A panel looking into the riots – which caused chaos in areas such as Croydon, Lewisham and Hackney last month – has launched an appeal for evidence from those affected.
The Riots Communities and Victims Panel is sending thousands of letters to areas affected by the riots. In what is described as a “grass-roots approach” in the official website, members of the Panel will travel across the country to hear views about the disorder from people and businesses.
The panel, which is not a full public inquiry, is gathering evidence in order to understand why the riots took place. It will examine what motivated the rioters, why some areas were affected instead of others, how public services engaged with people during and after the riots, what preventative measures can be taken in community structures to make them more resilient, and what could have been done differently this time around.
Darra Singh, chair of the panel, formerly led the government’s integration and community cohesion review, launched in the wake of the 7/7 bombings. He said:
“There has been no shortage of national commentary, opinion and speculation, but the people best placed to help us understand the riots are communities themselves.”
He said the panel wanted to speak to residents, shopkeepers, parents, young people, council workers, youth leaders, faith organisations and the so-called “riot wombles”, who cleared up after the disorder.
“This is a panel for the people. So today we’re making a national call for evidence. We want people to write, email and talk directly to us so that everyone has the chance to have their voice heard,” he added.
The panel’s appeal came a day after the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) revealed that nearly three-quarters of those arrested and who have so far appeared before the courts had previous criminal records. The MoJ statistics, published on September 15, also showed that jail terms handed down to those involved in the riots were about twice the normal length based on comparative data from last year. The most common offence was burglary, followed by violent disorder, theft and then robbery.
The MoJ said that, up to September 12, 1,715 suspects had an initial hearing at magistrates’ courts and that most of those hearings (67 per cent) were in London. Of these cases, 21 per cent were aged 10-17 and 79 per cent were adults, and that 90 per cent of these were males. Of those found guilty and jailed, the average sentence was over 11 months.
Responding to the disclosure that 73 per cent of rioters had previous criminal convictions, Ken Clarke, justice secretary, said “existing criminals were on the rampage”. He said: “I am dismayed to see a hardcore of repeat offenders back in the system.
“This reinforces my determination to introduce radical changes to ensure both effective punishment and reform to tackle reoffending.”
The MoJ plans to release more data on riot suspects, including information on their socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, in late October. In the meantime, the panel will start its tour of the country next week. People can also email the firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to the panel at Riots Panel, 6th floor, Eland House, Bressenden Place SW1E 5DU.
For more information go to riotspanel.independent.gov.uk.