Govt: Few UK rioters were gang members

AP News
Posted: Oct 24, 2011 4:35 PM
Govt: Few UK rioters were gang members

After riots swept through Britain in August, some officials blamed the looting and violence on gangs. But official data released Monday said those who have been charged in the unrest in London and other cities were young and poor _ but few were gang members.

The four days of rioting, triggered by a fatal police shooting Aug. 4 in north London's Tottenham neighborhood, were the worst civil disturbances to hit Britain since the 1980s. Five people were killed and scores of stores were looted and buildings burned in several cities, including London and Birmingham. More than 2,500 shops and businesses were targeted by the looters and vandals, with more than 230 homes being hit by burglars or vandals.

Afterward, Prime Minister David Cameron identified the growth of gangs as a key factor, and his Conservative-led government vowed to tackle gang culture as a result.

Cameron also blamed the disorder on Britain's "moral collapse," and Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last month pledged new help for disadvantaged youths, saying young rioters had been let down by society.

But the figures released by the Home Office on Monday showed that less than one in 10 of those arrested for riot-linked activity were gang members. Police forces found that gang members "did not play a pivotal role" in the unrest, the Home Office said.

The statistics showed that most of the rioters were under the age of 20 _ with 26 percent aged 10-17 and 27 percent 18-20. The data also indicated that three-quarters of all those who appeared in court because of the unrest had a previous conviction or caution.

Separate figures based on government statistics regarding school systems showed that 36 percent of young people who appeared in court regarding the riots had been suspended during the 2009-2010 school year. Absence rates also were higher for those charged than the general school population, along with lower grades.

Those figures bolster claims made by Education Secretary Michael Gove last month that the riots had highlighted an "educational underclass" existing in Britain.

Separately, the Metropolitan Police force acknowledged that it did not have enough officers available on the first night of the August riots and that reinforcements took too long to arrive.

Police were criticized for responding too slowly, particularly in London, but eventually deployed huge numbers of officers at riot zones to quell the mayhem.

The Metropolitan Police force also has said it was re-examining how it draws intelligence from social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.