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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1456 -iii
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Policing Large Scale Disorder
Thursday 15 September 2011
Chief Constable Peter Fahy and Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney
Chief Constable Chris Sims and Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe
Chief Constable Julia Hodson and Assistant Chief Constable Paul Broadbent
Stephen Bates, Richard Allan and Alexander Macgillivray
Evidence heard in Public Questions 349 - 553
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Thursday 15 September 2011
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Chief Constable Peter Fahy, Greater Manchester Police, and Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney, Greater Manchester Police, gave evidence.
Q349 Chair: This is the next session in our discussion about the recent disorders that affected London and other metropolitan areas, including Manchester. We are very grateful to you, Chief Constable Fahy and Mr Sweeney, for coming here today. Could I ask are there any interests to declare by any members of the Committee?
Alun Michael: As we are on policing issues, I ought to declare that my son is the Chief Executive of the North Wales Police Authority. We are coming on later to social media issues and I am not sure it is an interest, but I chair the All-Party Group that deals with internet and IT issues. We have offered our help to the Home Secretary in relation to the way in which to deal with those issues.
Q350 Chair: Thank you, Mr Michael. Mr Fahy, if I can start with you. I do not know whether you saw the comments by Iain Duncan Smith in the papers today, who said quite clearly and quite passionately that we cannot arrest our way out of riots. Do you agree with that?
Chief Constable Fahy: I do, yes. Clearly Mr Duncan Smith made a number of comments about social issues. I think it would be wrong to just use the riots as a catalyst for that sort of debate, but clearly in Greater Manchester we deal with a very challenging area. There are very high levels of deprivation and, therefore, it is right to say that, absolutely, you have to enforce the law-absolutely we need to go after the people who were involved in this disorder-but at the same time we feel that we have had a long-term initiative working in neighbourhood policing with a whole range of different agencies and, crucially, local people and charities, to work to improve those areas. I think it is very important to stick to that long-term plan and to say that enforcement is crucially important, but actually you can only do the enforcement if you are getting the information and the support from local people through your long-term relationship and your long-term style of policing.
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: I very much echo the views of the Chief Constable. It is important, I think, to recognise that within Greater Manchester on the night of the disorder, the disorder was very much localised to the city centre area of Manchester and the Salford precinct area. The key work that has taken place with the communities around the whole of Manchester and the broader Greater Manchester was fundamental to limiting the extent of the disorder. The engagement by community mediators on the night, particularly in areas such as Oldham and Rochdale, reinforced that we can work with the community to minimise disorder and then deal with enforcement where we have to.
Q351 Chair: I apologise for the bells. On the night of the disorder, where were you, Mr Fahy?
Chief Constable Fahy: I was taking some time off in North Wales. I had been in touch day by day, but immediately as things developed I returned to Greater Manchester.
Chair: We were all on holiday in August. There is no need to be concerned about it.
Chief Constable Fahy: Indeed.
Chair: But you were not there on the night?
Chief Constable Fahy: I was there on the night. I returned to Manchester-
Chair: This was Monday or Tuesday night?
Chief Constable Fahy: This was the Tuesday night.
Q352 Chair: Mr Sweeney?
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: Yes, I was the duty Gold Commander for Greater Manchester Police from 8 on the Monday morning through to the final night of the week on the Sunday, when we concluded with our Moss Side Carnival. On the night of the disorder itself, I was the Gold Commander from 8 in the morning through to 6 the following morning.
Q353 Chair: To what extent do you think gangs had a role in promoting these disorders? We will come on to some other aspects later on, but did they have a role? There is a dispute as to whether or not the organised gangs were able to get people out on the streets in order to prosecute these disorders.
Chief Constable Fahy: I think the first thing we would say is that "gangs" has become a fairly loose term. In an area like Greater Manchester we see different forms of grouping. There are street gangs concerned with territory. There are drug gangs and at the top of the tree, so to speak, there are organised crime groups that are involved in serious criminality and organised drug dealing. From the investigations that we have carried out, certainly in terms of Manchester, which was more about looting in a whole range of different shops in the city centre, we have not seen any great evidence of organising beyond people on mobile phones and using social networking on the night. I think in the Salford area there was more evidence of organisation in the ability to get a large number of people out on to the street in a short period of time, but it is fair to say, I think, in both locations there was evidence of a lot of people just turning up to watch and then, in almost the hysteria of the mob, being carried along to doing things that now they bitterly regret.
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: Yes-again, very consistent view on that. I think it was very important to understand that where intelligence was available to us earlier in the afternoon of 9 August a number of arrests took place of individuals involved with organised crime to minimise their involvement in any future disorder. During the course of the disorder itself, a handful-literally a handful-of criminals recognised to be involved in organised crime were identified and arrested during the course of the process. I think the important part from our point of view was that the growth of the mob within the city was very much about people who initially started off as spectators and then got drawn into the disorder, rather than any concerted attacks. The fundamental plan was around preventing high-volume locations and targets being hit by those organised criminals, and in the main that was successful until the evening period.
Q354 Chair: We will come on to numbers; Mr Winnick is going to ask you about numbers. As far as the city centre is concerned, was it localised to the city centre-none of us are Manchester MPs, so you will need to help us here-or was it spread across the city centre?
Chief Constable Fahy: No. The city centre is obviously a big place with a whole range of different shops, and essentially what we saw is almost progression through the food chain in that they started with the most high-value shops with, shall we say, the designer gear. Some of those had been particularly protected by the security companies and the shopkeepers, so essentially they then moved through. That was the real challenge we faced on the night. It was not that they were there to attack us. They moved from different shops, and as we got there and tried to protect the shop that had been damaged and make sure nobody had been injured, they were then clearly moving on in a very chaotic way to all sorts of different shops and locations. As I say, that was a particular and very unusual challenge that we faced on the night.
Q355 Mr Winnick: One understands, of course, the intense pressure that existed at the time, as in other places, including my own region in the West Midlands. Hazel Blears, the Member for Salford, in speaking about the situation when the House was recalled, said, "At one stage, according to the Chief Constable, there was a mob of about 1,000 people and we did not have enough police officers to face them." Now, I am not quite sure if she was quoting what you said or her own view. Presumably, there were not sufficient police officers that you could get to the place where such outrages were taking place.
Chief Constable Fahy: Yes. I think what we saw in Salford was a mobilisation of a large group of people intent on attacking the police and the fire service in a very short period of time. We got to the stage where, say, the fire service, very bravely, were trying to put out a fire in a supermarket. Our officers were protecting them and came under a very fierce attack of bricks, breezeblocks, scaffolding clips, things being thrown from tower blocks. They were able to protect the fire service, but at that point we needed to withdraw and regroup and then very quickly retook the situation.
Q356 Mr Winnick: Taking the sequence of events, what happened in London came first. How far were you surprised that it quickly caught on in your part of the world?
Chief Constable Fahy: Surprised would be the wrong word. I think clearly what happened was these events happened in London. It took a long time, for various reasons, for the situation to be controlled in London, and the day before we sent officers to help the Metropolitan Police as part of national mutual aid. I think clearly what happened is then we had certain elements in Manchester and Salford who saw the opportunity that the authorities appeared to be on the back foot, to see if they could then challenge us. As Mr Sweeney said, across most of Greater Manchester absolutely we held the line, but in those particular areas it was really the size of the mob that quickly escalated and the way that they mobilised, which meant that it took us a bit more time to gain control. But we did gain control very quickly and that disorder was, as you know, just on that one particular night.
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: Could I just add that while the Chief Constable describes the mob that was in place in Salford, within Manchester we saw a different kind of dynamic in terms of the public order situation? It was not a single mob in any one number. It was a number of groups between, I would say, 50 to 100 in strength with up to eight to 12 groups at any one time engaging in disorder, which made any kind of containment or dispersal particularly problematic. I think it is important to recognise within the Greater Manchester context we had a different operation taking place in some respects in the city centre environment than we had in Salford, which was very much targeted at the police officers.
Q357 Mr Winnick: Obviously, people who were so adversely affected desperately wanted police protection against the mob. With hindsight-and as everyone says hindsight is a wonderful thing to reflect on-could you have increased the number of police officers to deal with the outrages that were occurring?
Chief Constable Fahy: We had already put all our officers on 12-hour shifts and taken a number of other measures to put more officers on the streets and mobilise. I think the important thing is clearly Greater Manchester is a very complex area. We had had a number of tensions the week previously, for instance in Oldham. We have various areas that already have gang tensions, so essentially we had to make sure that we were looking after the whole of Greater Manchester and that we had not moved all our officers to one location. Clearly, when the disorder happened, we then concentrated our efforts in that particular area. But I think absolutely, with the benefit of hindsight, I can’t see there was much more that we could do. When you have a mob that mobilises so quickly, it is just inevitable it will take you a short period of time, or possibly even longer, to regain control.
Q358 Mr Winnick: That was in the situation, if I understood you correctly, before the mob outbreak and the looting and the rioting, some officers had gone to the Met?
Chief Constable Fahy: That is right.
Q359 Mr Winnick: How many? Could you give us-
Chief Constable Fahy: It was around about, I think, 100 who went to the Metropolitan Police as part of the mutual aid.
Q360 Mr Winnick: Which you really desperately needed, of course, at the time?
Chief Constable Fahy: Obviously, they went the night before and as soon as our problem occurred then-
Mr Winnick: That is what I meant.
Chief Constable Fahy: But in the context of 8,000 police officers in Greater Manchester, sending those 100 would not have made a huge difference. It was really crucial that London was stabilised. I think if London had not been stabilised we would have had far greater problems.
Q361 Lorraine Fullbrook: Chief Constable and Assistant Chief Constable, I understand from the timeline that about 5 pm on 9 August was when the Arndale Centre was attacked and about 5.30 pm was when the violence started in Salford. Did you have any intelligence earlier on in the day, or even the previous day, that this was going to take place in Manchester city centre and in Salford? If so, what preparations did you make for the violence breaking out at 5 pm and 5.30 pm?
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: The actual timeline is slightly earlier than that. The initial contact in Salford was before 4 pm in the afternoon. Going to the intelligence issue, we had a number of single strands or individual pieces of intelligence, and equally had a number of confusing reports on social networking sites, that identified some locations across the whole of Greater Manchester. As the Chief Constable said, that included the wider Greater Manchester conurbation. Some sites you referred to-for example, the Piccadilly Gardens site, which is a key hub for the city itself-and of course we deployed resources into those areas. A number of those reports proved to be inaccurate and false. Prior to the actual disorder taking place, there were three key points referred to and in each of those locations we deployed officers.
Q362 Lorraine Fullbrook: You had preparations for the intelligence that you had at that time?
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: Absolutely. By lunchtime that day we deployed eight additional police support units as well as the doubling up of shifts.
Q363 Lorraine Fullbrook: Where did you deploy those people to? As the day moved on the intelligence obviously changed.
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: They were deployed in three groups, fundamentally: one group covering the City of Manchester itself, one group covering the Salford area, and a third group covering the wider Greater Manchester area, which is another eight local authority area0s.
Q364 Chair: There was a view, of course, that you should have predicted this was going to happen. Bearing in mind what happened in London, in Tottenham, on the Saturday night and what was happening on the Sunday and Monday, provincial forces-even big metropolitan forces like Manchester-ought to have known, and on the Monday you should have deployed the numbers of officers required to deal with this disorder, as Mr Winnick has asked in his questions. You did not do this until Tuesday. There was going to be a copycat riot, wasn’t there? It was not just going to be London. Surely what you ought to have done was to have got your forces out.
Chief Constable Fahy: Number one, I think there is an element of hindsight in terms of how long it took for London to be stabilised, but clearly we did have serious concerns that we were going to see disorder. That is why we put officers on 12-hour shifts. There was a huge amount of local work going on with our neighbourhood officers and community support officers in terms of gathering intelligence, finding out what was going on and, as I say, across most of Greater Manchester absolutely that worked. We did have the officers on duty and we were able to-
Q365 Chair: On the Tuesday?
Chief Constable Fahy: On the Tuesday, but, as I say, because of the size of the mob and the tactics they employed, it then took us some time to regain order in those two places.
Q366 Michael Ellis: Chief Constable, we know from Ministry of Justice figures recently released that, apparently, some quarter or 25% of the riot suspects that have been charged have had at least 10 previous convictions. Clearly, you were dealing with a number of criminals on the loose and rioting and committing other criminal offences, as other cities were also on that occasion. What techniques were you looking at to deal with the disturbances when they were in progress, and to quell them? Where do you think you could have perhaps used different techniques, perhaps more robust techniques?
Chief Constable Fahy: The first thing I would say is that clearly Greater Manchester Police is very experienced in dealing with all sorts of big events-football matches, party conferences, demonstrations, English Defence League-so we have some very highly skilled and experienced commanders. They basically used the whole range of tactics, but particularly in Manchester, clearly the first duty is to protect property and protect life. We started off being drawn into just chasing groups around the city, leaving shops unprotected. The decision was taken, number one, to absolutely make sure we left officers to protect shops that had been damaged and also then to start clearing areas, starting off particularly with Piccadilly Gardens. Piccadilly Gardens is a good example. We needed 14 vanloads of officers to create a long enough cordon to start clearing Piccadilly Gardens but they were then faced with people could still run round the back. It was a whole range of different tactics we employed, but it was principally making sure that once a shop was damaged that we were able to then protect it, to make arrests if possible. But again, particularly in Salford, when the officers who were trying to protect the fire service were faced with a mob using those sorts of missiles, almost the very last thing you do is try and make arrests because you are literally-
Q367 Michael Ellis: Were there other techniques that you could have used but chose not to use? For example, the use of police horses-were they deployed?
Chief Constable Fahy: Yes, we had police horses, we had police dogs, but particularly in Manchester city centre what we faced, and I do not think we had faced this before, was just groups of youths running from one shop to another to another. The officers would get to the shop; they would chase them off; they would then starburst down different alleyways and just make for another shop.
Q368 Michael Ellis: There were no direct episodes of attack so much on your officers?
Chief Constable Fahy: No.
Q369 Michael Ellis: What do you say about suggestions from some quarters about deploying or making available the use of things like water cannon and baton charges and things of that sort? Do you have a view on that?
Chief Constable Fahy: I think, again, in that situation that would have been very, very difficult. It was a very fluid situation, fast moving situation. Water cannon have a very short period of time that they can be used, but the fact is the mob would have just run away from them and also, particularly in an area like Salford where they know the ground very well, they would undoubtedly have drawn us into cul-de-sacs. They were doing things, for instance, like setting wheelie bins on fire so that you then had a big patch of burnt plastic in the road that then would have prevented the police vans from moving up the road. They had thought through some of the tactics very carefully. Things like water cannon, I think they would have been probably captured or certainly attacked themselves. Rubber bullets, again the whole thing was too fast moving. They will work if you have a group that are just attacking police officers, but, apart from a short period of time in Salford when they were attacking us when we were protecting the fire service, that is not what we had seen.
Q370 Lorraine Fullbrook: As well as the shops being damaged, you said the shop would be attacked, the officers would move in, protect the shop and then the rioters would move on. The shops were being looted at the same time?
Chief Constable Fahy: Yes.
Q371 Lorraine Fullbrook: It is really protecting the shop after the horse has bolted. Can I ask, given the same circumstances again, would you change the techniques that you used to handle the criminality and the riots that were going on?
Chief Constable Fahy: We have thought about this in great, great detail and we have looked at all the CCTV. Certainly a tactic we have looked at is using snatch squads to arrest certain people. But again, the size of the mob that we faced, I am not sure what impact that would have. We did protect a lot of shops, and a lot of shops as soon as they were attacked we were able to protect and undoubtedly prevented a lot of goods being stolen. But as I say, it comes back to this issue that when you have hundreds, literally hundreds, of shops in a place like Manchester city centre, they were just moving from one to another. As I say, they started off with shops like Diesel and the designer shops and at the end were attacking newsagents and Sainsbury’s, without in any way denigrating those shops. The trouble was, as I say, they were very fluid in the way that they moved and, therefore, it was difficult for us.
Q372 Lorraine Fullbrook: You will have to review the techniques should this happen again. Are you doing that?
Chief Constable Fahy: Yes, absolutely. We have our own huge review going on. As I say, we have some very experienced commanders. Having looked at that, when you are faced with this sort of very fast moving, fluid situation it is difficult to see what other tactics would have worked apart from the worst thing to do is just keep on chasing the mob round and leaving shops that have been attacked unprotected. I think we have looked at that very carefully. As I say, snatch squads might be an idea. The thing you have to do is to keep yourself very flexible, your ability to move officers around quickly, to bring more officers in, all those sorts of issues, but I think what it tells us is that you can’t stick to one particular tactic. You have to have commanders using the CCTV, knowing what is going on, because the trouble with the mobile phones and everything else is that as we are employing one tactic the mob themselves are discussing that and finding their way around it.
Q373 Lorraine Fullbrook: Can I just, Chairman, a final one? Did you also use social media?
Chief Constable Fahy: Yes, we are very, very active as a force in social media, but again I think sometimes the media and the way it has been portrayed, we were getting literally hundreds and thousands of messages and we were getting loads of members of the public saying things like, "My daughter has just seen this on Facebook. I think you ought to know."
Q374 Lorraine Fullbrook: But were you putting stuff out?
Chief Constable Fahy: Yes, we were. We were very, very actively putting huge amounts of stuff out on Twitter and Facebook.
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: We also arrested proactively individuals who put material on Twitter and on Facebook to say they were going to organise disorder, so they were also targeted before any disorder took place to try and mitigate the threat.
Q375 Chair: You had 100,000 followers on Twitter-is that right?
Chief Constable Fahy: Indeed.
Q376 Chair: Were you surprised when you saw the evidence of Tim Godwin to this Committee that the Met were considering-they did not decide they were going to do this, but were considering-closing down the social media?
Chief Constable Fahy: Yes. Not surprised; I think everybody has considered it.
Q377 Chair: Did you consider that?
Chief Constable Fahy: It obviously crossed our mind, shall we say, but on the other hand I think we know the whole mechanics of doing that, the size of social media, and just as well the fact that we have been using it very proactively for a period of time now. Therefore, while it has its dangers, at the same time it is a huge help to policing in the way that we were able to get information out so rapidly.
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: If I could, it was also particularly important in mobilising the support of the community behind the police response. Subsequent days from the disorder, we saw a huge turnout of the public engaging in clean-up operations, giving visible signs of response, such as youth organisations working with us, so it was a particularly helpful tool in terms of both the response but also the intelligence.
Chief Constable Fahy: I also think social networking is overplayed. A lot of what we can see on our CCTV is people just using mobile phones, texting one another.
Q378 Chair: Are you employing, as the Met are doing, a private company to look through the Facebook/Twitter traffic and the CCTV images or are you doing this within your resources?
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: We are doing that stuff within our own resources.
Q379 Chair: You do not have a private company helping you?
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: No.
Q380 Steve McCabe: You have just said to Mrs Fullbrook that you are reviewing what happened and how you performed. We are just over a month from those events and I guess we can hopefully all look at them in a slightly calmer atmosphere. At this stage in your review, is there any impression that was conveyed at the time that you think now is probably wrong or is out of proportion to what really happened?
Chief Constable Fahy: I certainly think the impact of social media can be overplayed. I suppose it is that issue about, was this some great cataclysmic event that was some reaction to something wider in society, or was this just an unfortunate coincidence of various events that came together, which led to a group of people in our area deciding they would try and exploit that? In my own personal view, I think it is really important to stick to the long-term view. I think we have to look at Greater Manchester and say in all but one of our neighbourhoods we held the ground, in some very difficult neighbourhoods, and they made a very conscious decision not to get involved in this. Our feeling about this is we have to stick to what we know has worked long term. We can’t return to big-van policing. Neighbourhood policing has worked for us. There are lots of other ideas we have about how that can develop further, but there is just no alternative to long-term intelligence gathering, long-term enforcement, but also long-term problem solving to work with other agencies and local people to try and improve long term in these areas.
Q381 Steve McCabe: There would be particular lessons possibly to be learned, but the general feeling is that there is not a need for a sudden change of direction? That is the point?
Chief Constable Fahy: Absolutely. The only change of direction is to continue to develop what we are already doing and to reinforce that commitment to local people and that long-term problem solving form of policing, but all the time working in terms of enforcement and using the intelligence and support of local people to root out those who still want to be involved in criminality.
Q382 Steve McCabe: Other witnesses we have heard from maybe were not talking specifically about Greater Manchester, to be fair, but they have said that they felt that the police let them down. I think one witness in particular who had her home burnt out said they did it because they were allowed to do it. Do you have any sense that, whatever pressure you were under and your officers were under, you did let people down, at least in some of the phases of this event?
Chief Constable Fahy: I think when you have had businesses destroyed and people’s lives affected, and we know there were people who were absolutely terrified about what was going on, obviously as a police officer and as a senior police officer you feel very, very bad about that. There is a sense, absolutely, where we feel we failed, because that is just inevitable. But when you stand back in the cold light of day and look at the absolute bravery of the officers involved and what they faced, and the absolute savagery from some parts, and you look at the tactics and say, "Was there anything else we could have done?" I think you have to say no. Obviously, there are lessons to be learnt, but at the end of the day our officers showed immense bravery. I think what we have seen in the subsequent stage is enormous support from local people in Greater Manchester, who recognise that.
Q383 Alun Michael: Can you say something about the response that you had from the local community, particularly in relation to trying to immediately respond and also bringing people to justice? Was that response consistent or similar, or were there variations between Manchester, Salford, different parts of the city?
Chief Constable Fahy: No, I have to be honest, the reaction I have seen I have never seen it before in my police service of 30 years. The feeling of public support has been enormous in all sorts of practical ways, the way people have mobilised, but just officers being given gifts, people inviting them in for tea and coffee, some very generous gifts to police charities, but also just the way the whole community has mobilised, the huge amount of information we have had from the public, the support of the local media, local politicians, has been hugely uplifting. That is why I think, overall, while this has been obviously an awful event, there are a number of real factors that give you cause for hope because the vast, vast majority of people-and it is really important, the vast, vast majority of young people-said, "We do not want this." I think when you talk about tactics, the best tactics is really the response that we have had, is the fact that the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service and the police have worked so closely together to give a very strong signal that the system will treat this very, very seriously. But then local people and local media and local politicians and local opinion formers and sportspeople and celebrities have all come out and said, "This is totally unacceptable. Whatever might be the reasons, underlying causes, this is unacceptable."
Q384 Alun Michael: Can you say a bit more about the way in which that might play out? What is the longer-term impact? What will you as a force try to do in terms of trying to mobilise that energy that you have just described?
Chief Constable Fahy: Again, it comes back to what we are trying to do in neighbourhood policing, so it is continuing the work with young people through sports charities, through the schools. It is a lot of ideas we have about how you can develop neighbourhood policing into things like community justice panels, using restorative justice, volunteering. Tonight I am going to be swearing in about 30 new special constables. It is about a huge interest in police volunteering. There is a range of issues there that we can use to get greater support. The big issue is with young people. I know there are a lot of very angry young people out there in Greater Manchester who feel that they have been very badly portrayed and that a small group have given young people a very bad name. Again, I think we need to use that and work with it very closely to give them a stronger voice.
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: I think it is also quite important to add that, particularly on the night and in subsequent days, we had a number of mothers and fathers bringing their children forward to police stations to bring them to justice themselves in some respects. Interestingly, when you are talking about some of our more deprived neighbourhoods and some of the challenging wards around the Manchester City area, we had people challenging young people on the street, "Where did you get those trainers from? Show me the receipt for those." That restoration of community values following the disorder is a particularly heartening sight, really.
Q385 Alun Michael: Just on the issue of arrests then, can you tell us how many arrests you have made so far? Perhaps can you tell us a little bit about the profile of those that have been arrested? One of the things that there has been very variable figures about is the numbers who have been in the criminal justice system before. There are figures being quoted right, left and centre, and we have already discovered some of them are not dependable.
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: If I could, at the present count we are looking at 336 arrests that have taken place; 220 of those have been brought to justice either through charge or through caution. I would like to really set out what happened on the night, though, more importantly in some respects, because at the end of that night of disorder we had 117 arrests. The majority, by which I mean over 80%, of those were for offences of theft and burglary in premises. Those were processed very quickly through the criminal justice process. Indeed, the following day we had courts sitting until after 10 pm at night. Some of the sentences that have been given out, the most significant in terms of offences of burglary is an over four-year sentence, but for incidents of violent disorder, particularly those offenders from Salford, it typically ranges between 16 and 24 months. Again, going back to the community impact, the sentences discharged by the courts have significantly helped understand and put balance in place about the consequence of the actions of those individuals.
Q386 Steve McCabe: I wanted to ask one last question about this issue of the community fighting back, if you like, and particularly about parents bringing their children to the police. That is a classic demonstration of parental responsibility.
Chief Constable Fahy: Yes.
Steve McCabe: Should that be taken into account by the courts? Presumably, a parent who does that is not seeking to give their child a record that will damage their life chances and a sentence that is out of all proportion to the offence.
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: Certainly, there are a couple of really good examples, both from Salford and Manchester. I think it is important that the courts did take account of it, but equally as importantly both the city councils recognised that the parents had mobilised that response themselves and so were not likely to jeopardy in terms of eviction. I think there was a wide recognition that these young people had committed offences on the night. They have now been brought to justice. At some point they have to be rehabilitated back into that community, and it is about the community responding to the threat and then supporting the youngster when they come back. I think both the court system and the wider agencies recognised the support and commitment by those parents to do the right thing.
Q387 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would like to ask, what is the estimate of the cost to your force of policing these disturbances? Specifically, what are the costs that are involved?
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: The costs from a policing perspective are just over £3.2 million in terms of the organisation.
Q388 Lorraine Fullbrook: To Greater Manchester Police?
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: The force. In terms of the potential liability around damages to the wider Greater Manchester area, it is currently around £6 million, so in total approximately £10 million.
Q389 Lorraine Fullbrook: That is under the Riot (Damages) Act claims for compensation?
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney: Yes. There are about 126 claims currently submitted.
Q390 Lorraine Fullbrook: The £3.2 million, what are the main costs?
Chief Constable Fahy: That is clearly the additional officer overtime. We had a lot of officers, obviously, on overtime, rest days cancelled, issues such as that. Some of it is damage to vans and equipment and having to replace equipment, food-those sorts of thing-but the vast majority of it is in the officer overtime.
Q391 Lorraine Fullbrook: You do not consider force deployment as a cost specifically, do you?
Chief Constable Fahy: No, because clearly those officers would have been out; officers on normal duty would be out there anyway. It is the additional costs that we have incurred-as I say, things like overtime and rest-day working.
Q392 Chair: Mr Fahy, you seem to paint a picture of people being delighted at the action of the police, offering gifts and all kinds of other things to the police. There seems to be no responsibility here. There were disorders in the middle of Manchester, one of the great cities of Europe, which you did not predict even after what had happened in London, and the issue of copycat riots is something that we have had in this country in the past. There were not enough officers, as Mr Winnick has said in his questions. They were then deployed. You basically lost control of the streets of Manchester. Is there no responsibility for what happened?
Chief Constable Fahy: Yes, absolutely. I think it is a bit unfair. I made it very clear that we treat this very seriously and we were horrified on the night. A lot of officers, including myself, were pretty despondent on the night because it felt that a lot of long-term work that we had done had been damaged. We take very, very seriously the reputation of Greater Manchester and Manchester City as a place. I know officers were hugely despondent about this. With hindsight we have said we need to learn lessons, but looking at the intelligence we had, looking that we had to look after the whole of Greater Manchester, the practicalities of tactics and what officers did, I think that the public recognised that our officers did a great job in very, very difficult circumstances.
Q393 Chair: The Prime Minister did not recognise that to this extent. He said that there should have been more officers on the streets and better tactics. Mr Duncan Smith tells us this morning that this is going to happen again and in a sense it is the fault of politicians. It is those who have been ghettoised who are calling on the middle classes. This is something that is going to happen again, isn’t it?
Chief Constable Fahy: Well, as I say, we are out there every single day. We know the areas of Greater Manchester, we know the challenges of very deprived areas, and we certainly do not see it as inevitable. It is us continuing to work. The Prime Minister did visit Greater Manchester and was very complimentary about what the force had done, and particularly the bravery of the officers and the fire service, who did an amazing job. Absolutely, we take this very, very seriously, and the reputation of Greater Manchester. As I say, we are absolutely committed to learning lessons, but I also think we have to be practical about what a police force can achieve in such extreme circumstances.
Q394 Chair: Thank you very much. We may write to you again and, in fact, the Committee will probably come and visit Manchester during the next few weeks.
Chief Constable Fahy: You are very welcome.
Chair: We are most grateful to you for coming. Pass on our thanks to all those officers who worked on those very difficult days. Thank you very much.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Chief Constable Chris Sims, West Midlands Police, and Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe, West Midlands Police, gave evidence.
Q395 Chair: Chief Constable Sims, Assistant Chief Constable Rowe, thank you for coming. I think it is appropriate that we should start with your longest-serving West Midlands MP, so I will call upon David Winnick.
Mr Winnick: That is very good of you, Chair. Can I give my apologies because of what is going to happen in the Chamber, which I am involved in, at 11.30 am? Can I say, Chief Constable, and to your colleague, that the people in the West Midlands-certainly including my part, it goes without saying-are grateful to all the police officers involved in trying to deal with the outrages, the looting and the rioting that took place? There may be criticism that arises from today’s meeting or other aspects as the case may be, but the way in which individual officers tried their best to restore order and the rule of law is much appreciated. I hope that our remarks-I am sure that I speak on behalf of the Committee-will be passed on to your colleagues.
Chief Constable Sims: Thank you very much.
Q396 Mr Winnick: How surprised were you, Chief Constable, by what happened when the outrages occurred?
Chief Constable Sims: If I can, Chair, first say that West Midlands Police published a very comprehensive report to its police authority last week, and that includes all the data around officer numbers, the build-up and our treatment of particular issues. What I am going to say to the Committee we have already given in written form in the copying of that report.
The chronology for us was perhaps slightly different in other places. Sunday, so the day after the disturbances in Tottenham, was the day of Handsworth Carnival, which is one of the biggest days on our calendar. By Sunday, we, in effect, had opened up our control room. We had extra resources, extra officers, as a reserve for the carnival events. As events moved on in London on the Sunday night, I appointed Sharon Rowe as Gold Commander and we began planning a response on Monday morning, albeit we had absolutely no intelligence about any issues taking place within the West Midlands.
Q397 Mr Winnick: But the position was, Chief Constable, that the disturbances had already taken place in London.
Chief Constable Sims: Two nights.
Q398 Mr Winnick: Two nights, and publicised, as obviously they would be, throughout the country. Did you not consider with your senior colleagues that there would be copycat action?
Chief Constable Sims: Yes, and we began, as I say. We considered that on the Sunday, but actually this was one of the most peaceful carnivals on record. We continued the buildup on the Monday, absolutely taking into account what you describe, but in the complete absence of any intelligence about issues in the West Midlands.
Q399 Mr Winnick: You were obviously taken by surprise by what happened-the fact that the carnival was peaceful, there was no intelligence?
Chief Constable Sims: Indeed. We were taken by surprise with the speed and the intensity. We already had in place by 5 pm on the Monday evening, so the first evening of troubles in West Midlands, a command structure, the event suite, our control room open, 10 PSUs kitted up ready in Birmingham city centre, and an agreement with surrounding forces to provide extra.
Q400 Mr Winnick: You heard the evidence of your colleague, the Chief Constable of Manchester. The same applied in the West Midlands certainly-not in my particular borough in Walsall, but in Wolverhampton, the neighbouring area, where disturbances were taking place; there seemed to be a total absence of the rule of law. The obvious question is, where were the police officers? Do you feel with hindsight more could have been done to get more police officers on the ground?
Chief Constable Sims: I can provide you the data on how many police officers were on the ground. From the start, it is very easy, Chair, to focus on the areas where disorder took place, but I think the heroic policing activity was in places like Coventry, in Dudley, in your own constituency in Walsall, where, by putting out lots and lots of uniformed officers on to the streets in normal clothing and working with community groups, we prevented, I believe, disorder in other parts. That did not prove possible in what were our three hotspots, which were the centre of Birmingham and then spilling out into Handsworth, in West Bromwich and in Wolverhampton. An awful lot was done and one looks at this now with the benefit of hindsight and looks at places like Coventry, looks at our big out-of-town shopping areas in Solihull and in Dudley, and realises, I think, some of the work done there by uniformed officers and by our partners to prevent that disorder happening.
Q401 Mr Winnick: One final question. With hindsight, could things have been done differently?
Chief Constable Sims: I don’t answer questions in hindsight. The question you should be asking me, I believe, is given the information that I knew, did I do the right things, did I act proportionately, and I believe I did.
Q402 Chair: Maybe the question we should be asking you is something quite different, which is why didn’t you do more, as the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have said? You really ought to have predicted that this was going to happen. You are a very experienced police chief. You have heard about copycat riots. I was phoned about my own constituency on the Sunday night. You really ought to have known by the Monday. We have had evidence from people from Birmingham giving evidence to us last week to say that there weren’t any police officers around. Vigilante groups were being formed on Soho Road because the West Midlands Police were somewhere else. This is a bit of a failure, isn’t it, to reclaim the streets?
Chief Constable Sims: No, it is not. The evidence that you heard before I have to say puzzles me, because we were present in that same meeting and gained a slightly different interpretation of what was said at that meeting, but perhaps that is for a different occasion. I have already said, I think, that we began building up police resources from Sunday. We were talking to each other on Sunday morning immediately after Tottenham, building up police resources, but I do think you have professionally to react not only to events elsewhere but to what is known on the ground.
Chair: But, Chief Constable, people died in Birmingham. There were individuals who went to protect their own shops because the police were not there, and the evidence we received was the police were watching what was happening.
Chief Constable Sims: Well, I dispute that evidence of police watching.
Q403 Chair : But you do not dispute the fact that people-
Chief Constable Sims: Excuse me. By the end of the first evening, we had arrested 130 people. By the end of the second evening that had more than doubled. Those arrests don’t happen by police officers watching.
Q404 Michael Ellis: Chief Constable, let us look at some of the tactics and techniques used, if we may, as you are linking that. As far as the techniques are concerned, are you satisfied in retrospect that you or officers under your command used the appropriate tactics and techniques? Do you think in retrospect that other tactics could have been used? Could you expand on what tactics were used?
Chief Constable Sims: Sure. I think the first thing to say is we were not dealing with a single incident type. The iconic images of those two nights were very much about looting of shops, but from the start we were looking at four or five different tactical issues to deal with. We were looking at the looting, as we have discussed. We were dealing with, if you like, conventional public order of barricades, missiles and street disturbance. At one point on the Tuesday we faced an armed crowd and had to deal with that, and we were dealing with individual acts of criminality. I think our tactics were right for the conventional disorder. We have a particular tactic that we have dealt with before for armed disturbance. We dealt with effectively, I think, the criminality. The issue is the novel problem that we faced, which was the mass looting. I say in this report, and I am happy to say again, that I think for the first hour or so on the Monday evening, as we came to terms with something that was completely new to us, we were probably still trying to apply a kind of conventional public order response. So, disperse the crowd, regain the territory, control the streets.
Q405 Michael Ellis: How was the crowd being dispersed? Did you deploy police horses?
Chief Constable Sims: We don’t have police horses, but I would not have deployed horses in that situation.
Q406 Michael Ellis: Do you wish you had police horses?
Chief Constable Sims: No.
Q407 Michael Ellis: You are happy without police horses. What about police dogs?
Chief Constable Sims: Dogs were a really important part of the work. One of the novel tactics that evolved very quickly was mixed deployment of dogs and public order officers in a very mobile way.
Q408 Michael Ellis: They are quite effective, police dogs, aren’t they, with crowds? They tend to have quite a salutary effect on people involved in public disorder, don’t they?
Chief Constable Sims: Indeed. You have obviously some experience of that.
Michael Ellis: Yes.
Q409 Chair: Assistant Chief Constable Rowe, you wanted to say something?
Assistant Chief Constable Rowe: Yes. In supporting the Chief Constable, it was a combination of tactics. There was no one single tactic that would have dealt with the challenges we had on the Monday night and on the Tuesday night. What I am proud of my officers, what they did on the night, is they used innovation. They were thinking differently on the night. They were not tied to a manual of tactics. They were thinking, and we empower them to do this, how can we deal with this situation differently? So, using police dogs to hold junctions while we could then use officers to move in and make a significant number of arrests was thinking on their feet. Also, later on the Monday night, the utilisation of police vehicles to break through barricades. We have also developed a tactic of how we use public order officers with firearms officers combined in a dangerous situation. We were thinking differently. Each night, as new intelligence came in, we were adapting our tactics and our style to meet the threat and the risk across the whole of the region.
Chief Constable Sims: The one really important moment, which came an hour or so into the first night, and ACC Rowe and I were both in the control room for the whole period, was the realisation that dispersal was not going to work when you were dealing with this very fractured crowd that colleagues in Greater Manchester described.
Q410 Michael Ellis: Because they could run off and go somewhere else?
Chief Constable Sims: Exactly. They can simply reform. The only viable tactical response was to maximise the number of people we arrested in order, firstly, to remove them from the street, but, secondly, to recreate a sense of deterrence, which I think was the piece that got lost nationally as well as locally and needed to be re-established in people’s minds.
Q411 Michael Ellis: The courts are doing their best to rectify that.
Chief Constable Sims: Well, I think it starts with us on the night and so-
Q412 Michael Ellis: Deterrence you mean starts with you?
Chief Constable Sims: Absolutely.
Assistant Chief Constable Rowe: Yes.
Q413 Chair: As far as what Mr Duncan Smith has said, he said, "We simply cannot arrest our way out of these riots." You agree with that? You agree with Mr Fahy and Iain Duncan Smith?
Chief Constable Sims: I do. I do think that it is a real pity, though, that it takes incidents like this for there to be a public debate about equality.
Q414 Chair: Do you think the police are getting the blame for something that politicians really ought to have sorted out? Somebody has to have been responsible. We cannot just all say it is somebody else. You must have a view on this. You are a very experienced-
Chief Constable Sims: I don’t consider that police are getting the blame and certainly local politicians and local community don’t see police to blame.
Q415 Chair: No, but who should be getting the blame for this?
Chief Constable Sims: Well, it seems to me it is a rather too complex event simply to point fingers at a particular group or individual.
Q416 Michael Ellis: Could I just very briefly ask, you just mentioned arrests? Was anybody actually charged with riot, section 1 of the Public Order Act?
Chief Constable Sims: Charged with section 2, I think, rather than section 1, yes.
Q417 Michael Ellis: Section 2, violent disorder, but no one was actually charged with riot?
Chief Constable Sims: Not so far. We do have a lot of people on bail still and obviously lots of cases pending.
Q418 Steve McCabe: Assistant Chief Constable Rowe, you were the Gold Commander. I want to ask you about something that the Federation of Small Businesses said in written evidence. They are very complimentary generally about the West Midlands Business Crime Forum and I think there is quite a good-they want to stress that. But they do say that it was clear that for more than one night the police were overwhelmed by events in the centre of Birmingham. Do you think that is a fair observation?
Assistant Chief Constable Rowe: I think it is fair that the whole city felt overwhelmed by what had happened, especially in the city centre over the two nights. What I would say is that I had members of the Traders Association present at my multiagency Gold groups, so every day they were given an update on what we were doing and what our plans were in place for that evening and gave some of the traders an opportunity to influence the policing plan for that night. I think what you saw on that night, traders may have seen police officers, as we said, holding lines. What we were trying to do was contain some areas to move in and make significant numbers of arrests. As GMP have just stated, you then had to backfill with officers to protect property. But we had our Traders Association giving us intelligence and updating us on what they were hearing and even on the rumours that went round on the Monday afternoon we were keeping them updated and informed on what our police response was going to be.
Q419 Steve McCabe: You certainly made some arrests. I think you said you were making an arrest a minute at the height of it. Can I ask about the arrests that were made subsequently, the arrests that were based on forensics? Was that mostly DNA? CCTV obviously, but in terms of forensics was there a role for DNA as well?
Chief Constable Sims: Yes, a huge role, well over 100 arrest packages developed, around 50:50 fingerprint and DNA. Of course, the imagery. The scale of the investigation needs to be stressed. We are still looking at new imagery three or four weeks on, because if you imagine that every shop has cameras, the city has fantastic camera coverage, and there will be many, many more arrests as the investigation goes forward.
Q420 Steve McCabe: Obviously, closed circuit television and DNA are in the Government’s sights in terms of changes and reforms at the moment. How central are they to the arrests that you are making and the charges you are going to be able to bring?
Chief Constable Sims: Well, as I said, there are 100 arrests that flow from forensic evidence. We have arrested 622 people so far, many more to come. I would say that the majority of the others rely wholly or partly on camera evidence, so very central.
Q421 Steve McCabe: Can I ask one question about the killings? I am aware that there is an ongoing investigation. There will be a trial so I want to be careful about how I put this. It was a tragic and terribly significant event and you have spoken yourself about how it could have changed things and how the response of the community was important. At this stage, are you able to say whether or not those killings were exclusively connected to the disturbances or do they have any additional history?
Chief Constable Sims: I think that is very difficult for me to say. If I say this, rather, that five people have been arrested and charged with three murder counts. A further person has been arrested for an offence-
Q422 Chair: Are these the murders on Soho Road?
Chief Constable Sims: Dudley Road. A further person was arrested and charged with a related offence. Four other people are on bail as part of the investigation. I think, Chair, may I say that it is probably not appropriate to answer that question in the way you have phrased it?
Steve McCabe: I think that maybe I should leave it there, Chair.
Q423 Alun Michael: Before I go on to the community side, can I ask you to pick up one point? You said that you do not believe that officers stood back or stood waiting.
Chief Constable Sims: Yes.
Alun Michael: We had very specific evidence to the Committee on that point, and there is detail in the transcript. It would probably take too long to do now, but can I suggest that it would be useful for you to respond in writing on that specific evidence to the Committee, because I think it is a point that inevitably would need to be picked up in the report?
Chief Constable Sims: Thank you, Chair, yes.
Q424 Alun Michael: With some time having elapsed now, can you outline the response generally through the community or communities that were involved?
Chief Constable Sims: I would characterise it as a cycle. I think absolutely, immediately after the event communities were in shock. They were, I think, disgusted by what had happened. It felt as though it had been visited on our communities from outside almost. Then I think we saw that mood begin to alter and certainly my officers and personally I felt a growing sense of support for the police service. As Peter Fahy said earlier, I have never in all my 30 years had so many people physically stop me and say thank you. We have had outpourings of all sorts of gifts and things for officers. It has been absolutely humbling. I think that is communities in the West Midlands wanting to come together, wanting to coalesce over making sure that this was a singular event rather than something that was continuing.
Assistant Chief Constable Rowe: Could I make a further point, going back to the tragic murder in the Dudley Road? I came back on at 7 am that morning and there was already a community meeting in place that had started at 6.30 am. A very senior officer had gone down to speak to the community and it was a very emotionally charged meeting, you can imagine. But because of the relationships that we have built up over a significant number of years through local policing, we were able to call on people, contacts, community leaders, community reference groups to help us get through these really difficult periods. Therefore, it is not only about the praise and the recognition we had from the public; it is about the help, the advice that we had from the public to help us through these very challenging periods. That is because neighbourhood policing is totally embedded in everything that we do.
Chief Constable Sims: Culminating, of course, with the peace rally on the Sunday following the event.
Q425 Alun Michael: That is very helpful. On the specific issue of arrests, can you tell us how many arrests have been made and do you have an indication of how many of those have a criminal record previously?
Chief Constable Sims: 622 and 75%.
Q426 Steve McCabe: I just want to go back to this community meeting for a second. I don’t want to pose the West Midlands force against the Met, but you say that was a very positive response from the police who had very good relations with the community. It has been alleged that one of the sources of the riot was the very poor response to the killing of Mark Duggan, both from the Met Police and from the Independent Police Complaints body. We heard in evidence that the family found out about the death on the media and then the initial demonstration took place outside the police station because the family could not get details. Do you think there are any lessons to be learned about that when you compare it to your own experience?
Assistant Chief Constable Rowe: I think we obviously always constantly have to learn from each other. I was a Metropolitan Police officer for 25 years and played a key role in rolling out neighbourhood policing. I know neighbourhood policing is instrumental in everything the Metropolitan Police do. What we had in the West Midlands on that night, we did not have within the context of an IPCC investigation, but you will be aware we have some history of some outstanding investigations that were ongoing in the Birmingham area. All I would say on that night is that it was incredibly important for us to go and meet the community, to hear their views, to feel their emotions, and we did obviously take some stick in that meeting. We gave a response, but it is how we are going to come together and move forward to address the challenges that we are about to face. As I said, we were advised on how we were going to police the area together. The community were working with us constantly, I met with them regularly, and I believe that saw us through some very difficult periods.
Q427 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would like to ask both the Chief Constable and the Assistant Chief Constable the same questions I asked of the Greater Manchester force. Can you tell me the estimated costs of policing these riots to your force?
Chief Constable Sims: Yes. It is very early to have completed that process, but we estimate the costs to be between £10 million and £12 million. Contained in that is principally the cost of extra officers, both from within the West Midlands and the officers that we have drawn in. Some of the-
Q428 Lorraine Fullbrook: There is a mutual aid cost involved?
Chief Constable Sims: There is some mutual aid cost as well, or at least the additional costs associated with mutual aid, because we don’t pay for the core mutual aid. Then we had damage to vehicles. We had damage to a police building. We haven’t completed yet all of the costing associated with that. That £10 million to £12 million excludes the potential cost to the police authority through riot damages.
Q429 Lorraine Fullbrook: As in compensation claims?
Chief Constable Sims: Yes, through the Riot (Damages) Act.
Q430 Lorraine Fullbrook: I ask the same question again. You don’t include the cost of police or force deployment in your costings, do you?
Chief Constable Sims: No. There is not an opportunity cost of what the officers might have been doing instead.
Q431 Chair: You would expect those costs to be met by the Government in view of what the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have said?
Chief Constable Sims: The riot damages cost is being co-ordinated by Government and I think we still await clarity about where the final bill will be.
Q432 Chair: On riot damages or the other costs?
Chief Constable Sims: I think on riot damages as well, yes.
Q433 Chair: The total costs, well, riot damages, the Prime Minister has made a statement. He extended the period of claim and the Government is going to pay for that. As far as the other costs are concerned, which the Met put at, for them, £72 million, what is your global figure for the West Midlands?
Chief Constable Sims: Can I just clarify? I believe we are still awaiting a second letter from Government about, specifically, that Riot (Damages) Act. Certainly, the words were very-
Q434 Chair: What did the first letter say?
Chief Constable Sims: It was very much about uninsured claims and I think we just await-
Q435 Chair: You need more clarification on riot damages and more clarification about the other costs?
Chief Constable Sims: Well, the other costs, there are mechanisms around special grant and I am sure that as we settle and we understand the full costs that will be a dialogue between us and the Home Office.
Q436 Chair: Can you meet them out of your contingency fund?
Chief Constable Sims: If we needed to meet them out of contingency fund, the police authority could, but I would say, Chair, that much of that contingency fund is committed in terms of our change programme and the process of-
Q437 Chair: You want the Government to meet those additional costs?
Chief Constable Sims: Please, yes.
Q438 Chair: Well, I am not the Government yet. This Home Affairs Select Committee does not control the Government, but we can certainly put that forward.
Chief Constable Sims: Thank you.
Q439 Steve McCabe: Just on that, I just wanted to ask what kind of time scale are we talking about, then? Obviously you are well into the change programme and there is quite a lot of money committed. How long can the police authority afford to wait before this is resolved without it having an impact either on policing or the change programme?
Chief Constable Sims: I think months. This is not a cash-flow issue. This is just to get an understanding.
Q440 Steve McCabe: Is months six months? I am just trying to get an idea of how much urgency is there.
Chief Constable Sims: I think the urgency is that we would all like to clarify and be able to move on. I don’t think it is-
Q441 Chair: You would like it as soon as possible. One question on social media. We have Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry coming in at the end of this session.
Chief Constable Sims: Excellent.
Chair: Were they a force for good or a problem for you?
Chief Constable Sims: They were a mixed force, I think it is fair to say. Certainly, in the build-up and during the incidents we were monitoring all of the social media very, very carefully. It is part of our control room. There was an awful lot of unhelpful rumour, gossip. Every building in Birmingham was on fire and every shopping centre had been stormed if you read the narrative according to Twitter. There were periods when it was unhelpful and we were working really hard with our own social media and partner social media to counter. But as I think Greater Manchester said, there were also periods where social media was incredibly positive, helping us, providing imagery-
Q442 Chair: You did not consider closing it down?
Chief Constable Sims: Absolutely not.
Q443 Chair: Can you clarify the comments you made-these were reported in The Sun, so you may want to clarify them-at a meeting of the city council where you said, "We should show a bit of compassion to those who were rioting"?
Chief Constable Sims: Yes, I can. I firmly believe that in the full text of that comment it was right that the criminal justice system created that deterrence that we have talked about, but unless it backs it up with positive interventions around the people that have faced the wrath of the courts then those people will be our customers again and again and again. We have to balance that response. I think the report in The Times today indicates the balance that-
Q444 Chair: You mean the article written by Mr Duncan Smith?
Chief Constable Sims: Yes.
Q445 Chair: There is a wider issue you think needs to be addressed, rather than just the criminality?
Chief Constable Sims: But at the moment, Chair, the criminality in the early stages was really important because we needed to reassure the public and make people face the consequences of what they had done.
Assistant Chief Constable Rowe: Could I just also make a point on the social media? I do think there is a challenge for policing nationally going forward on how we take information that is being passed over the internet, whether it be BlackBerry’s, and we are able to evaluate that information to turn it into intelligence. We are into a totally new game now and a new world of fast dynamics where we have to put a policing operation in very quick time in place. We have that challenge of being able to evaluate what is true and what is rumour. When we look back to the student riots in 2010, a comment was made by Sir Paul Stephenson around being able to estimate the number of people who were going to protest and the use of social media on that day and how he had to adapt his policing operation. What we had was a whole new context, which was it happened within hours. We had a scenario that we had to respond to. I think we have to ask some questions around how are we to turn that intelligence around quicker.
Q446 Chair: Sure, but in terms of sentences, since you were commenting on sentences, I think, four years for putting on Facebook the fact that, "Turn up to this riot." Was that a harsh sentence? Was that okay?
Chief Constable Sims: I would never, ever, Chair, comment on the sentencing of a court because the court has the full facts that I don’t have. But I think that there has to be allied to sentencing the sort of interventions behind it that will prevent people reoffending in the future.
Chair: Of course. We have two quick supplementaries, then we will have Nottinghamshire.
Q447 Steve McCabe: There has been a lot of focus on social media, but what struck me at home in Birmingham on the night that it was happening was what I was watching on the television. I vividly recall a local BBC reporter, where there were pictures of things being attacked and damaged in Birmingham, saying and giving her interpretation that what she was witnessing was widespread damage and looting and that the police were standing by. Do you think there is any argument for saying that that level of interpretation, which is conveyed as fact, is problematic in the midst of an incident like that?
Chief Constable Sims: Well, I don’t think it is for us to prevent journalistic activity. I do think the one comment I would make on the 24/7 news world is that the constant looping of images of burning buildings-if I saw the Croydon furniture shop on fire once I saw it a million times-provides a kind of context for people of uncertainty, fear and disorder so that in a sense we are left trying to deal with some of the consequences of that.
Q448 Lorraine Fullbrook: Chief Constable Sims, I would just like to pick up on the comment you made about the criminal justice system and the interventions that are required. You are almost deciding what were the causes of these riots by saying that. We have heard many witnesses from across the areas that suffered from this criminality and in almost every case a witness has said that these people were not deprived and suffering and poor children. They were well equipped with vehicles and so on. One particular witness told us that she asked, "Why are you doing this?" "We are doing this because we can and we can get away with it and nothing is going to happen to us."
Chief Constable Sims: I said on the first morning-
Q449 Chair: But is that right, do you agree with Ms Fullbrook?
Chief Constable Sims: Well, I said on the first morning that this was more about greed than anger, and I stick by that and I think it is right. But having decided that the criminal justice system will punish, as it should do, then we can’t simply, I think, collectively leave it as punishment. We need to find ways of actually bettering the people that we punish.
Q450 Lorraine Fullbrook: But don’t you think we can only do that when we know the causes of this?
Chief Constable Sims: I think that every criminal justice intervention ought to have a forward look to it about future behaviour. It can’t be enough to simply punish. Prisons are not just about punishment; they are about rehabilitation.
Chair: Chief Constable, Assistant Chief Constable, thank you very much indeed. It would be very helpful, as Mr Michael suggested, if you would let us have a copy of that report so we can read it into the evidence. Thank you.
Chief Constable Sims: Thank you very much.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Chief Constable Julia Hodson, Nottinghamshire Police, and Assistant Chief Constable Paul Broadbent, Nottinghamshire Police, gave evidence.
Q451 Chair: Chief Constable, Mr Broadbent, thank you for coming. I am going to start your questioning with a local East Midlands MP-not quite Nottinghamshire, but Northamptonshire. It is on the way to Nottinghamshire. Mr Ellis.
Q452 Michael Ellis: Just down the road a way. Chief Constable, welcome to the Committee this morning. Can I ask you first how you dealt in the disturbances in your police force area with the riots, how you deployed techniques and what techniques you feel in retrospect you might have deployed differently, if any?
Chief Constable Hodson: Thank you, Chair. It is a long question and may I start by challenging the notion that we had a riot in Nottinghamshire. Our view is that we had violent disturbance, and that might come up again when we talk about the Riot (Damages) Act later in your questioning.
Michael Ellis: Yes. I appreciate the distinction, yes.
Chief Constable Hodson: Thank you. I think that one of the strengths and the success of the way that Nottinghamshire officers and staff responded to those violent disorder challenges was taking a holistic approach and using as many tactics that were available to us to make sure that we dealt with it in the round. Colleagues from other forces have already talked about the strength of a solid foundation of neighbourhood policing and the relationships that that creates, a strong Gold strategy-Mr Broadbent was one of the Gold Commanders on our 24/7 coverage-with a policing tactic that was about preventing, following the intelligence, engaging with those that we believed wanted to be involved in violent disorder, and then enforcing within the rules and the powers that are available to us.
Q453 Michael Ellis: Do you have police horses in Nottinghamshire?
Chief Constable Hodson: We do, indeed.
Q454 Michael Ellis: Did you deploy those horses for crowd control?
Chief Constable Hodson: We did, indeed.
Q455 Michael Ellis: Police dogs?
Chief Constable Hodson: Not necessarily for crowd control, as it happens, but rather to create a defensive line to protect property.
Q456 Michael Ellis: In order to police the disorder that was occasioning you deployed horses and dogs?
Chief Constable Hodson: Yes. The dogs were a really useful tactic. I know a colleague has already mentioned that, but particularly in the housing estate of St Ann’s the mobility and flexibility of the dog officers was really very, very helpful indeed.
Q457 Michael Ellis: Criminals do not want to be bitten by police dogs?
Chief Constable Hodson: Indeed.
Q458 Michael Ellis: Do you wish that you had other techniques and tactics available to you? For example, would you like your force to have the use of water cannon? Would you like to have the use of baton rounds should that be permissible?
Chief Constable Hodson: We were nowhere near that scenario. I don’t think that it would have been a tactic of choice for Nottinghamshire.
Q459 Michael Ellis: Can I just ask one other supplementary, which is this? You have made the distinction between disorder and riot, which is not necessarily a distinction that is made in the media. Reference has been made to riots, but actually very few people, it seems to me, have been charged with the offence of riot, which is under section 1 of the Public Order Act 1986. What do you find that others in your force area have been charged with so far?
Chief Constable Hodson: Criminal damage, arson, burglary, disorder.
Q460 Michael Ellis: Violent disorder, for example, under section 2?
Chief Constable Hodson: That is right.
Q461 Michael Ellis: But no use of the section 1 offence?
Chief Constable Hodson: No.
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: No use of section 1 at all, no. Arson with intent to endanger life was a key charge for us given the fact that some police stations came under fire by petrol bombs.
Q462 Chair: Chief Constable, you seem to be downplaying the extent of the disorders in Nottinghamshire. You don’t like the word "riot". You prefer the word "disorder". How many people were arrested?
Chief Constable Hodson: I am trying to be accurate, Chairman.
Chair: Of course, which is what we would expect.
Chief Constable Hodson: Yes. My professional experience from a number of other metropolitan force areas where I have worked is that the terminology and the descriptive "riot" can be damaging reputationally for many years as you seek to recover the confidence of the community and the confidence-
Q463 Chair: So it is a presentation issue? They can riot in Manchester and Birmingham, but they don’t riot in Nottingham?
Chief Constable Hodson: No, no, it is about accuracy and making sure that we are proportionate in how we describe things and that we ascribe proportionality.
Q464 Chair: Okay, so there was no riot. How many people were arrested?
Chief Constable Hodson: Over 125 to date.
Q465 Chair: How many had previous convictions?
Chief Constable Hodson: 71%.
Q466 Chair: So it is roughly the same as the figure given in the West Midlands and the figure that the Lord Chancellor gave a few days ago. As far as you are concerned, since there was not a riot but there were disorders, and you knew what was happening in Tottenham-I assume, like everyone else including Members of Parliament, you were away in August?
Chief Constable Hodson: Indeed, Chairman.
Q467 Chair: Yes, no criticism is intended. It is just that people come here and say, "We were away." and look embarrassed, but we quite accept that. We accept that people were away. It happened in Tottenham. There were disorders on the Sunday in London; there were disorders on Monday; there was widespread television coverage. Did you not anticipate that this was going to come to Nottingham and why didn’t you act sooner?
Chief Constable Hodson: I think we acted-given that I was abroad at that point-accurately at the right time. My professional policing experience, once I saw the Sky news coverage from abroad, created a level of anxiety in me.
Q468 Chair: When did you see the Sky news coverage?
Chief Constable Hodson: On the Sunday.
Q469 Chair: So you became anxious and you rang your Gold Commanders and whoever was on the force?
Chief Constable Hodson: I contacted the force and was reassured by the command structure that was in place, by the local intelligence that gave no indication whatsoever that there was any intent that we were aware of within Nottinghamshire to follow the pattern of events in the Metropolitan-
Q470 Chair: But you took no preventive action. I know people talk about hindsight, but the idea of a copycat riot that starts in London and goes on to Manchester and Birmingham may hit Leicester and Nottingham, as it did.
Chief Constable Hodson: On the Monday, Chair, there was a preventive strategy in place. Mr Scarrott and Mr Broadbent took command in the Gold structure and we had officers who were on extended duty cover deployed into the city ready to anticipate anything that might occur.
Q471 Chair: In terms of just numbers, Mr Broadbent, Sunday, how many officers were out on the streets?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: Just the normal amount of officers on the street because there was no intelligence-
Chair: We don’t know what the normal amount is.
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: About 135 in Nottingham.
Chair: 135 officers. By Monday?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: It was specifically officers allocated for any potential disorder. It was 150 purely to meet any disorder issues.
Q472 Chair: So 130 to 150, or 130 to 130 and 150?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: To 130 and 150.
Chair: So 280, just give us total figures.
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: Yes.
Q473 Chair: The Tuesday?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: There was an additional 100 on top of that.
Q474 Chair: So 380, and the Wednesday?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: The Wednesday was the same and then it started to tail off as the week went on and there was no intelligence to suggest after the Wednesday there was anything.
Q475 Chair: The deployment of more officers brought the disorders under control?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: Potentially yes, but there was some proportionate deployment of those officers. They were not all out on the street at any point in time. We kept some in reserve in different kinds of kit, but the policing tone and style was engage to disperse and then if any criminal acts were committed they would be arrested. So for the first phase officers were in normal police uniform with big helmets and they had the kit available to deploy as police support units. If I could just rewind slightly from the Friday, we were all watching-I think UK policing was watching-what was going on. On the Sunday, I made an assessment of what intelligence was there, what was our requirement. Our intelligence requirement was to find out if any of what we were seeing on the TV could or indeed was going to happen in Nottingham and there was absolutely no indication whatsoever.
Q476 Chair: But the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary and Ministers who flew back from their holidays, like others, felt that the tactics were wrong and there were too few officers on the streets. That is what the Prime Minister said to the House on 11 August. Do you agree with that?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: I think that we had a proportionate response and I think you can tell-
Q477 Chair: So you disagree?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: Yes.
Chair: You disagree with the Prime Minister on this? You think you had enough officers and the tactics were fine?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: I do, yes.
Chief Constable Hodson: We are speaking locally there.
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: Absolutely. Sorry, locally, yes.
Chair: You are not yet the Prime Minister.
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: No, thank goodness. What I would say is on the Tuesday night we had enough officers, just. We were at a tipping point, but from the Monday morning it was not just a policing intelligence requirement; we had partners engaged. We were sitting round a table exhausting every single source of intelligence to see what the picture was in Nottinghamshire.
Q478 Mark Reckless: I understand the presentation on a reputational issue, but could you clarify for us what turns violent disorder into a riot and is your point just that Nottingham didn’t have a riot or there were no riots at all? What is the definition of riot versus violent disorder?
Chief Constable Hodson: I don’t seek to make a judgement about what happened anywhere else. That is a matter for individual forces, but the legislation is quite clear about what constitutes a riot and what constitutes disorder, and the definitions are available to us, and applying that test. I think in the first instance we applied the test when we were thinking about the Riot (Damages) Act, but that is my understanding.
Q479 Mark Reckless: I am happy to refer back to the legislation-I am sure the Committee could do that-but could you in your own words perhaps say what would have had to happen further in Nottingham for it to be a riot rather than violent disorder as you state?
Chief Constable Hodson: Essentially, it is about the number of people that are involved with a common purpose to commit violent acts.
Q480 Mark Reckless: But was this not a common purpose of looting by quite a large number of people?
Chief Constable Hodson: There was no looting in Nottinghamshire.
Mark Reckless: No looting?
Q481 Chair: There was no looting at all? There were no shops broken into, nothing stolen?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: There were two shops broken into and property was stolen.
Q482 Chair: So there was looting?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: Well, there were two burglaries and people have been charged with burglary. I think it is important to note the difference in Nottinghamshire with, potentially, other parts of the country. There were a small number of people in little pockets around the city centre, in inner-city suburbs, causing problems. There was no large mass of people throwing stones or confronting police.
Chair: As there was in London or Birmingham.
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: There were no barricades. There was nothing of that nature. You have got a number of inner-city suburbs, primarily young people within those suburbs coming together. We have been through all the evidence and at no point could we substantiate that there were 12 or more people together for a common purpose with intent to commit the act of rioting.
Q483 Chair: So what did you do that was different from other forces that made sure that there were not the kind of disorders we saw elsewhere?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: I think by nature our disorder was different so we could deploy some different tactics. We had small pockets of people so we could disperse more easily and keep those people on the back foot, quite simply. There was a specific decision not to allow people, where possible-potential people who would cause disorder-into the city centre and then employ their own copycat tactics.
Q484 Dr Huppert: Can I ask a bit about your infrastructure and preparedness? Firstly, how many officers do you have altogether?
Chief Constable Hodson: Year on year about 2,500. We are making a number redundant at the present time.
Q485 Dr Huppert: How many of those are trained in public order duties so that they could operate within a PSU?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: That is 500-500 trained in police support unit duties.
Q486 Dr Huppert: Do you think that is enough?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: It is enough. However, you have people on annual leave, you have some off sick, you have some on training courses, so the amount you are able to mobilise is less than that.
Q487 Dr Huppert: How many is a realistic number that you can mobilise? How does that compare to what you would actually need? Also, are you typical of similar forces, do you think?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: Yes, I do think we are typical of similar forces and we were able to mobilise on the Monday night 150 officers out of 500 trained, which is pretty good going.
Chief Constable Hodson: If I may add, the force does have quite a considerable experience of policing disorder in a number of different forms, which range from the normal policing arrangements for a football match to policing EDL marches, climate change marches. So, not only do we have trained officers, we have very experienced officers who are used to responding proportionately to a number of different scenarios.
Q488 Steve McCabe: I wonder if I can return for a moment to what was different about the Nottingham experience. You have just said that there was no looting and I think it is probably fair to say that what you witnessed was characterised by attacks on motor vehicles, petrol bombs, arson and attacks on the police. I think I read somewhere that your colleague, Assistant Chief Constable Scarrott, said it was a kind of copycat activity by a mindless minority. Is that a fair way to understand the Nottingham experience?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: From my perspective as one of the Gold Commanders, yes it is.
Q489 Steve McCabe: I also noticed that you are described as having taken preemptive action. I wonder if you could tell us what it is you did. I guess what I am interested to know is, was there the potential in Nottingham for you to experience exactly or more or less what happened in Birmingham, Manchester and London, and was it something different about your tactics, or was it that you were just dealing with a different order of events?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: I think what was different, primarily, was the scale of disorder that Nottinghamshire saw compared with other major cities and the style of that disorder. We did not have hundreds of people at the end of a road wishing to vent their anger on police officers, which dictates a different kind of policing tactic. We had small numbers of people-generally around about 10 or a few more-on street corners who we felt were prepared to commit violent acts if we didn’t go and engage with them in the first place. We moved forward to engage in a quite relaxed policing style and they ran off. What we are not going to do is chase them all round the city, but we have resources deployed. But because there was no large mass, we were able to keep those people who were intent on disturbances primarily on the back foot.
Q490 Steve McCabe: Elsewhere in the country forces were facing sometimes maybe crowds of 100 or more, and at different times sporadic episodes with maybe groups of 20 to 40. In essence, you were never dealing with numbers anything like that, so I guess what you were dealing with would not have been massively different-obviously the petrol bombs and the arson was-from what you might experience at a football event or something like that.
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: I suppose in years gone by the disturbances we saw would have been similar to some kind of football violence with the added aspect of some petrol bombs.
Q491 Alun Michael: Can you say a little bit about the responses that you had from the local community, both at the time in terms of helping you to catch some of those who were involved in the activities and subsequently?
Chief Constable Hodson: One of the things that struck me was that during the incidents on the Monday and Tuesday evening the public were very supportive in that they were making contact with the police to identify people who had been involved. One of the police stations that was attacked by a group of about 10-plus was videoed on somebody’s mobile phone and simultaneously called into the control room, which was extremely helpful indeed. So we did have that level of support during the events. Then afterwards, echoing the comments of my colleagues, the response from the public-in the gratitude, the tributes that they paid to the officers either by telephone, in writing, through gifts, stopping officers on the street-was very moving indeed and really matched the enthusiasm that my officers and staff had to respond to the incidents and the challenges that they were presented with.
Q492 Alun Michael: On the issue of the follow-up, can you tell us how many people have been arrested to date? Are you still, for instance, viewing video evidence and that sort of thing, and do you have an idea of the proportion that have been involved with criminal activity previously?
Chief Constable Hodson: The figures, as described before: 125 arrested so far and 71% of those have been involved with criminal activity previously. Again, one of the tactics that was perhaps a little different in Nottingham, because we had a slightly different scenario, was that we did not need to put any of the criminal faces on to our webpage for identification by the public and hopefully that helped to create a sense of confidence in the police because we knew through local intelligence who the people were that we needed to arrest. So I think 99 were arrested on the night and then other arrests followed.
Q493 Mark Reckless: So you are saying that not asking the public for help inspires confidence in the police?
Chief Constable Hodson: In relation to putting a number of mug shots on to a webpage and saying, "Help us identify who these are," because it demonstrates that we know who are the people that are offending. It doesn’t create a sense of fear that these people are still out there.
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: If I could just add, I think there is another aspect to that. We didn’t have mass disorder in a city centre that is well covered by CCTV. We had sporadic disorder in inner-city suburbs that were not covered by CCTV. Notwithstanding that, members of the public were ringing in directly, and were prepared to give witness statements and also anonymously, to give names of people who they believed had committed criminal acts, either setting fire to a police vehicle or throwing a petrol bomb at a police station. So the public groundswell of support was massive and still is.
Q494 Mark Reckless: How are you hoping to offset the costs of dealing with these disturbances and are you able to tell us what that cost was, both direct staffing and the opportunity cost?
Chief Constable Hodson: The cost is at the moment £1.2 million, and 50% of that cost is officer and staff overtime costs; the others are incidental costs. The cost of damages for members of the public whose property was damaged through the process, we understand is at about £10,000, so significantly different to the picture elsewhere. How are we going to meet that cost? You have already had a conversation about where that funding might come from. I think the police authority chairman, and I would hope that there is some support from central Government to help us meet that cost. The force is extremely challenged in terms of meeting the budget reductions and could not absorb £1.2 million additional cost.
Q495 Mark Reckless: You seem to have, you say, about the right numbers of PSUs trained, about 500 you said. One of the issues I think the Government faces is, following these disturbances or riots, depending perhaps where it was, what should the strategic policing requirement say to different forces and how many people they need to have trained, or do we already have sufficient mechanisms to motivate forces to have the right number of trained people and deploy them to other forces where necessary, in particular the Hertfordshire Agreement? Is that about right, or is there an argument it is too generous and how much it compensates the force giving the officers to elsewhere?
Chief Constable Hodson: The strategic policing requirement will, of course, be informed by the national threat, risk and harm assessment, which no doubt will be rewritten in the light of the disorders and the riots that have been experienced in this country. I think one of the challenges for PNICC-and I think you have heard from others about those particular challenges-was that as an individual force like Nottinghamshire seeks to draw in mutual aid from other forces then we find ourselves in the situation that other forces have greater challenges than we do. We were able to call in, I think, five PSUs on the night to assist us. It is a really difficult calculation but, of course, you always start with, what do we need locally, what do we need regionally and then what do we need to do to support the national effort?
Q496 Mark Reckless: Are the current financial arrangements-I think the Hertfordshire Agreement-appropriate?
Chief Constable Hodson: This is where we cross-charge for the PSUs?
Mark Reckless: Yes.
Chief Constable Hodson: That is an interesting scenario for us because we are paying for some that came in and then charging back for some that went outside of the force after the disorder concluded. So there is quite a lot of administrative bureaucracy that now supports that.
Q497 Chair: Our next witnesses are from the social media. What role did they have-not the witnesses, but the social media-in the disturbances in Nottingham? We have had a lot of evidence from Birmingham and London and Manchester, which have used social networking as a force for good, but during the disorders, of course-or riots in London, disorders in Nottingham-we heard that Tim Godwin was looking at closing them down. Is it a force for good? Do you all use it? Should it have been closed down?
Chief Constable Hodson: It was a force for good for us in, I think, three different ways. The first way is that we were able to use it is an intelligence tool. The second way was that we were able to reassure our public. We had a communications strategy that said Nottinghamshire Police will become the voice of truth and accuracy using Twitter, Facebook and internet sites, and it quickly became the case that Nottinghamshire Police was the trusted voice on the networks. The third one escapes me for the moment. Oh, it was a way of making sure that the press and the media were kept up to speed, because they relied on the same source data.
Q498 Steve McCabe: I hope you will not interpret this as a criticism of Nottinghamshire Police-that is not my purpose-but I am struck by the fact that the public response to your officers in terms of assistance and expressions of gratitude was almost identical to that experienced by officers in other parts of the country, yet you had a relatively minor event involving known criminals that you were able to contain without too much difficulty. Does that suggest that the public were possibly influenced by what they were seeing elsewhere more than they were influenced by what they were experiencing from your own officers and on their own streets?
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: Yes, I think very much the feedback we have got through social media was specific to Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, so people might have been seeing things unfolding elsewhere in the country, but primarily people locally are concerned with what happens locally. The feedback we got continued to be tremendous right through, and other stories that you have heard this morning about people coming in and giving presents and the like were replicated in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.
Q499 Chair: In conclusion, you are telling us that even though there were disorders-riots-in other parts of the country, you managed to contain this very well in Nottinghamshire and you feel that you did everything you possibly could in order to ensure that people’s lives were kept safe and that property was not damaged. You are telling us that only two properties were damaged during this set of disorders. Is that right?
Chief Constable Hodson: There were two properties that were burgled, Chairman. Actually five police stations were attacked, but only minor damage and quickly put right. I am not aware of any other. Oh, damage to vehicles.
Chair: You may find yourself in demand at seminars as to how to control these disorders.
Chief Constable Hodson: That would be wonderful, Chairman, but could I just add to your comments there? I think the important thing is not just that Nottinghamshire Police feel that we did the best job that we could, but our public feel that and our partners feel that.
Chair: Indeed. In the past, Nottinghamshire has not been top of the list of the best performing police authorities in the country, but you have recently been commended for turning that authority round, so congratulations from all of us.
Chief Constable Hodson: We are grateful, Chairman.
Assistant Chief Constable Broadbent: If I could add one quick thing, Chair. Just to repeat again, the nature of the violence and the disorder we were presented with was fundamentally different than in other parts of the country, which enabled us to cap it off a lot quicker.
Chair: Sure. We do understand that. We understand that Nottingham is not London. Thank you very much.
Chief Constable Hodson: Sorry, Chairman, what we are trying to say is we don’t say anything about what has happened in other forces.
Chair: No, we understand that perfectly.
Chief Constable Hodson: Thank you.
Chair: You are going to meet the other Chief Constables outside.
Chief Constable Hodson: They are bigger than I am, Chairman.
Chair: Thank you, Chief Constable and Mr Broadbent.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Stephen Bates, Managing Director UK and Ireland, Research in Motion, BlackBerry, Richard Allan, Director of Policy, Facebook, and Alexander Macgillivray, General Counsel, responsible for public policy, Twitter, gave evidence.
Q500 Chair: Mr Macgillivray, Richard Allan, Stephen Bates, thank you very much for coming to give evidence today to this Committee, in particular to you, Mr Macgillivray. You have flown all the way from California. The Committee is extremely grateful to you for coming here and we do appreciate this. Also, of course, Mr Richard Allan, a former member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, welcome back, and Mr Bates. These disorders have been described as the social networking disorders, whether they are riots or not, the so-called BlackBerry riots or the Twitter riots or the Facebook riots. Do you understand that criticism and how do you deal with that kind of criticism? Mr Bates?
Stephen Bates: First of all, I would like to say thank you very much for inviting me to attend this hearing. I am very happy to be here to answer questions on behalf of Research in Motion and we look forward-
Chair: Sorry, I should say we all declare our interest, those of us who have BlackBerrys, as I have.
Stephen Bates: I don’t have mine with me. I was not sure whether it would be a-
Chair: Those of us on Facebook-I am not-and those of us on Twitter-Dr Huppert is-so I should declare all that in advance. Yes, Mr Bates, sorry.
Stephen Bates: Certainly from our perspective we feel for the communities affected by these riots and myself, as a citizen of this country, watched this map out and we thought it was very important that we were very quick about how we responded to the authorities with respect to our obligations under the framework we work to for privacy and lawful access. So we responded very quickly. We thought that was extremely important.
Q501 Chair: Yes, we will come on to response in a minute, but what about responsibility? Do you take some of the responsibility for what people have said? We have had Members in the House who represent constituencies affected who have talked about the BlackBerry gangsters and the BlackBerry riots. Do you accept part of the responsibility for what has happened?
Stephen Bates: Our sense of this is that BlackBerry within the UK, there are nearly approximately 7 million people that use BlackBerry in the UK. We have a wide demographic of users and on the whole we would say the vast majority of people abide by the law and use social media systems like our instant messaging, BBM and other social media as a force for good. We saw many instances while the riots were happening where social media was used for a force for good to check that people were safe, they had got to places where they wanted to, and we all saw the aftermath of how social media was used to help. So we say it is a balance and we certainly say that our response to that was-
Q502 Chair: We will come on to the response. You have told us all the good things about BlackBerry, but you must have known what was happening, and we are all customers so you do not have to sell us any. The issue is it was used, was it not, by those who wished to get other people on the streets in order to participate in these riots? It is a matter of fact, isn’t it?
Stephen Bates: There is no dispute that social media was used for malicious purposes. The interesting thing around BlackBerry is our demographic ranges from FTSE 100 companies right down to 37% of 20-year-olds and below. So what that means is the mobile phone of choice is a BlackBerry for youth.
Q503 Chair: We understand that. Richard Allan, what about Facebook? Is there any responsibility here? We have seen one individual who used Facebook who has now gone to jail for four years, which some people think is a very heavy sentence; others think this is the right sentence. What about Facebook’s role in all this?
Richard Allan: I think, Chair, we have a very clear responsibility to ensure that the uses of our service are legal, and that is very clearly expressed in our terms and conditions, which we describe as-it could have come from the last Government-a statement of rights and responsibilities. That is very deliberate language that we have chosen to say that if you are going to use our service, you have a right to the use of that service, rights on privacy and so on, but you also have a responsibility to use the service in ways that are legal. We will talk about response, I know, in a minute, but essentially we have created a framework to support that statement. In terms of why I think we are attracting so much attention, there clearly is a novelty factor and I think a policing issue about catch-up where, for example, when cars first started to come into common usage, clearly the ability to catch burglars who were using cars was quite different from the ability to catch burglars who were running away on foot. The police took some time to catch up and figure out how to deal with the motorised villain and now they need to develop mechanisms for dealing with the social media villain.
Q504 Chair: Do you think people, therefore, have just latched on to it because it was new, as they did in the Arab Spring? People had Facebook and all these things and that was a force for good. But do you accept that it was misused and, therefore, people used Facebook to get other people to come out on to the streets and be involved in malicious and criminal activity?
Richard Allan: We have looked at a lot of what took place on our platform and, frankly, if we had found widespread evidence about that I would say so, but we have not, and we think there are a number of reasons for that.
Chair: But one of your customers has gone to jail for four years for it.
Richard Allan: And I would say there are a handful of cases that we found, and the handful I assume most have been prosecuted, which explains why our platform is not a good platform for that kind of activity. It is too visible.
Q505 Chair: So a very small percentage you are saying?
Richard Allan: Tiny, literally a handful of cases where we found that people were doing things that were serious organisation as opposed to the good stuff or what you might call joke activity.
Q506 Chair: Indeed. What about Twitter?
Alexander Macgillivray: We are slightly different than the other two networks here- and of course I thank the Chair for the opportunity to speak to this Committee, it is wonderful-but I guess what I would say is, similar to Facebook and BlackBerry, we do clearly have our users. Their use of the service is subject to using it in accordance with the law, but we have not found, because our service is such a public service, that it is a particularly good tool for organising illegal activity. We have not found in this particular case examples-I don’t have any to share with the Committee-of the service being used for the organisation of illegal activity.
Q507 Chair: But it is clear that people have used Twitter in order to encourage people to go out.
Alexander Macgillivray: We haven’t seen that, at least I have not seen it yet in this particular case. There are a bunch of different organisations looking at the public tweets. One of the advantages of our network is that, of course, it is public so people can look and examine and tell us more than we would know about what is going on.
Q508 Chair: So as of today nobody has said to you that customers of Twitter used Twitter in order to encourage other people to go out and perform criminal acts, even though Chief Constables and others have come before this Committee and told us that that was in fact the case?
Alexander Macgillivray: I haven’t seen the Constables saying that there are particular instances of Twitter usage being responsible for rioting.
Chair: Just the general social network?
Alexander Macgillivray: It is not abnormal for us to be lumped in with other media out there. We think of ourselves as quite distinct, in part because people come to Twitter to say things publicly, which means that there is just a different type of usage pattern that we see.
Q509 Chair: You have 100 million users; is that right?
Alexander Macgillivray: Yes, we have 100 million active users.
Q510 Chair: Just remind me, Richard Allan, how many do you have on Facebook?
Richard Allan: 750 million, of which 30 million are in the United Kingdom.
Q511 Chair: Do you know how many of your 100 million are in the United Kingdom?
Alexander Macgillivray: I don’t.
Q512 Chair: And Stephen Bates, just remind us of the figures again in the United Kingdom?
Stephen Bates: In the United Kingdom we have round about 7 million BlackBerry users.
Q513 Chair: And worldwide?
Stephen Bates: Roughly around about 67 million, as of our last quarter.
Q514 Dr Huppert: Thank you all for coming. I am fairly familiar with Facebook and Twitter; I use them both quite extensively. In fact, I think of all the current MPs I was the first one on Twitter by about a week. But I have to say my personal experience with BlackBerry was less good. I had presumably an early model and it has improved. So I am not so familiar with how the BlackBerry Messenger service works. There has been a lot of comment about bits of it being very public, bits of it being private, bits of it being heavily encrypted. Mr Bates, could you say a little bit more about exactly how that works? How much of it is private, how much is encrypted to a level where you could not access it even if you wanted to?
Chair: And, Mr Bates, we don’t need a sales pitch.
Stephen Bates: I will keep my numbers under control for you. I think we are very aware of BlackBerry’s position here in the UK. BlackBerry Messenger is a form of instant messaging in that, like most and many other instant messaging systems such as Microsoft Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk and even Skype, it is based around the concept of consent. So, you have to consent to be connected to people to enable you to communicate, be it a one-on-one individual or be it a group of up to 30 individuals. Once you have made that consent happen, you are then freely able to communicate within that environment. From our perspective, we enable that, like many other instant messaging services, and that enables us to protect the privacy of users while we, as a business, maintain our position around complying with the law. We work fully within the framework of the lawful access requirements as defined under RIPA.
Q515 Dr Huppert: So there could be an interception order where there is nothing that you could not in principle intercept if the appropriate legal framework was set up?
Stephen Bates: One of our founding principles in terms of the way we deal with privacy and lawful access is we comply with the laws of the land in which we operate. The laws of the land in the UK, we comply with the regulations of RIPA, and the mechanisms around that we are fully compliant with. Certainly when this incident happened we engaged with the authorities, as we were expected to do, and met the obligations we have to under that framework.
Q516 Dr Huppert: As you know there are two issues. One is about the data, about what the connection is, and one is about the actual content. Just to be very clear, you can provide communications data retrospectively and you can provide content that is happening after an order has been passed in the UK. Is that correct?
Stephen Bates: The way we do this is we have an instant messaging system that is consent based around you as an individual and you are obliged to operate within that. We, as a business, manage our operation under the framework that we have complied with in the UK.
Q517 Dr Huppert: You are very carefully not saying yes. Why is that?
Stephen Bates: As you are aware, under the framework of the legislation around RIPA we are not able to expose details, or explain details should I say, around the actual execution. So I am very happy, for instance, if the Chair would allow it, to write to provide a private update as to what we do and we don’t do.
Chair: Yes, of course.
Q518 Mr Winnick: My colleague Mr Reckless will be asking you in a moment about a possible suspension of these matters during disturbances. I will leave that to my colleague, but can I ask you at this stage how far you are working with the police to try and help the police to bring in those who were alleged to have been involved in the disturbances? Are you working in close co-operation with the police?
Alexander Macgillivray: We certainly have open communication with the police, but there is nothing that is currently ongoing in terms of them asking us for information regarding individuals.
Richard Allan: We have a dedicated law enforcement team that has a European unit based in our European headquarters in Dublin and they are in very regular contact with the UK police’s SPOC network, which has nothing to do with Star Trek but is the Single Point of Contact. Our view is that the UK police relationship with internet companies like ours is a model globally. That network is very mature, works very well, and we have interlocutors in the police who understand our service, understand what they can and can’t ask for. That channel is used for RIPA requests. Again, I think you understand that we don’t talk about the detail of individual requests, but we can say generally people in the police SPOC network ask our network or submit valid RIPA requests through that network and those are responded to in the appropriate way.
Q519 Mr Winnick: Mr Bates, co-operation with the police in this matter?
Stephen Bates: Fundamentally the industry here in the UK complies with a consistent method of operation like my colleagues have outlined. We also follow that same framework and operate under the same guidelines. From our perspective, in terms of the observation, as we saw it, as this event panned out, the execution of that was very efficient and very effective and our ongoing communication with the UK authorities is very productive and very open.
Q520 Mr Winnick: Just a very easy question, yes or no, do each of you on behalf of your companies accept that you have a commitment to the rule of law, and therefore co-operation with the authorities, in the situations that occurred in August that is essential?
Alexander Macgillivray: Yes.
Richard Allan: Yes.
Stephen Bates: Of course.
Chair: Those are the briefest answers we have had from witnesses ever.
Mr Winnick: Perhaps the briefest question.
Chair: And the briefest question from Mr Winnick.
Q521 Mark Reckless: One or two of my colleagues have suggested that social media should be shut down during periods of large-scale disorder. What is your response to that?
Alexander Macgillivray: I think the Constables who have testified before the Committee made plain that they are using it very concretely for good during moments of crisis, so we think it would be an absolutely horrible idea to suspend service during those important times.
Richard Allan: Similarly, when you have 30 million people in the United Kingdom using the tools to tell family and friends that they are safe, to turn it off at that stage we think would not serve the public interest. We are extremely pleased that the Home Secretary has now indicated that there is no intention to seek additional powers and we hope that that position is sustained and supported by your Committee.
Stephen Bates: From our perspective, we take a view that communications generally and social media are a force for good and on the whole we think that is consistent in terms of my colleagues in the industry that we don’t see that being a good way forward. We do see, however, within the Communications Act 2003 the Government does have legislative powers to suspend communication networks. That power already exists so the mechanisms are in place to execute that should it be deemed necessary by the authorities.
Q522 Mark Reckless: Where Governments, perhaps overseas-Egypt was suggested as an example-do shut down the social networks for a period what is the response of your organisations? Do you start up and it is business as usual or will you seek not to operate in those types of market?
Richard Allan: Speaking for ourselves, we have a global service so in theory anyone who connects to the internet can connect to our service as long as their Government is not blocking them. So, in a sense, there are limited things that we can do. We continue to make our service available. So in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and, currently, Syria, where Governments will put in whole or selective blocks, our service is still available if they can get through their local internet service providers.
Q523 Mark Reckless: Would that be the same for Twitter?
Alexander Macgillivray: Yes, we work very hard to try to make sure that our service is available to people around the world and we obviously don’t think it is a good idea for Governments to shut down the internet the way that has happened in some of the revolutions.
Q524 Mark Reckless: For BlackBerry is there more of a national jurisdiction approach?
Stephen Bates: No, it is very consistent. We have a global framework that we approach around lawful access and we comply with the laws of the land. In the case of Egypt, the Government instructed the mobile network operators to shut down and therefore by default that shuts down the BlackBerry service as we are a mobile service. So that was that. So we comply with the law.
Q525 Chair: Why shouldn’t the Government, if necessary, use powers to close down these networks? If there is mass disorder going on and mass criminality and this is the only way to stop it happening why shouldn’t they use those powers? We accept that it may be a force for good. As Mr Bates has told us is already in legislation, you must understand that in certain circumstances the Government may have to do this. Certainly the Commissioner told this Committee that he considered doing this, which was a surprise to the Committee, but decided not to because obviously the police were tracking the information. But do you understand that there may be circumstances in a situation to do with terrorism or high criminality where they may have to do this? Mr Bates?
Stephen Bates: We have a strong view around the fact that communication and social media are a force for good. Within the UK the legislation does exist. Whether or not that decision is taken is a matter for police, the authorities, emergency services and the Secretary of State. Our position is very clear. If that was to be enacted we would meet our obligations, as we have committed to under the law, to help assist that through the execution of that duty.
Q526 Chair: So you would understand if it was done if it was a particularly-I am talking about an emergency situation. You would understand why that would happen?
Stephen Bates: From our perspective we comply with the law and if the instruction, according to the Communications Act, would be to close down the mobile networks, which is the method by which that would be enacted, we would then comply; we would then work with those mobile operators to help them meet the obligations as defined by that Act.
Q527 Chair: Did this happen in the immediate aftermath of 7/7?
Stephen Bates: I can’t remember. I can’t comment. I am happy to-
Q528 Chair: I can’t remember either. If you would write to us. Richard Allan, you have been a Member of this House. Certain circumstances, terrorist attack, violence, terrible disorder, the Commissioner says to the Home Secretary, "This is the only way to stop this happening," you would understand in those exceptional circumstances it just may have to happen?
Richard Allan: As a service provider, you never would advocate for your service to be made unavailable. You might be understanding were that to happen and you can take a view on what a good public policy framework for making those decisions is, and I think the United Kingdom has one in the Civil Contingencies Act. The kind of tests you would be looking for are a very high threshold in terms of necessity, proportionality; a number of checks and balances procedurally in place; and a framework for accountability after the decision. I think our experience in a lot of other countries is that none of that exists. You look at the North Africa situation: it was the whim of the Executive with no system, no thresholds, no system of checks and balances in place. So I think where countries have those frameworks in place the decision will be much more understandable and acceptable to a service provider.
Alexander Macgillivray: I think it is a very difficult, hypothetical question to answer, but in practical terms what we have seen in all of the instances where this has been considered or suggested you have even the police forces saying that it is not a good idea. So, is there a hypothetical case somewhere where that might be a good idea? I don’t know, but we certainly haven’t seen any practical case and in the cases where we have had societies or individual organisations shut down access to one or more of their communications networks, it has not proven to be a good idea.
Q529 Chair: But do you accept that your users, for example, who broke the super injunction concerning Ryan Giggs-75,000 people went on Twitter and announced his name-that social media is being used as a way round the law?
Alexander Macgillivray: I can’t really comment on the super injunction because we don’t have a good example there again of a place where we were informed of a particular injunction and users went ahead and did something over and above that injunction. But there certainly will be people-
Q530 Chair: You didn’t know about it, or you knew about it but you couldn’t do anything about it?
Alexander Macgillivray: We certainly read about it in the papers, but we weren’t ever served with any injunction or anything like that. I don’t want to try to not answer your question, so the one thing I would certainly make clear is it is clear from any communications device ever invented that some people will use it to break the law, and we are not denying that.
Q531 Steve McCabe: I think I want to put this particularly to Mr Bates. When the Prime Minister said in the House on 11 August-I think it was in response to Dr Huppert-that rioters were using the BlackBerry service, do you think it was accurate that they were using it to systematically organise looting and have you followed that up in any way?
Stephen Bates: Not in that context, other than-the context that we would view that is that today BlackBerry is the mobile phone choice of the youth of Britain, as per the Ofcom report that I think was released in August. It stated through their research that round about 37% of people that choose a mobile phone choose BlackBerry. So is that a situation where people just use BlackBerry so that is their mobile phone of choice, or are they searching that? I wouldn’t like to make any conclusion on that, quite frankly.
Q532 Steve McCabe: I was asking because if the Prime Minister had said in the House that they were using any other piece of equipment to systematically organise crime and looting there would be a clamour for it to be banned instantly, so I wondered how valid a criticism he was making.
Stephen Bates: Interestingly, as well as that, as many of the Constables have mentioned, BlackBerry is quite heavily used by the police forces, so one in five operational police use BlackBerry today to enable them to maintain a high visibility of policing, to enable them to interact with important databases. In some instances, as we heard earlier and in the case of one I am aware of, which is South Yorkshire Police, they have equipped 100 PCs with BlackBerries to enable them as a fundamental part for outreach for community programmes. So they are using Facebook, Twitter, BBM and all other instant messaging technologies to interact with the community. We see lots of good examples of social media in use. We see good examples of enabling people to interact with their friends, family and also work colleagues.
Q533 Steve McCabe: I wonder if I could put it to Richard Allan, the criticism that I hear of Facebook, which I think is quite widespread, is not so much in the context of these events we have witnessed, but it is suggested that there is a malign element to Facebook in the way that it is used for bullying, which in some circumstances may indeed have resulted in suicides. Do you think that is a valid criticism and is there anything more that you are able to do to address that downside of your product?
Richard Allan: When you bring together a community as large as 30 million people there will be people within that community who behave inappropriately and in some cases that can be extremely harmful to other individuals. Our responsibility, as I have described through our statement of rights and responsibilities, is to minimise that behaviour, to exclude those people from our system wherever we can, and what we spend a lot of our time and energy doing is precisely developing those tools. So, tools for people to report bad behaviour, tools for people to block people who are carrying out bad behaviour and, indeed, to develop the relationships with law enforcement so that when the behaviour passes from the merely offensive, if you like, into the criminal that those individuals can be prosecuted. We have seen cases where people are prosecuted for their behaviour, and so they should be.
Q534 Steve McCabe: Who monitors your site to ensure that when very offensive and threatening comments do appear-comments that may well lead to suicides, although I am not suggesting it is direct, but the implication is that it adds to the pressure-that is spotted and some action is taken?
Richard Allan: What we find is our users, the people who use our service, are the ones who do that. We effectively have a community of-
Q535 Steve McCabe: So it is self-policing?
Richard Allan: To a degree. So it is 33 million Neighbourhood Watch people on our service, and they act as a Neighbourhood Watch, and they really do. We found during the riots that people were even reporting pages that were, if you like, positive pages about the riots because they were reporting anything to do with the riots. They felt that sense of responsibility.
Q536 Chair: How many people are in your reporting centre? It is all very well having 32 million people reporting things, but what is the infrastructure to deal with it?
Richard Allan: We have a global infrastructure with centres now in India, Dublin and two in the United States. We have several hundred people now working through that system and they use a combination of automated and manual review in order to stop people doing things. Some of the technology is amazing and we have a very powerful security team who can do things-for example, like detecting if somebody is sending harassing friend requests, thousands of friend requests, that person will be picked up and dealt with, down to dealing with an individual message between users that is very personal to them and is causing harassment and distress.
Q537 Chair: But in answer to Mr McCabe’s and Mr Reckless’s questions, if you then discovered somebody was sending a message to somebody else about a terrorist atrocity that they wanted to commit in a city in the world, what would your reporting team then do?
Richard Allan: We have an escalation procedure precisely for those circumstances, so we recognise that there are things we can deal with by warning or removing the user and we absolutely recognise there are things that need to be escalated to law enforcement.
Q538 Steve McCabe: I should just say in passing that there was a case in my own constituency of a young man who did commit suicide and his parents say that he was a victim of Facebook bullying. Is the onus on an individual to say, "This is unacceptable," and therefore, although technically it is your platform, it is your product, you don’t have any direct responsibility for monitoring what goes on there unless someone objects and says it is distasteful or unacceptable?
Richard Allan: That is correct, yes. This is common to platforms described as user-generated content platforms, of which we represent a number. The model essentially is that individuals post content to each other and that the service provider intervenes when people report that content as problematic. That is a very common model. We think it gets the right balance between freedom to speak on the platform and security.
Q539 Steve McCabe: Can I put this to everyone, just as a final point then? I guess the point here is that the allegation during the riots was that it was used for a criminal and a very malign purpose. Do you think it is acceptable that the social media could be used as a vehicle for all sorts of abuse-racism, advocating crime, terrorism-and that the people who are making money out of it don’t have any responsibility for controlling or monitoring the content?
Alexander Macgillivray: I think the way the question is framed obviously is particularly pointed, but what I would say is that we-
Steve McCabe: Well, that is what people say to me.
Alexander Macgillivray: Exactly. We all feel like we have a responsibility and our users have a responsibility to use the service in a positive way, and that is primarily what we are seeing on these services. We do, I think each of us, have teams that go in and deal with problems on the service and very much seek to fix those problems.
Richard Allan: The characterisation I think is extreme in terms of what actually happens. The experience of the vast majority of people who use all our services is entirely positive. People do understand the rules; they do stick to the rules. The rules clearly state that content like racist content is unacceptable and people are incredibly powerful at kind of self-healing that community and protecting that community. Where individuals step outside of that, again we absolutely understand and undertake that we have a responsibility to act, and I think we do.
Stephen Bates: We are relatively consistent in this as well in that we abide by the law; it is one of our fundamental principles that we abide by the law and we expect people to abide by the law. Generally around the use of social media, we do quite a lot of outreach to try and enable people to understand the use of social media in terms of its positive force, so we think that is the fundamental part of this.
Chair: Thank you very much. Sorry to hurry you along, because other members have questions.
Q540 Alun Michael: It is my impression the companies have been very open about their operation. In my case, RIM was almost as quick as the South Wales Police to provide a briefing, and I don’t think that would have been the case a few years ago. The other aspect is that change is ever more rapid. We keep thinking that change can’t accelerate and then it does at another rate of speed. Just a few years ago, at the time of the London bombings, the big issue was maintaining communications; completely different environment now, different technology. I wonder if each of you could give us a few words on what you see as the likely change in challenges going forward, obviously in the context of law and order and major public movements of mood?
Alexander Macgillivray: I will start. We are a younger company, so just a couple of years ago we were 45 people in the entire company, mostly trying to keep the service up and available, so it is a big change for us. We are now getting to the point where we are able to engage in a much more direct way, both abroad and in the United States. But I would say the challenges for us in the next few years are both understanding how the service grows in scale and becomes more a part of the conversation and then understanding how Governments-I’m talking not about the Government of the United Kingdom, but Governments around the world who might be tempted to restrict freedom of expression-are going to deal with the explosion of it online.
Q541 Alun Michael: But you would accept, would you, that it is not just about providing an environment and letting it get on? There is a need to engage with the way in which it is used and the sort of discussion that is taking place in this Committee today.
Alexander Macgillivray: Yes, and we have seen just tremendous uptake from-the Constables in the room are great examples. We have seen police accounts being used, as the Constable said, to spread correct information, to help people out directly, to respond to inquiries that are made online, to understand when there is a public report of a disturbance online that that is a useful report they can go and examine. It has been amazing, the uptake from Governments and from police forces, in using these media in new and innovative ways that are very helpful to their citizens.
Richard Allan: Any significant evolution in technology and tools presents a challenge for professionals who have a particular way of working that is well established, but if that change is permanent and ongoing-and I think the change towards a permanently connected society communicating through networks like ours we should assume is going to be the reality henceforth-as a group of professionals, whether you are MPs or police or whoever you are, you need in some way to be able to work in that new environment. If there is something positive that has come out of the exchange that is happening right now, it is that in a sense it is a moment where the policing community in the United Kingdom is very much waking up to the fact that they need to engage around social media, both from an intelligence point of view, understanding how to get intelligence out of it, and from a communication point of view.
Stephen Bates: First of all, I would like to thank you for the comment around the responsiveness of RIM over this incident. I think that is a good reflection of how seriously we take this subject. We think this is an extremely important point. We have now for some time been very active in engaging the community and we have welcomed the interaction we have had with the authorities. We welcomed the opportunity we had last month to meet the Home Secretary and we await with interest the output from this Committee. We have been very active, particularly in the police force, around trying to educate and articulate the benefits and the usability of social media as a power for good. We are going to keep doing that. We think it is essential for us as a society to understand it and to use it and not be scared of it and embrace it.
Q542 Dr Huppert: I have to say I am quite pleased now that things have calmed down a bit, so the knee-jerkery that we saw at the time of the riots has faded, and I think that is very much to be welcomed. But while I have the three of you here, can I ask you for some help and advice?
Chair: Brief advice.
Dr Huppert: Indeed. One issue with social media is how quickly anonymous or poorly identified comments can spread around. That has real implications for defamation and so forth. There is currently a draft Defamation Bill being looked at. How can we deal with anonymous comments that have real effects on people’s reputations while keeping freedom of expression going? How can we do that?
Alexander Macgillivray: I think I would point in this situation to the things that get corrected and re-tweeted most, which come from authoritative sources and are ways to dispel the rumours. Some of the most re-tweeted tweets we found were police departments saying, "There is a rumour that there is rioting happening right now in Southampton. We want to say that there is no such thing going on and nothing is happening," and those tweets get a lot more engagement than the rumours. You saw the same thing in the United States when people were trying to understand what the President was going to be talking about when he came on television to talk about Osama Bin Laden having been killed. People were very quick to figure out the accurate information and to spread that information. So we see it as a real way of correcting some of the false information that is online.
Richard Allan: We took a deliberate design decision with our service to make sure that it is based on real identities, so we are probably in a different place and we understand other services have other rules. Our rules are clear: that you must identify yourself and your real identity to be a member of the service, and therefore you are accountable for the things that you comment on, and we see that as the strongest form of control and accountability. We recognise that is the decision we took for Facebook and other people have taken different decisions for their services.
Stephen Bates: BlackBerry enables you to have access to multiple social media capabilities such as Facebook and Twitter. Certainly from the BlackBerry Messenger perspective, as I mentioned earlier, it is a form of instant messaging that is consent based. Therefore, by default you have consented to be part of a group so you know the individuals in that group. We tend to see that not as a direct issue with the BlackBerry Messenger community, but certainly BlackBerry as a mobile smart phone that can enable you to have access to social networking, we are aware of it, we are connected to it, we are very happy to continue the dialogue.
Q543 Mark Reckless: Overall do you believe that the use of social media increased or decreased the amount of disorder?
Chair: Mr Bates, a quick answer, on balance?
Stephen Bates: I don’t think we have any data to comment on that other than my sense of this is that social media is now among us, it is part of us, it is part of our society, so it is part of the way we as individuals communicate with our family, friends and work colleagues. So it has become an everyday part of our lives.
Q544 Chair: So, you don’t know the answer?
Stephen Bates: I think it would be very hard to tell.
Richard Allan: I have to agree on the disorder; I think it is hard to tell. I think the bit where we would nail our colours to the mast is I believe that we have increased the feeling of well-being of a lot of people in the United Kingdom. We have found every time there is a major disaster, whether that is a hurricane, whether that is some of the school shootings in the United States or whether that is incidents like this, the ability with one click to update the 150 people who are your closest family and friends and say you are okay is a significant, positive development that we now have as a result.
Q545 Chair: Mr Macgillivray, increased or decreased?
Alexander Macgillivray: I don’t think any of us knows, and I think we would also say it is very different in the different types of communication that were used. The thing I would point to is in the clean-up efforts: anything from a single account riot clean-up that was started right after the riots in a couple of days had 75,000 followers. You have a very quick way now of mobilising people for clean-up efforts and for the good stuff.
Q546 Chair: Just going back to the questions of fact, co-operation with the police. Mr Macgillivray, you are not at the moment providing the police with any information from Twitter feed about what happened during the disorders. You are providing some information to The Guardian, I understand?
Alexander Macgillivray: The police and everyone else, it is a public thing so they can just go get it from the website. There is nothing in particular-
Q547 Chair: So you are not as a company supporting them in particular. They just go to get it themselves?
Alexander Macgillivray: There is nothing that they need from us in order to get it.
Q548 Chair: Nor would any newspaper?
Alexander Macgillivray: Yes, exactly.
Q549 Chair: Richard Allan, have you been asked to co-operate? Are you providing any information of any kind to the police?
Richard Allan: Where the police come to us with a valid RIPA request then we will respond to that, whether it is-
Q550 Chair: Have they done so yet?
Richard Allan: Generally they have, yes. There have been requests associated with-
Q551 Chair: Over the disorders?
Richard Allan: Yes.
Stephen Bates: Certainly, as I said, we work within the framework of RIPA, so whenever there is a legitimate request from the police we respond to it.
Q552 Chair: Have they made requests about the disorders?
Stephen Bates: They have made requests, as they do from time to time.
Q553 Chair: You accept, finally, that there are exceptional circumstances. Mr Bates has told us the powers exist where the Government may want to use these powers. Obviously you don’t want them to, but if they do you would co-operate fully with them. Is that right?
Alexander Macgillivray: As I said in answer to the question before, I don’t know the hypothetical situation in which this is a good idea, but presumably there might be one out there.
Richard Allan: We fulfil our legal responsibilities.
Stephen Bates: Absolutely. We fulfil our legal obligations.
Chair: Thank you very much for coming here, especially Mr Macgillivray. One thing, as a parent, how do I stop my daughter going on Facebook rather than doing her homework? This is the real point of this session. Mr Allan, you will have to write to me on that. Thank you very much.