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The 2011 riots: fanning the flames

In concentrating on a one-track narrative of 'racist police' commentators on the 10th anniversary of the widespread disorder have chosen to ignore the positives says Chris Hobbs.

The 2011 riots: fanning the flames

Date - 9th August 2021
By - Chris Hobbs
5 Comments 5 Comments}

It was inevitable that the tenth anniversary of the death of Mark Duggan and the resultant riots saw an evisceration of the Metropolitan police in particular and UK policing in general.

The focus of the main stream media was less on the circumstances of Duggan’s death but on policing both before the riots and up to the present day. The constant theme was that the police were racist before the riots and nothing has changed. Familiar faces were wheeled out to make this point. These included “community activist” Stafford Scott, whose tweets frequently refer to police as ‘pigs’

Attempting to find anyone from the policing community allowed airtime or column inches to rebut the charge was virtually impossible. There was the occasional official quoted statement but overall, TV news coverage was unquestionably hostile bringing back memories of the attitude prevalent towards UK policing in the immediate aftermath of the death of George Floyd.

If there was to be justified criticism of police ten years ago, it should perhaps have included criticism of ACPO ranked officers in the immediate aftermath of Duggan’s death. The Met’s response to the riots, in the form of a glossy magazine, failed to answer some pertinent questions, the most obvious of which was the absence of ACPO ranked officers on the Saturday following Duggan’s death.

Local officers were apprehensive and the safer neighbourhood teams (SNT’s) wanted to be out in their communities pouring oil on troubled waters and gathering intelligence yet no days off were cancelled other than those of the Broadwater Farm’s SNT, however they weren’t permitted to enter the estate. Even on the Sunday after the riot, those officers weren’t asked to come into work but most did so of their own volition.

One obvious question, namely whether a riot would have occurred if an ACPO ranked officer had been within easy travelling distance of Tottenham police station, has never been considered. Quite why one of the two Gold commanders or an equivalent ranking nominee wasn’t at New Scotland Yard (NSY) in the aftermath of such a critical incident remains unanswered. Tottenham is about 30 minutes away from NSY and the journey would be a great deal quicker in a vehicle travelling on ‘blues and twos.’

There was also much policing to commend as the situation rapidly deteriorated. The Chief Inspector, Adi Adelekan, originally in charge of policing a Spurs pre-season friendly and who the protesters didn’t deem of sufficient status was reportedly insulted and abused by some of those present. It’s worth noting that throughout the evening he acted and led with bravery and distinction. The decision of the mounted inspector, whose unit had been deployed to the football, to keep his radio turned on so that he was able to return to Tottenham as the situation worsened, may well have saved Tottenham ‘nick’ from being raised to the ground.

Officers who were at Tottenham as the violence reached life-threatening proportions, performed with great bravery as indeed did officers throughout the period of serious disorder which continued over the next three days.

No positives? 

Those TV producers putting together their ‘police critical’ programmes chose to ignore any policing positives in the years before Mark Duggan’s death, the most obvious being Operation Trident. Trident was set up at the behest of black community activists who were concerned at the ongoing carnage within their community as a result of ‘gang warfare’ precipitated by the arrival of so called ‘yardie’ criminals from Jamaica.

Over the years Trident officers ensured the gunmen including murderers were arrested, convicted and where appropriate, deported. Part of their success was due to the ‘Al-Capone’ strategy of disrupting those organised crime groups which in turn was due, in part, to the cooperation of the community in providing relevant information and intelligence.

Other forces also set up similar units and the Trident ‘brand’ became trusted throughout the black community, ensuring praise from even the most hostile community activists.

There may be a sense of tragic irony that the Trident policing operation, which resulted in the death of Mark Duggan, would have been replicated possibly several hundred times over during the previous ten years saving numerous, primarily black lives.

Trident successes in arresting those who were found guilty of homicide offences also ensured justice for victims and their families. The death of seven-year-old Toni-Ann Byfield, shot dead along with drug dealer Bertram Byfield, who she wrongly believed was her father, illustrated the determination of the Trident murder squads to secure justice for their victims. Her killer, Joel Smith was later convicted of her murder. Both Bertram Byfield and Joel Smith were Jamaican nationals who had obtained fraudulent UK passports.

Operation Trident became known and respected, not just in the UK, but throughout Jamaica. It seemed everyone in the notorious garrison (ghetto) areas had heard of Trident. Jamaican police officers working with UK law enforcement were keen to wear Trident lanyards.

Alas, those at the top of Met couldn’t adhere to the maxim, ‘if it’s not broken, don’t mend it.’ The focus of the unit shifted away from the black community and the disruption of OCG’s. By the time I retired, in acrimonious exchanges with relatively new senior officers I was being told repeatedly that Trident is about taking guns off the streets not about the black community.

Trident now focuses on gangs and still carries out outstanding work but that rapport with the black community has gone and was disappearing before the death of Duggan. Would Trident, if left unchanged, have survived the furore that surrounded the death of Duggan? That is a question for which there is simply no answer.

After the riots

In the immediate aftermath of the riots, the Met and other forces affected by serious disorder, embarked on post incident investigations which were both unique in their scope and hugely successful in that hundreds of successful prosecutions were undertaken.

This, in turn, had a chastening effect upon London’s gangs but the effect was only temporary. The government insisted that the planned cuts to policing would still go ahead. The Met had a brief reprieve due to the Olympics, but then police stations began to close, many in notorious gang areas while community policing suffered to the extent that the sight of PC’s on foot patrol amongst communities has been described as rare as a snowflake in the Sahara. A slight exaggeration, but certainly accurate as far as that part of London is concerned where I reside.

In addition to the cuts, both Prime Minister Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May made it clear that they wanted to curb stop and search on the grounds that there was disproportionate targeting of black youths and young men.

Now, we have a situation akin in many ways to that which prompted the formation of Operation Trident. Over the last few years, sad montages and statistics in respect of stabbing and shooting victims who died on the streets of London, show an alarming disproportionality in terms of black youths and young men.

Especially alarming during the current spate of violence is the fact that many victims of stabbings are youngsters of school age.

Gang wars

It is no exaggeration to say that gang civil wars rage across London. The Met rarely make mention of the ‘gang factor’ but on social media, accurate reports of gang related stabbings, shootings abound to the extent that quite sophisticated You Tube documentaries in respect of the history of gang feuds exist.

There are also ‘scoreboards’ in respect of rival gangs where points are awarded for simply chasing an ‘opp’ assaulting an ‘opp,’ stabbing an ‘opp,’ drawing blood from an ‘opp,’ with the most points allocated for murdering an ‘opp.’

Much of the violence is linked to drill music. Most gangs also ‘rap’ and have their own celebrity rappers. Again, You Tube ‘documentaries’ provide accurate evidence of drill rappers who’ve died, been assaulted or ended up in prison. Drill rappers have reputations to uphold and being ‘caught lacking,’ (caught unawares) or being assaulted damages that reputation.

Rappers insulting each other can draw tens of thousands of You Tube ‘views’ while drill music videos can result in literally millions. This whole drill music ‘scene’ now forms a huge part of youth culture

Also, within this complex mix, is the issue of County Lining. County Lining has been with us for many years however, the use and exploitation of children is relatively new.

Thus, into this maelstrom step the police yet, when addressing issues of alleged police racism, the media tend to ignore the above- mentioned factors and instead interview those who repeat their anti-police mantra, perhaps relying on carefully edited mobile phone footage to support their point of view.

True, there is the occasional news feature on violent, knife or gang crime but these tend to be looked at in isolation and not in terms of police attempting to tackle a crisis within the black community similar to that which led to the formation of Operation Trident.

Another linked aspect of policing in the capital is the police response to stabbings where they frequently arrive before paramedics and begin life-saving first aid; again, an all too frequent occurrence in modern day response policing rarely mentioned by the MSM.  

The fact that stop-searches can also be life-saving is an aspect of policing ignored by the MSM. Just about every fatal stabbing or shooting victim would still be alive today if their assailant had been stop-searched before encountering that victim.

A relevant factor rarely considered, is that police have to deal with problems resulting from inequality and deprivation created over the decades by successive inept and sometimes corrupt politicians from all parties. It’s the police who have to provide the numerous sticking plasters in the areas where many find life a struggle.

Policing is a bloody, violent, dangerous and stressful business and, inevitably, occasionally goes badly wrong; where it does, it is right that those responsible are held to account.

However, most of the time officers, dealing with thousands of incidents during the course a day, get it right. They are hampered by a lack of resources and massive increases in demand. The 20,000 ‘extra’ police merely takes us back to 2010 levels which will still see us near the bottom of Europe’s league which shows ‘police to population’ ratios. In addition to police station closures referred to above, thousands of police support staff have been lost.

Hardly a week goes by with some report or other stating police need to do more; sexual offences including rape, stalking, grooming gangs, retail theft, catalytic converter theft, domestic violence, burglary, rural crime, management of offenders, fraud, hate crime, knife crime, community policing and missing persons. Over the next few months expect e-scooter crime to be added to this list.

Police officers would dearly like to do more but the service is collapsing under the weight of that which is expected of it and this includes relations with communities. Old style community policing where officers could spend most of their shift out and about, being visible and making a difference especially in high crime areas currently dominated by gangs, would have a significant impact. .

In the meantime, the hard left will claim that police continue to be racist whilst the far right will shout that the police service is too woke and eager to pander to minorities; both will heap bile on a beleaguered service aided by a media desperate to highlight even the most trivial negatives whilst ignoring the positives.

And finally

Finally, a big thank you to Dotun Adebayo of BBC Radio London. He interviewed me ten years ago during the riots and remembered. On Sunday Dotun interviewed me again and I was allowed to have my say over 30 minutes which included many of the points made above.

Chris Hobbs is a retired Met officer who worked in Special Branch

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Ordered by:
PMac - Wed, 18 August 2021

We need to be careful about the raw Police: Population statistic. Spain, for example, has Local Police who do School crossing patrols and parking tickets, Guardia Civil who do roads and outlying villages, and the Policia Nacional, who do crime, riots, and much more. Customs and immigration at the airport are done by Police officers, and so on.