HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Zero Meridian (London chapter) of the National Association of Seadogs (NAS)

On 5 August 2011, a young black man, Mark Duggan, aged 29, was fatally shot by police in Tottenham, North London. A few days later during what was meant to be a peaceful demonstration in front of Tottenham Police Station, organised by or on behalf of the family of the deceased and well-meaning members of the community seeking some clarification on the circumstances surrounding the shooting incident, wanton violence broke out that resulted in the looting and burning down of local businesses and substantial damage to local properties.

The crowd that gathered at the otherwise peaceful demonstration, according to media reports, became agitated by the reluctance of the police to offer any explanation or clarification as to the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan.

There was widespread conflicting media reports suggesting that the deceased was a gangster who had fired upon the police wounding one of them in the process and he in turn was shot by police in an act of self-defence. This account of events was later found to be inaccurate forcing the otherwise taciturn Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC) uncharacteristically to correct this wrong impression. However, it was too little too late to avert the tumultuous situation that had escalated in the interim.

Meanwhile, the peaceful demonstration in front of Tottenham police station deteriorated as tempers flared as a result of the police maintaining a determined silence and the IPCC’s reluctance to swiftly quell the unfounded rumours that were circulating about the shooting. The situation rapidly became an outright carnage where local criminals began targeting local businesses for the single purpose of looting and destruction.

Within hours, the disturbances spread to other parts of the City and eventually to other major cities in England. The disorder that was on a very large scale was unprecedented and led to complete breakdown of law and order for a number of days involving a number of young people across the racial divide.

Initially, it appeared that the police were unable to cope with the intensity and scale of the riot either due to lack of numbers, equipment and intelligence or just its sheer magnitude combined with the skill of the organisers of the riots who initially appeared to have out-manoeuvred the police in terms of logistics.

Extensive television coverage demonstrated that young people were involved in large scale looting and arson incidents that involved the stealing of expensive items such as flat screen television sets, mobile phones, trainers and other luxury items such that it was clear, considering the scale of the looting, that this was not a disturbance that was aimed at burning down public buildings or institutions, as previous riots in the 1980s in Brixton, Tottenham and Toxteth, but systematic targeting of small businesses for choice items.

Moreover, the looting spree appeared well organised where young people, utilising social networking sites such as twitter and Blackberry phone messenger, were turning up at various high street locations and engaging in an orgy of looting, arson and general mayhem.

The high jacking of the peaceful demonstration in Tottenham by what can only be described as opportunistic and criminal elements is highly condemnable and unacceptable where young people deliberately targeted small businesses and property in their own community singling them out for destruction. However, we readily recognise that there must be a reason or a combination of reasons as to why these young people went on rampage.

The courts, as we know, have already started dealing with those that have appeared before it and are already applying appropriate sanctions. But no punishment, no matter how severe, will deal with the underlining issues that may have been festering under the surface before the riots.

Who We Are

The National Association of Seadogs (NAS) is non-politically affiliated, non-religious, detribalized body. It was formed in 1952 at the then University College, Ibadan, Nigeria, with the primary aim of upholding human dignity and the promotion of a just, humane and progressive society, where no one is a victim of colour, race, sex, tribe, or beliefs. It is an international organization with Branches in Europe, Asia, North America and South Africa and remains dedicated to charitable and humanitarian endeavours in whatever society in which its members find themselves. Since inception, we have continued our quest to fight societal ills and, since the riots occurred in our own communities where we live, we felt motivated to participate in this process in a bid to finding lasting solutions to this current problem.

The membership of our organization can be found in various aspects of societal life and its willingness to help society reconstruct and to build is, and remains, an asset which society can and should freely continue to exploit.

In the United Kingdom, we have all manner of professionals who work in fields such as the criminal justice system, where our members practice as Barristers and solicitors, teaching profession, civil service, social services, writers, accountancy etc. Above all, we are family people and have children of our own and we live in the communities that were directly affected by the disturbances.

Consequently, we held a seminar internally amongst our members to discuss and analyse these issues confronting society. What are the lessons that may be ascertained from the riots? We, as an organisation have identified, based on personal, empirical and anecdotal evidence the following issues as root causes of the violence. Some of the issues stand alone, but in reality the combined effect of one or more of the issues that we have identified led to the riots.

We do not support any political party or seek to attack or alienate any particular political opinion or view. Our views as expressed in this submission are to examine the issues dispassionately in order to find a lasting solution to a prevailing problem.

The Issues

We identified the following issues as the root causes of the riots. We readily concede that the evidence that we present is purely subjective and is based on the personal and professional experience of our members. However, this document represents our collective opinion that we hope the Committee will find useful in formulating public policy.

The impending budgetary cuts, we found was irrelevant and not a direct cause of the riots. However, the government may want to review some of the proposed budgetary cuts in line with more pressing issues of social inequalities, deep-seated resentment arising from socio-economic factors such as financial downturn and attendant unemployment that were smouldering under the surface that the recent riots glaringly exposed.

Nevertheless, our discussion raised the following:

Issues of Stop and Search and long-standing resentment of police by young people.

Underlining Social issues that are complex and requires multi-dimensional approach.

Lack of proper policing or lack of clear and proper guidance to the police as to what amount of force is acceptable or reasonable in a riot situation.

Lack of proper clarity of the law so far as issues or proper definition of reasonable chastisement or restraint in the schools.

Lack of morality, not on a religious basis, in society.

Incapacity of police, parents and teacher.

IPCC-delayed response to public clamouring for information.

Stop and Search

This is still a vexed issue amongst young people, particularly amongst young black men. The concerns of young black men is borne out by Home Office Statistics that tend to show that young Black men are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched on the streets than their white counterparts. The next most searched ethnic grouping is the Asians.

We believe that stop and search is an essential tool that the police must deploy to ensure that they break the back of gangs or the “hoodies” particularly young thugs who carry knives that have been deployed to devastating effect and in some cases fatally. However, it appears that the stop and search must be carried out across the board because, as the riots have vividly demonstrated, violence is not the preserve of young black men.

Therefore, it should not be used disproportionately against young black men but against young people generally across the racial divide and must be carried out in a respectful manner that does not breed the level of resentment that manifested itself during the riots.

Social Issues

We found that, essentially, it would be simplistic to suggest that poverty was an excuse for what took place during the riots. In reality, the issues were far more complex and any in-depth analysis will probably be beyond the scope of this submission. However, there appears to be an acute sense of despondency about the future and resentment of the affluent by some young people who participated in the riots whilst some others simply participated for the thrill they derived from such mindless activity.

Inadequate Or Ineffective Policing

We found that, at the onset of the riots in London, it appeared from television footage that the police were out-numbered by rioters in so far as the issue of deployment was concerned. The police at the scene were somewhat hesitant and unsure as to what level of force they should use in the circumstances. The result was that the rioters had the upper hand for a long period before they were tardily subdued. Regrettably, in some instances, not before substantial amount of property were razed to the ground.

It appeared that as a result of the fall out following the method of crowd control or “kettling” adopted by the police during the G20 demonstrations in London, the police appeared unsure on how to tackle the riots in London. The police elsewhere in Nottingham, Birmingham and Manchester had sufficient notice and they approached matters somewhat slightly differently.

Lack of Discipline at Home and School

We observed that there has been a blatant lack of discipline at home and an outright absence of discipline in our schools. There seems to be a great deal of confusion on the law of what amounts to reasonable chastisement in the home and what a teacher is permitted to do in so far as restraining errant young people in the school. Issues of political correctness and Human Rights of the children have overwhelmed the issue of proper discipline in the home and in the school whereby some parents are scared to chastise their children for fear of social workers and prosecution by the state. Teachers are unclear as to their powers to discipline our children in the school environment.

We believe, as parents, that there should not be any interference with the school regime by parents. It is common practice for parents to invade the school to interfere with the disciplinary process, invariably undermining the teachers’ authority. Nevertheless, the school must adopt a fair and consistent approach to discipline and not be quick to exclude children from school when other methods of discipline can be applied.

In effect, we advocate a regime of tough love, zero tolerance, immediate and prompt sanctioning of any misdemeanour by erring children in order to correct this attitude of impunity amongst young people.

Ironically, at the height of the riots the police were calling on the parents to call their children and ask them to return home as it was clear that some of the children involved in the disorder were in fact very young children, in some cases 11 year olds, roaming the streets late at night fermenting trouble.

Most importantly, we are rather concerned that morality, not in the religious sense, was not taught at school. The morality of young people today has been eroded and is far below what is acceptable in any civilised society such that some young people felt very justified in the manner that they happily, with sheer abandon and without any restraint, stole from shops during the riots with some of them even stopping to check that they had the right pair or size of shoes in looted shops.

The Role of IPCC

We accept that, in the first instance, the IPCC must take its time to carry out a careful investigation of any shooting incident involving the police. However, this must not be at the expense of allowing, even at the very early stage, erroneous information to permeate through the media for days without seeking to correct such false information.

This is happening too frequently and the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting incident comes to mind where erroneous information of the circumstances of that shooting was allowed to persist for so long without correction. The same issue was at stake here in Mr Duggan’s case.

It is the perception, and not the reality, of a cover-up by the police of their error that precipitated the riots. In most cases ordinary people accept that the police have an extremely difficult job and mistakes can occur. However, occasionally when such mistakes happen, the community do not readily want to criticise the police but it is the approach adopted by the police of appearing to be conducting a cover up that incites the level of resentment that was experienced during the riots.

The Lessons

In our considered opinion, there are a number of fundamental lessons that can be learnt from the riots. We feel that it is the collective responsibility of society to tackle this problem and we do not seek to embroil ourselves in any political point- scoring or seek to lay any blame at the door of any particular government or political party as the issues that we have outlined above in this submission have spanned decades.

However, we do not support any knee jerk reaction to the matter at hand. We specifically note that, as result of media frenzy or political expediency, the natural tendency as a consequence of the turmoil is for society and government to be provoked to react in a certain manner.

The courts must deal with the defendants that appear before it and apply the appropriate sanctions but undue influence must not be placed on the courts to act in a manner that it would not normally act as we have noticed that in some cases what appear to be manifestly excessive sentences have been passed.

The Solutions

Notwithstanding, wholesale reforms must be put in place to ensure that the events of the last few months are not repeated.

In incidents such as we recently experienced, the police should have clear guidelines as to what amount of force they are entitled to deploy in such circumstances in order to safe guard themselves, lives of ordinary citizens and curtail any damage to property.

Stop and Search to be used more frequently, more effectively, more efficiently, proportionately and fairly across the racial divide, in a sensitive and respectful manner.

Laws that clarify issues of reasonable chastisement of children both in the home and in the school.

Laws or guidelines that clarify the issue of restraint of young people in school by teachers.

Teaching of moral education in schools.

Reform of the IPCC such that it must be in a position to react and put the records straight as soon as issues of a fatal shooting occurs to avoid mis-information to fester in the media.

We are willing to appear before the Committee to give oral evidence on any issue arising from this submission if required to do so.

September 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011