Let These Riots be a Turning Point

09/08/2011 23:38 | Updated 09 October 2011

I listened to the international papers review on the World Service yesterday morning with a growing sense of shame. Events in London over the last three days have cast a long shadow over our hosting of the Olympics next year.

This is one of many sad aspects of the situation. The Olympic facilities, unveiled a fortnight ago look magnificent, came in under budget and were finished ahead of schedule. The first major infrastructure project in the UK you could say that about for many years. Now other countries are, understandably, questioning our ability to host them safely.

I am sure that London and the other cities affected last night will recover. For individuals and businesses affected the road ahead will be particularly difficult. Interviewed on the World at One yesterday Lord Harris talked about setting up a fund for the victims and I hope that takes off.

Lessons will be learnt. Of greatest urgency will be a review of policing. I take my hat off to the Police, many of whom have had leave cancelled and have been working with hardly a break facing situations of extreme danger.

I have also tried to imagine how I would feel if my home was on fire, my street taken over by a mob and the emergency services arriving too little, too late.

But we have to recognise that this scale of violence is unprecedented. Regrettably the Police cannot be everywhere at once and our tradition of policing by consent assumes that the sort of behaviour we have seen is rare and confined to small numbers. It is a very sad day indeed that this appears to no longer to be the case.

The role of social media has been pivotal, on this occasion allowing rioters to get ahead of the Police. I fervently hope that the casual abuse of social media by rioters will be their undoing. It is virtually impossible to erase content from Facebook. It will be difficult to identify hooded and masked thugs from CCTV footage. But some of them will have left tracks on Twitter and Facebook that will hopefully lead to their identification. There must be a rich source of evidence on these sites.

I believe we must now create a perfect synergy between cause and effect. Of course there are several causes of these riots. But chief among them in my view is the detachment of many young people from the consequences of their actions. This is hardly surprising given how so many perpetrators of lower level anti-social behaviour get away with vandalism, graffiti spraying and intimidation every day across Britain. And get away with it for years.

Shaun Bailey (one of the best Conservative candidates not to get elected last year) summed up the other key driver of the violence. Shaun stated simply that over the last twenty years young people have been taught their rights without any corresponding education in their responsibilities.

As our Police Force morphed in to a "Police Service" and got drawn in more and more to what should properly be regarded as social work, rather than policing, the rot set in.

We now have the opportunity to change this course and reassert the rights of law abiding citizens. The Police will be enraged by the level of violence and hatred directed at them by the mob. They will respond by leaving no stone unturned in the hunt for the guilty. The Crown Prosecution Service and the courts must step up this time and support the change we need to see by bringing as many prosecutions as possible and delivering the maximum sentences available.

As politicians we need to look at the law and Police powers. It is likely that emergency powers will be considered by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary as we have come to the point that order simply has to be restored. And we need a more effective means of nipping future rioting and looting in the bud.

It would be unwise to rush to judgement all these matters but there are other areas that need to be considered. The issue of masks and other forms of obscuring your identity should be treated as an aggravating factor, resulting in a longer sentence. So should the mere participation in a riot.

Many people instinctively believe that if 'everyone around them' is committing crime and disorder that it gives them carte blanche to join in and grab as many material goods as they can lay their hands on. Courts must have the powers to demonstrate to these people that this is not the case and that they will receive a harsher punishment than they would if they acted alone.