stole from shops, frightening behaviour towards normal citizens, destroying property that is important to the community. Opportunism, a way of stealing, taking stuff from electrical shops like Comet and other shops like the clothes shops, trainers and all that sort of thing.

Public relations are good, we live in a multi-cultural society in Peckham, and I think tolerance towards one another is important and respect for one another is important. I try my best to behave like this.

People need to use their conscience more. I try to get on with my neighbours and show kindness and show respect. I am interested in how we treat one another. I try to turn the other cheek and still forgive them.”

13. What is becoming clear is that local people identify no single cause to the disturbances or simple solution for delivery. People’s comments highlighted the complexity of trying to analyse the disturbances at this time. The council would be pleased to share other findings from our community conversations and outcomes of local research and analysis to help inform the committee’s work.

September 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011