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Claims Of Police Communication Breakdown During Riots Rejected

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LONDON RIOTS
A riot policeman watches as firefighters tackle blaze | PA

Allegations that the police were forced to use personal mobile phones during the summer riots after their multi-billion pound radio system failed have been branded as "completely inaccurate".

A review into August's unrest from the Police Federation leaked to The Observer details failings which purport to explain why the police were constantly playing catch-up as events unfolded. The report claims that some forces were even unsure of how many officers were on duty after the collapse of the official Airwave communication system.

The newspaper also said: "The Airwave network was supposed to improve the way emergency services in London responded to a crisis after damning criticism for communication failures following the 7 July bombings in 2005."

The internal review also reveals that after the trouble erupted, "forces often did not know how may officers they had on or off shift" and senior officers took charge in some places "often without the local knowledge of the areas", making it easier to be outmanoeuvred by rioters.

However, Airwave, who will also provide a communication system for up to 18,000 staff and volunteers at next year's London Olympics, has flatly rejected the claims and expressed its 'disappointment' with the Police Federation report.

In a statement, Airwave said: "We want to make it absolutely clear that this information is entirely inaccurate.

"Despite the unprecedented levels of police officers and other emergency service users accessing the Network... it operated exactly as it is designed to, providing an extremely high level of service to officers from 26 different police forces and the ambulance and fire services.

"Throughout the period of the riots, our enhanced monitoring of the Network and continuous communication with the user community enabled us to provide an optimal service to those working on the front line."

Airwave added that after the riots, it worked closely with the emergency services to review the handling of the event and was encouraged that its "performance was widely praised." This included comments from Nick Gargan, Chief Executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), who said: "The network itself coped very well with the increased usage and capacity issues of moving vast numbers of police officers to disorder locations.

"In the London area, the average number of police officers on duty in a night was about 2,000 and the network was able to cope with a total of 16,000 officers... We believe this was a great example of partnership working between the police service and Airwave in very trying circumstances."

Scotland Yard last week released an interim report into the riots which found there were not enough officers to deal with the unprecedented scale and spread of the disorder.

Chiefs also said intelligence gathering "could not cope with the scale and speed of the spread of disorder".

Filed by David Hobbs