Tottenham riots: the morning after

A shocking night of anger, violence and looting on the streets of north London.

From the BBC website:

Emergency crews remain on the streets of Tottenham, in north London, after rioting saw police attacked and buildings and vehicles set alight.

Overnight, eight officers were injured in the violence which erupted following a protest over the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan on Thursday.

Police said there were still "pockets of criminality" on Sunday morning and residents reported more looting.

The Guardian's award-winning Paul Lewis was on the ground in Tottenham last night and filed a report in which he wrote:

Looters turned up with cars and shopping trolleys to carry away stolen goods. Nearby, large groups of youths congregated in the surrounding streets with sticks, bottles and hammers.

Some wore balaclava masks, preventing cars from accessing streets as buildings were broken into. Others used large rubbish bins to form burning barricades across the road.

However some of most dramatic looting took place further west, in Wood Green, and continued into the early hours of the morning.

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. . .there was still no police presence at Wood Green high street at 4am, even after dozens of stores had been smashed and raided, setting of multiple alarms.

Around 100 youths sprinted around the highstreet, targeting game shops, electrical stores and high-street clothe chains such as H & M.

Glass windows were smashed and the looters, mostly young men masking their faces, swarmed in.

They emerged with handfuls of stolen goods. "I've got loads of G-Star," said one teenager, emerging from a clothes shop. Others came out clasping shopping bags stuffed with goods.

Three teenagers ran down the street with suitcases filled with stolen clothes. Around ten young men stood outside a smouldering Carphone Warehouse, the windows smashed. The theft was casual and brazen, with looters peering into broken shop windows to see if items of value remained.

There were shocking scenes in the suburban back-streets, where residential front-gardens were used to frantically sort and swap stolen goods.

A teenage boy, who looked aged around 14, drove an stolen minicab erratically down a side-street. On the adjacent street, a man who emerged from his home to find his car burnt-out remonstrated with other young men, who ran past carrying clothes.

Passersby, including people returning home in the early hours from nights out, were stunned to discover the lawless mayhem on the streets.

Official Responses

A Downing Street spokesman said:

The rioting in Tottenham last night was utterly unacceptable. There is no justification for the aggression the police and the public faced, or for the damage to property.

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

I condemn utterly the violence in Tottenham last night.Such disregard for public safety and property will not be tolerated, and the Metropolitan Police have my full support in restoring order.

David Lammy, the local Labour MP, said:

The Tottenham community and Mark Duggan's family and friends need to understand what happened on Thursday evening when Mark lost his life. To understand those facts, we must have calm.

Kit Malthouse, London's deputy mayor, said:

I cant see any excuse for the kind of behaviour we saw last night. It's absolutely outrageous to see it on the streets of London.

Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne, of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), said:

I understand the distress that the shooting of Mark Duggan has caused to his family and in the community and that people need answers about what happened to him.

And a local resident, examining the gutted interiors of a betting shop and post office, remarked:

They are shells, it's like the Blitz.

Photo: Getty
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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.