LONDON (Reuters) - A breakdown of relations between the police and public, record youth unemployment and poverty were behind the violence in a deprived London district that led to Britain’s worst rioting in decades, a community-led inquiry found on Tuesday.
The report said those factors inflamed public anger sparked by the police shooting last August of a 29-year-old local man in Tottenham, northeast London six months ago.
Rioting began in Tottenham and spread to other parts of London and cities across England. Five people died and scores were injured during five nights of violence that only ended when police flooded the streets.
What triggered the violence has divided public opinion, with Prime Minister David Cameron blaming “criminality pure and simple.” Others put it down to greed and amorality, while some point to broader problems such as inequality and a weak economy.
The latest attempt to understand the riots came in a report from nine community leaders in Tottenham, including youth workers and clerics. They oversaw a six-week “Citizens’ Inquiry” that interviewed more than 700 local people.
It concluded that a long-term decline in relations with the police was one of the main triggers. The use of stop and search powers by officers was seen as “excessive and disrespectful.”
Many locals spoke of mutual mistrust and thought the police response to the disorder in Tottenham was too slow and would have been more robust if it had been a wealthier area.
“Large parts of the community feel that Tottenham was left to burn,” the report concluded. “A concerted effort is needed by all parties to rebuild a more positive relationship between community in Tottenham and the police.”
David Lammy, the area’s opposition Labour lawmaker, expressed “dismay and disbelief” that senior police had turned down an invitation to attend the report’s launch.
“That is a strategic mistake and is indicative of some of the strategic mistakes that have led us to this point,” he said.
One of Britain’s most diverse areas, just over half of Tottenham’s population comes from ethnic minority backgrounds and 200 languages are spoken there.
It is known around the world as the home of Tottenham Hotspur, the soccer club that is currently third in England’s top league. But the area also has a history of tension between the public and police. In 1985, a policeman was stabbed to death by a mob during riots on a public housing estate in Tottenham.
Last summer’s violence began on August 6 following a protest over the fatal police shooting of local man Mark Duggan. Media reports said he was armed, had links to local gangs and was under surveillance by police investigating gun crime.
His family has denied that he was involved with gangs and has described him as a devoted family man who would avoid confrontation with the police.
The citizens’ report found that some rioters lacked hope at a time when a fifth of young people are jobless. The disorder gave them a rare taste of power, it said.
“It was the best night of the year,” one 17-year-old student told the inquiry. “It finally felt like all the people (were) coming together, united to do something, even if that something was ultimately destructive.”
A parliamentary report last December blamed the police for a slow response to the riots that gave the impression they had lost control, encouraging others to take to the streets.