|Ealing Riots - What Went Wrong?
Eric Leach reports on last night's meeting at the Town Hall
Around 150 people turned up at Ealing Town Hall on the evening of Monday 17 October 2011 to give evidence to both a national and a local Riot Panel. The meeting lasted two and a half hours.
Everyone was given the chance to speak on what happened on the night of 8/9 August; why it happened; and what needs to be done to prevent it happening again.
Some common themes emerged as well as some interesting facts, and I’ll outline the main ones.
The main targets for the rioters were shops and the police.
There were many calls for better policing, more policing and improvements in police powers and police intelligence. Ealing’s Police Commander said his priority on the night was to defend W5. This explains why the centre of W13 (West Ealing) was ‘unpoliced’ for over 5 hours of rioting on that fateful night. Eye witness reports confirmed that some of the Police had no idea where they were as they were based in Bedford and Essex. Senior Police Officers spoke about lessons learned and putting changes in place but talking to attendees after the meeting many were unconvinced of this.
Lots of numbers of arrested, charged and sentenced were mentioned but apparently only three Ealing riot miscreants have been sentenced and only 17 have been charged. Some commented that it wasn’t just young people rioting.
Much was made of the retail damage and terror but hardly anything was heard about domestic damage and terror which I know was the case when occupied houses were broken into in St James Avenue, Mattock Lane, Madeley Road and Birch Grove. An exception to this was a lady who lived in a flat above a shop on Ealing Green. The shop and her flat were destroyed by fire and she has been homeless ever since. She was livid about the performance of her insurers who she said had behaved ‘worse than the rioters’.
Some were surprised by the riots but many more were not.
Many people were convinced that one of the causes was very poor, unemployed, unqualified young people who felt there was no place for them in society, and who felt society had rejected them. Allied to this was the rage felt by many that banks and financial institutions who had caused the recession we’ve been in now for years had been bailed out, unpunished and were still earning big salaries and big bonuses. Consumerism and a materialistic society were also blamed.
Someone uttered the unpleasant truth that we were living in a sick society where consumption is everything and the obsession was about growing the economy and not growing public services. The speaker poo pooed future possible uses of water cannon and curfews. He then said that the whole series of riots around the country were kicked off by police in Tottenham killing a local resident who was unarmed. This brought a small eruption at the back of the hall where a number of Conservative Councillors were located.
No-one doubted that the Council’s response immediately after the riots was worthy of praise. What was politely unsaid was that clearly our local elected politicians have absolutely no direct control over our local law and order services. However the community spirit shown by volunteers for their cleaning-up efforts was praised by many.
Traders castigated banks for not offering loans to help traders whose premises were smashed up. They also were angry at glass window replacement companies hiking up their prices in a sellers’ market.
Southall residents were praised by many for defending their own properties in the absence of Police presence. No-one clearly wanted to suggest that this initiative could easily degenerate into vigilante groups.
Many aspirations were expressed about better and more mentoring for young people, and better publicising of public services to help the wayward young.
Ealing centre’s MP Angie Bray attended but sadly neither of the other two Ealing MPs did. There was a good local Councillor turnout.
The national panel chair confirmed that apprehended rioters would be asked why they did what they did. Ealing Council however did not respond to my repeating Save Ealing Centre’s request for the Council to fully research and publish a report on what actually happened on the night.
Clearly the meeting met a need for local people to vent their feelings and they gave the Riot Panel members plenty to think about. I’m probably not the only one who feels that the causes of the riots are very complex and the ‘solutions’ needed to prevent just such another night of mayhem are just as complex to deduce, specify and implement.