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U NCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1456-vi
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Policing Large Scale Disorder
Tuesday 8 November 2011
Tom Brake MP
Charles Perryman, TEMPORARY ASSISTANT CHIEF CONSTABLE Bob Sanderson and Ann Swain
Evidence heard in Public Questions 708 - 761
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 8 November 2011
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witness
Witness: Tom Brake MP, gave evidence.
Q708 Chair: Could I call the Committee to order and could I refer all those present to the Register of Members’ Interests, where the interests of members of this Committee are noted. This is a further evidence session into the August disorders, and we are delighted to see the spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Party and the co-chair of the Parliamentary Policy Committee on Home Affairs, Mr Brake, here. Welcome back, Mr Brake. You are a former member of the Committee, and I congratulate you on your elevation to the Privy Council since your last appearance.
Before I go on to riots and disorders, as I mentioned to you yesterday we have the Home Secretary in later talking about the UK Border Agency. Do you have any thoughts as to precisely what happened over the last few days concerning the relaxation of checks on people coming into this country, either the Home Secretary’s original decision or the extension that apparently was made by officials?
Tom Brake: Chairman, I think in the circumstances it is probably safest for me to allow the reviews that have been launched to come to their conclusion before I pass judgment on what may or may not have happened.
Q709 Chair: Your leader said yesterday that he had great concern over what has happened. So you have no concerns at all?
Tom Brake: Clearly, as I stated, it may be that the reviews will identify issues that the Government do need to respond to. I am very confident that John Vine, who will be looking at that, will be capable, strong and independent and will come up with the appropriate conclusions and may come up with some recommendations that the Government have to respond to.
Q710 Chair: Thank you. I think that is quite clear. What were your reasons for saying, right at the start, that as far as you were concerned the disorders were part of the disintegration of the social fabric of this country, a broken society?
Tom Brake: I don’t believe I have ever stated that, Chairman. I do not support a position that says that we are a broken society. Clearly there are elements within our society who, for whatever reason, do not feel that the laws apply to them, but I think they are a small minority and it is something that as a society we are perfectly capable of addressing. I think the problems that we need to sort out are around low educational achievements, around mentoring and issues to do with families that the members of your Committee will be very familiar with.
Q711 Chair: If those were not the reasons for the disorders, what do you think the principal causes of the disorders were?
Tom Brake: I think the research that has been published by the National Centre for Social Research, perhaps quite depressingly, identified that for the 50 people they had interviewed who had been involved in the riots it was things to do with the excitement that they were deriving from it, the lack of other opportunities or activities, so it clearly was not driven by any great political drive. It was not a reaction, in my view, to any measures the present Government have introduced. I think it was just a relatively small group of people. We know now from the statistics that three-quarters of those who were involved had previous convictions, people for whom the norms of society did not apply, who saw this as an opportunity, in some cases, to rebel against the police and, in other cases, as an opportunity to acquire goods that they could not acquire legally.
Q712 Chair: You did say that you felt that the sentencing of the rioters had been disproportionate-or did you say this?
Tom Brake: I said that in the sentencing of some people who were involved with the riots-not necessarily directly with the riots but, for instance, the case of Mrs Nevin, the woman with two children who was sentenced to a five-month prison sentence, which was subsequently overturned-the sentence was disproportionate. The magistrates and others should have looked much more closely, for instance, at using restorative justice schemes for the lowest level of offenders to ensure that they made good the damage that they had done and were forced to sit down with the victims and hear from the victims the impact of their activities, of their actions.
Q713 Chair: Yes, but you also expressed concern, as I understand it, that two-thirds of those involved were people with special education needs. Were you surprised at that very high figure?
Tom Brake: I was surprised by that very high figure and I suppose it corroborates other information that the National Centre for Social Research has identified in terms of the number of young people involved who had been excluded from school.
Q714 Steve McCabe: Mr Brake, you know a fair amount about this kind of matters. Were you satisfied with the speed at which the police numbers were increased-the surge, I think we have come to call it-as it became evident there was a real problem?
Tom Brake: No, I was not satisfied with that but I think there is a valid explanation for it. All precedents suggested that this was perhaps a set-piece conflict or disturbance initially in Tottenham, and nothing historically had then suggested that it was going to escalate within London as it did, for instance, up to 22 boroughs. I think they were perhaps caught unawares in terms of the scale of what then subsequently happened. What I hope will be one of the main outcomes of this in terms of the reviews that are underway is that in future there will be much slicker procedures in place to ensure that that ramping-up is able to happen, not over a four-day timeframe but over a 24-hour period, or whatever it is realistic for the police to achieve.
Q715 Steve McCabe: Given your experience in these matters, what is the major obstacle to that slicker ramping-up?
Tom Brake: One of the major obstacles, as I understand it, may have been around the planning and training that had been undertaken previously. As I understand it, in the Met they had planned on the basis that there might be three or four simultaneous incidents and were therefore organised to cope with that. As I stated earlier, if there were 22 incidents happening in different boroughs, then clearly that presented a real issue. Separate to that, I hope that the level 2 training that is available for public order duties will also be addressed and that a very substantially greater number of officers will now be able to undertake that training. There may be some issues around bottlenecks, as I understand it, at Gravesend, where the training takes place, but if those can be resolved I hope we will see far more officers trained to level 2 and available to take part in future policing activities around this sort of incident if in future it takes place again.
Q716 Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr Brake, you say that you were not happy with this response but you say on your website, "I am pleased more robust measures appear to have returned order to our streets."
Tom Brake: Initially-and certainly the media coverage led people to believe this-the impression that was given was that the police were perhaps not being as robust as people would have liked in terms of their response, but I accept totally that the reason for that was that they were outnumbered. In that sort of scenario it is very difficult for the police to go into a crowd, to disperse them in a robust manner if they are going to be very heavily outnumbered. So I think it was only when the ramping-up over the four-day period had happened-it wasn’t just at the end of the four-day period but as that was happening-the police had more resources available and therefore were able to more actively go into the crowd and arrest people or bring an end to the riots or disturbances that were taking place.
Q717 Mr Winnick: When you talk about a more robust attitude, can I just ask you your views on the use of rubber bullets and water cannon? Do you believe that in the circumstances of the August rioting the police should have used what I have just mentioned?
Tom Brake: Rather than my views, I think it is preferable to draw on the views of police officers who would have to deploy them and take responsibility for any subsequent injuries, or worse, that might occur as a result of their use. It is very clear from the senior officers that I have spoken to that there is no desire on their part for water cannon to be deployed or baton rounds to be used. Water cannon, because of their nature and size and the fact that they have to be protected in a riot situation, are very difficult to manoeuvre and at best the length of time they can be used in a fine spray mode is three minutes. After three minutes they are empty and then have to be returned to be filled. In relation to baton rounds, while clearly they have been deployed and used extensively in Northern Ireland, the scenario we were facing in London was very fast moving disturbances, people not staying in one position. The range of the baton rounds is 30 metres, beyond which there is a much greater risk of injury, and that is why the police did not feel, in a riot-type situation with fast-moving groups moving from one place to the next, that the deployment of baton rounds would have been appropriate, and I support them.
Q718 Mr Winnick: Would it not be the situation that-as in Northern Ireland, although that is a very different situation-the use of such water cannon or rubber bullets would escalate rather than help to resolve the situation where rioting and disturbances take place?
Tom Brake: I certainly think that is a factor that would need to be taken into account, for instance in relation to the use of baton rounds. If they had been deployed and they had been used and this had led to either serious injuries or deaths of rioters, the impact on the communities where those injuries or deaths had taken place would have been very hard to predict. That is why I think we need to be extremely cautious at any suggestions of their deployment.
Q719 Nicola Blackwood: Mr Brake, could I ask you a little bit about the tactics that were used by the police? There was obviously quite a lot of controversy at the time about some areas where it was felt the police did not act as robustly as they might have, where they perhaps acted in a containment manner, allowing rioting to be contained in a certain area but stopping the rioting from moving out, which made certain residents feel as though that area had been abandoned. Then in other places the police acted in quite a different way with a certain constable, I believe, leading a charge up the local high street to prevent the rioting at all. In your conversations with officers, do you feel that certain tactics have been more effective? Would you feel that you would be recommending those tactics for future incidences?
Tom Brake: Again, I will leave it to officers to recommend if there is a need to review tactics. Clearly, it is partly down to the resources that are available. In Sutton, in my high street, my borough commander, who is very close to retirement, said that he had no expectation that at this time in his career he would be leading a baton charge down Sutton High Street but that is exactly what he did. Partly because of the ratio of police that he had versus the numbers of rioters, they were able to very successfully, after a few charges, disperse that group, who then went on to commit some minor offences elsewhere, but broadly speaking Sutton, I am pleased to say, avoided any serious rioting. In other parts, such as Tottenham or Croydon, where the number of demonstrators involved was much larger, I think it was almost inevitable that the police would have to some extent restrict their engagement. I am aware that, for instance in Tottenham, very small numbers of officers went and apprehended rioters attacking an industrial estate, but I think that was perhaps quite a risky scenario for them, given how heavily outnumbered they were.
Q720 Mr Winnick: On the question of police being outnumbered, we had residents speak to us when we visited Croydon a fortnight ago. They were saying that when the police were rung, the police were not able to respond because of numbers. The question I want to ask you is simply do you accept that the Government’s policy in reducing the number of police officers, by somewhere in the region of 20% over a period of four or five years, is the right policy in view of what occurred in August?
Tom Brake: Just to pick up on the Croydon point first, I think particular difficulties did arise in Croydon as a result of the number of cases involving arson, where the police had to be deployed to support the fire service and therefore were not readily available to be deployed in areas where the rioting was taking place because of the risk to the fire service and also, presumably, to ensure that any people who were caught in the places that had been set fire to were safely evacuated. In relation to the reduction of police numbers, clearly it is not the Government who are reducing police numbers, although very clearly how much money is allocated to police forces does determine to some extent the number of officers that are available. The decisions about how money is spent is down to senior officers, down to police authorities, but I accept clearly that the funding that comes from central Government is key to the decisions that they are taking. My preference would be that we were not reducing police budgets, but we are facing a large deficit and we are having to take those decisions. I am confident that some police forces have been very effective at maintaining the number of frontline officers. I do notice, however, that other police forces have been much less effective at maintaining the number of frontline officers.
Q721 Michael Ellis: Mr Brake, you have spoken about the tactics and possible use of baton rounds and water cannon, but what about the powers that the police have under the current legislation in dealing with public order and public disorder? Most police powers in respect of disorder come from the Public Order Act 1986, which itself stems in large part from the 1936 Public Order Act. Do you think there is a need to update any powers that the police have for public disorder, or do you think that they are largely sufficient as they are?
Tom Brake: My view is that they are largely sufficient as they are. For instance, I have spoken to officers about proposals, which came out shortly after the riots, that perhaps we should seek to introduce curfews, but they would be completely inappropriate and would be virtually impossible to enforce. Thinking through the consequences of a curfew in terms of how many people would you arrest and where they would be taken to, I think the implications of that are something that I am certainly not prepared to live with, and I suspect most members of this Committee would not be comfortable with. In relation to, for instance, powers to allow police to require people to uncover their faces if they are covered, again I believe, and have been told by police, that the powers they have are perfectly adequate to cope with that and they are certainly not clamouring for more laws. We already have quite extensive laws in relation to law and order. I think it is simply a case of making sure they are applied.
Q722 Michael Ellis: One of the interesting things to note is that section 1 of the Public Order Act 1986, which is the offence of riot itself, does not appear to have been charged very much. They have tended to use other offences like violent disorder and affray. Do you have any comment about that?
Tom Brake: No, I will leave that down to the magistrates. I am not sure why they have avoided that particular route but what I do know is that the statistics in terms of the number of people who have been caught and are going through the courts and have been charged are very dramatic.
Alun Michael: I am a bit surprised by Mr Brake’s suggestion that it would be down to the magistrates. Magistrates do not decide what charge is appropriate.
Chair: Thank you for that clarification.
Q723 Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr Brake, what do you think should be the role of politicians in response to the riots?
Tom Brake: The research suggests that the activities of politicians in recent years may have been a cause-and I am talking about MPs’ expenses-or at least is certainly something that has been raised by some of the people involved in the disturbances, so I think we have a responsibility to make sure that we do things by the book ourselves.
Q724 Chair: You think the expenses issue was an issue for the riots? Do you think this is why people rioted, because of MPs’ expenses?
Tom Brake: The research has confirmed that it was one of the points-I do not accept, necessarily, that this was a genuine cause of people’s dissatisfaction and involvement, but it has certainly been quoted as a factor.
Q725 Chair: Could you, for the record, tell us whose research this was?
Tom Brake: Again, I think it was the National Centre for Social Research.
Q726 Lorraine Fullbrook: Can I ask you what your view is, rather than the research? What do you think should be the politicians’ response to the riots?
Tom Brake: Politicians’ response should be to avoid any kneejerk responses, and I may have been guilty of one of those in terms of suggesting, for instance, that gangs were very heavily involved in organising the riots, whereas subsequently the evidence is clear that only 13% of gang members were involved. I think politicians need to take a deep breath, wait for the analysis to be conducted and then have a responsibility for coming forward with the solutions, which I am afraid are going to be extremely complex and are going to involve the points that were made at the very beginning of this exchange about educational underachievement, truancy and mentoring, and come forward with the complex solutions that are needed to sort this problem out.
Q727 Chair: To answer Mrs Fullbrook’s question, while the riot is in progress you think that politicians should not be seen?
Tom Brake: I think politicians need to be very wary of what they say in terms of the solutions that they are arguing for in relation to something that is underway.
Chair: Right, we are going to be very quick on this because we are very time-limited.
Q728 Mr Clappison: I hear what you say, but this Committee has taken some good evidence from constituency Members of Parliament who did a very good job in their constituencies in leading public opinion and reassuring people after the riots. It was MPs from across the political spectrum. That would be okay with you, I hope?
Tom Brake: Yes, I have no objection to politicians going out, meeting the community, hearing people’s concerns, making sure that they represent them. It is more the statements that are made.
Q729 Chair: They can do all this but they must not speak?
Tom Brake: No, what they need to be wary of is suggesting that the solution is water cannon, baton rounds or curfews, for instance.
Q730 Dr Huppert: Mr Brake, you will be aware that there was some discussion about the roles of social media in the riots. What issues do you think are raised by social media? To what extent have the police been able to use them for good purpose? As you will know, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary looked at the idea of trying to cut them off for a while. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Tom Brake: The social media was clearly used for organising some of the activities, some of the rioting, without any doubt whatsoever, but at the same time it was used as a very useful source of information for the police. I know, from talking to officers, that very often they were finding out about where the next action was going to be taking place because their children were receiving information about it on their BlackBerries. So their view is that social media is very helpful in terms of them being able to track where rioting is likely to occur, where it is likely to move to, and therefore they would not support the idea of shutting down social media. As I understand it, for instance when the telecommunications networks were shut down after 7/7, that did lead to very significant problems that got in the way of effectively policing and responding to that event.
Chair: Mr Brake, time is very short, but it has been very helpful to have you give evidence to us. Should you ever get bored being the Liberal Democrat spokesman, we will always welcome you back on to the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Tom Brake: Thank you.
Chair: If there is anything that you have missed out in respect of the evidence you have given today please write in to us, and I may write to you with a number of other questions that you may wish to answer. Thank you very much for coming.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Charles Perryman, Chair, South Yorkshire Police Authority, Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Bob Sanderson, South Yorkshire Police, and Ann Swain, Home Affairs Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, gave evidence.
Q731 Chair: If I can start with the Federation with the first question, if I may, about the issue of police tactics. If you were giving the police marks out of 10 for the way in which they dealt with these riots, what would they be, Ms Swain?
Ann Swain: For speed of response, initially very low, because there were strong views from our members in London that the response was just slow in coming and that was one of the reasons why it spread so rapidly. Not only that, they were getting mixed messages, so there was no consistency, and that led to confusion on the street. I think it would be five out of 10 overall, but in some areas lower than that. There were some good examples.
Q732 Chair: Mr Perryman, marks out of 10? How were the police tactics? Obviously South Yorkshire was the best in the world, because you are the Chairman of the Authority, but South Yorkshire aside?
Charles Perryman: I think it has to be said that it varies across the country. We don’t come before this Committee to tell you why we think they didn’t happen but to offer a view of what we had done, but the tactics that we adopted in South Yorkshire were effective in preventing any disorder taking place. I can’t speak for any other police authority.
Q733 Chair: Of course. We have had other police authorities, some that had disorders, some that don’t even recognise the word "riot". I think Nottingham didn’t even want to call them riots because they felt it might upset people. For the purpose of those members of the Committee who are not from South Yorkshire, which were the major towns where you thought there might have been disorders where there were not disorders?
Charles Perryman: Clearly Sheffield is one of the major cities of the UK. Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley were the other main centres, but it was certainly Sheffield where our greatest concern was, given that the extent of disorders was largely in the big cities. Therefore, the tactics that were adopted by the force focused considerably on Sheffield and the resources that they felt were needed in order to manage that were dictated by the scale of what was potentially anticipated in Sheffield. Obviously with the social media spreading messages across the county, and there were a lot of false messages going around about what was happening, it was necessary to have the resources deployed right across the county.
Q734 Chair: Ms Swain, do you now have from your various regions a breakdown of the total cost to your members of these riots?
Ann Swain: No we don’t, but I can try to get that for you, if you like, and send that to you.
Q735 Chair: Could you give us a rough estimate? People must have been ringing in with figures.
Ann Swain: They haven’t been giving us the totals. What we have been finding out is that it took some of them five weeks to get up and running again. They have not all had their insurance payouts, even after this time, so they are now having cash-flow problems, the VAT returns are required, the rates, and so on, although some of them have had a one-month relief on rates. It is a growing cost that is difficult to estimate because it has had that major impact on their business. It wasn’t just a one-off "we lost that stock"; it is the impact of the time it took to open again and then the ongoing effect on footfall quite often.
Q736 Chair: Your members are protected because the Prime Minister made it very clear that if there were any claims under the Riots (Damages) Act they would be paid.
Ann Swain: We are urging them to take advantage of that, but some of them do not fully understand what they can do.
Q737 Chair: Then there is insurance, of course, which will cover some of it. As far as the police are concerned, presumably as you had no disorders in South Yorkshire there was absolutely no cost to the ratepayers in South Yorkshire?
Charles Perryman: In respect of the sorts of damages you are talking about, that is true. Obviously there were costs of providing additional police on the streets during that period.
Q738 Chair: What was that figure?
ACC Sanderson: If I could answer that, Chair, I think the disorder cost to South Yorkshire Police at the moment, in terms of officers deployed out of the force to support the Met and limited support to Notts and Greater Manchester, together with providing backfill for those officers that went out of force, is just short of £1 million as counted as of today.
Q739 Chair: £1 million? Where does that come from? Again, the Prime Minister has made it clear that that is payable through central funds. Have you made an application or is it coming out of a contingency?
ACC Sanderson: No, we will be making an application to central contingencies and the forces that have hosted police officers will be ultimately responsible for picking up the bill.
Q740 Chair: Are you confident it is going to be paid?
ACC Sanderson: Yes, certainly. There has been dialogue between those forces and, yes, we are confident that it will be paid.
Q741 Alun Michael: I want to go back to the question about communications between the police and small businesses. You referred to communications after the event to do with things like compensation and so on. What about before the event, in the sense of were there good communications with your members, were people warned when there was a likelihood of things escalating in the local area?
Ann Swain: It varies tremendously. For instance, in Manchester the FSB were involved in getting the message out to not only their own members but to others as well.
Q742 Alun Michael: So the FSB in the case of Manchester was used as a channel for communication?
Ann Swain: Yes. In others it has been patchy. One group of businesses would be given one set of advice and then another group nearby would be given a different set of advice, so when they talked absolute confusion then reigned. Advice about arson-I know that is not the police-came late, there was no consistency, and there was no cross-working.
Q743 Alun Michael: Are you making suggestions about examples of good practice and so on?
Ann Swain: Yes.
Alun Michael: Would you share that information with us, not necessarily saying now, but could be -
Ann Swain: I would like to echo what South Yorkshire said, because I know in Sussex they used social media a lot to get out positive messages about the actual situation on the ground and where they thought there might be problems, and that was very valued by businesses and residents alike.
Q744 Alun Michael: So you would be able to give us some information in more detail?
Ann Swain: Yes.
Alun Michael: Thank you.
Q745 Dr Huppert: Another question for the FSB. Alun Michael just asked about the warnings during the riots. How good is the relationship overall between police and local business owners? What could be done to improve that?
Ann Swain: I am glad you asked me that. Again, it is very mixed. It might happen locally, if the local commander or local inspector is keen on working with small business to reduce business crime. In the vast majority of forces it is not part of their strategic policing and so there is no overall policy in their policing plan about it. Business crime is only recorded as such in the minority of forces, therefore there is the general feel among small businesses that police are not interested in crime against businesses. I think this then spreads out to the local community and you have the extreme of the riots where people just thought, "Oh, this is an opportunity for free shopping, nobody is bothered about crime against business." I think it is that sort of perception that is critical. We hope that this might be a trigger to get people saying, "Yes, we actually need to include policing business crime as part of our overall policy."
Q746 Dr Huppert: Do you think this should be a requirement for all police forces?
Ann Swain: Yes, absolutely.
Q747 Dr Huppert: Is this something that South Yorkshire-
ACC Sanderson: Again, the situation across the country is probably mixed. I think that some forces do engage very effectively with the chambers of commerce and with various small businesses to be able to develop plans and strategies. Of course, over the last 12 months in particular, across the whole country, small business has suffered more than most. We have seen significant rises in some elements of crime, particularly metal theft, which has become fairly prominent and, of course, small businesses and small industrial estates are probably the areas that have suffered more than most. I would echo the view that there are strong relationships in some areas but I think it is an area that probably is worth revisiting and will form part and parcel of discussions moving forward in terms of how police priorities are set by police authorities, with chief constables and ultimately with crime commissioners.
Q748 Nicola Blackwood: I know in my constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon, in Abingdon the neighbourhood policing team work with the local shopping area on a programme called Radio Link to have quick reporting directly to the police on shoplifting and other instances. It has really improved the working relationship between local business and the local police. I wonder if you have come across any other innovative examples of the ways in which local police can work with local business to improve that relationship and to shortcut ways to limit crime that affects business?
Ann Swain: There are a lot of good examples of that in town centres. Our concern is growing about the more rural industrial estates, where you have those converted farm buildings and so on. They have very little coverage. I am pleased to say that Sussex-and I have to declare an interest here; I was 12 years on Sussex Police Authority until I fulfilled my term-have just introduced, with the strong support of the FSB, Business Watch to cover those rural industrial estates, the edge of town industrial estates, all those areas, small shopping parades and so on. The take-up has been marvellous, and people are ringing in to say, "You haven’t contacted us yet. Can we join?" They are feeling that somebody is interested in the problems they have been having with crime.
Q749 Nicola Blackwood: Do you think it would be possible for you to write in with examples of positive working practices on police and business? That would be very helpful for us.
Ann Swain: Yes, I will do.
Q750 Mark Reckless: Assistant Chief Constable Sanderson, you are rightly proud that South Yorkshire did not see the significant disorder that we saw in many other parts of the country. Could you tell the Committee what it was that South Yorkshire Police did when you began to see evidence of disorder elsewhere?
ACC Sanderson: South Yorkshire Police had something of an advantage because things were happening elsewhere in the country and it enabled us to see those things developing. Immediately what South Yorkshire Police did is start that engagement and start sorting out things like command structures, start putting multi-agency Gold groups into place in case we did start having disorder. We got our comms machine rolling. We had discussions with the police authority, and Charles in particular, about the possible impact. I have only been doing the role of Assistant Chief for a relatively small time. I have spent most of my service as a borough commander or a district commander policing Doncaster, and the relationships between commanders and key individuals within their communities is absolutely crucial. So the first thing that I was doing, and my officers were doing, is starting to put out messages of reassurance, factual information. I was contacting, for instance, the Mayor of Doncaster, the chief executive, having discussions about how things were developing, how locally we could help to support one another. In a nutshell, we were quick to put the right structures in place in terms of policing. We started that dialogue very quickly, and very much opened up that discussion between key individuals within communities, and also with local elected members, who are very much the voice of local communities, to try to ensure that they were reassured right from the outset.
Q751 Mark Reckless: Other forces appear to have put a lot of early reliance on a doctrine in ACPO’s Keeping the Peace manual. In contrast in South Yorkshire, were these decisions that you took yourselves at your own initiative that you have just described?
ACC Sanderson: Yes, very much so, because as things were developing the then temporary Deputy Chief Constable put together the Gold group. I think that is absolutely crucial. Whenever things are starting to develop you need to make sure that you are clear about what the objectives are and what you are seeking to achieve and ensure that the police service is not operating in isolation. We have talked about businesses, we have talked about local community, we have talked about key individual networks within community, we have talked about police authority, we have talked about politicians. I think right from the outset it is absolutely crucial that those lines of dialogue are opened right from the very beginning so that we have clear messages, dispel myths-and I am sure at some stage we will talk a little bit more about social media-try to give accurate, consistent messages, and provide that reassurance that people need when they are seeing things unfold on TV and through the media.
Q752 Lorraine Fullbrook: As Mr Reckless has said, thankfully you remained disorder-free in South Yorkshire, but I would like to ask Assistant Chief Constable Sanderson were South Yorkshire Police aware of any activity on the social networks that allowed you to put things in place to stop any disorder happening?
ACC Sanderson: Yes, we were. We immediately, as I said before, set up the comms team to start looking at what was developing and we have a tweet deck in South Yorkshire, which is effectively monitoring everything that is coming through in terms of Twitter. There are many parts to it. Elements of it were largely about people just wanting accurate information. At the same time there were others who were concerned, who may not live in South Yorkshire, who were tweeting in relation to what was happening in South Yorkshire to provide reassurance to families. On the other side of it, there was the odd occasion when individuals were posting inappropriate messages on social networking sites that allowed us to intervene fairly quickly and point out what the consequences of those actions might be, wanting to meet in a particular location with maybe dishonest intent. The strategy around media was very much about getting clear, consistent messages out. We were monitoring Facebook and Twitter in particular, almost 24/7-with a small gap in the early hours-looking at what was developing and dispelling rumours. I could give a number of practical examples.
Q753 Lorraine Fullbrook: You were monitoring Twitter, Facebook, BB Messenger, for example. Were you using those media to get information out as well?
ACC Sanderson: Yes, absolutely. It was a key source of intelligence for us, both in terms of assessing the mood of communities and how they were feeling, but more importantly to provide that reassurance and the factual information, because during the course of the early part, for instance, unfortunately South Yorkshire Police had a shooting. Initially there were some messages going out that were declaring that that might be associated with police activity. It wasn’t. We immediately had to ensure that that was not the catalyst for disorder and put out factual information.
We had another message in relation to a high visible presence of policing on the Saturday in Doncaster, my own town. We had a lot of people tweeting and sending messages in wanting information about what was happening in Doncaster: are the police gearing up for some degree of rioting or disorder? Of course, we were able to reassure people because on that particular morning we had a high-profile match in the town centre, with lots of football fans coming through the train station, and we had a race meeting in Doncaster too. That was the reason for the high visible presence of policing. So we were able to use social media to say, "No, it’s nothing to do with anything that might be developing elsewhere in the country, nothing to do with disorder; it’s simply normal day-to-day policing. We have actually got these specific events that are taking place today, so don’t worry."
Lorraine Fullbrook: Thank you.
Charles Perryman: Can I add that there was also an element of countermanding misinformation that was put out there, for example, one message, "There is a riot going on at TJ Hughes", when the Assistant Chief Constable can see TJ Hughes from his window and there was nothing happening. Those sorts of things-and there were a number of those-needed to be quashed very quickly to prevent that sort of information spreading through the community.
Q754 Chair: But there is a poll in The Guardian today that indicates that two-thirds of adults support the shutdown of social networks during periods of social unrest such as the riots. It seems that the public feel that this is something that ought to be done. Initially that was the view of some Ministers, and indeed the Deputy Commissioner of Police, who was the Acting Commissioner, "Let’s shut it down and stop the disorder." Why do you think the public feel it should be shut down whereas the professionals feel that it should be allowed to continue?
ACC Sanderson: Probably because the public do not fully understand the way in which the police and others utilised the information, the intelligence, and the positive element. I think the focus initially was very much on the negative element of people using that information to prepare for disorder, arrange meeting points or whatever else it may well be. I have to say that maybe I was in that camp to start with, in terms of "black it out" and then we stop those messages and we frustrate the ability of individuals to get organised. I think as time has gone on and looking at the success we had with social media, I am now totally and utterly in the other camp.
I will read the Committee a number of messages sent by real residents of South Yorkshire who were very much talking about how positive the use of social media was. One tweet read, "It’s like being tucked up by the police every night and reassured all day." Another said, "Thank you for the updates last night. I had a great sleep because of you. Well done." I could go on and on, because there were dozens and dozens of individuals who tweeted those positive messages back.
I feel that closing down would be a negative step. I can understand the public and two-thirds of the public probably saying it would be beneficial to close down, but my view-objectively looking at both sides-is that it would not help.
Q755 Chair: But during these fast-moving events there may be circumstances where perhaps the network might need to be suspended, maybe not blacked out permanently but there may need to be a suspension so that the various authorities can regroup themselves. You have not ruled that out, have you?
ACC Sanderson: Not at all. I think it largely depends on how things are unfolding, the severity, and trying to achieve a balance between clear message and reassurance against the misuse of the site to inflame or make things even worse than they currently are. No, I would not rule that out at all. I think it is a balance.
Q756 Mr Clappison: You mentioned earlier the loan of officers to other forces. How do you approach taking decisions on that when you have to have enough officers to deal with any disorder that might happen? Are there any lessons to be learnt from that?
ACC Sanderson: Can I pass that one to Charles? He was actively involved in that.
Charles Perryman: When ACC Holt rang me earlier and said we had been preparing our own response plan but we had been asked if we could support the Metropolitan Police at that time, my first question was, "Can you reassure me that you have enough resources within South Yorkshire to contain any potential threat?" That is a dynamic problem for the force to be able to manage because we didn’t know how it might escalate, but that was the first consideration. If we can be assured of that, then we are prepared to help other people because the situation might occur where we need help. We only have to go back a few months and South Yorkshire was policing the Lib Dem conference and we had police from all over the country helping us to do that. It is a question of mutual balance. That was the first consideration, we must be able to protect South Yorkshire first. I think then the tactics that were adopted-
Q757 Mr Clappison: Do you feel the right mechanisms were in place for doing that and you got the decisions about right?
Charles Perryman: Well, we did not have disorder. It is really difficult to say. Whether we could have managed with fewer resources on the ground, I don’t know. This is a matter for the professionals, for the Chief Constable and his team. If he can give that reassurance to the authority that he has adequately protected our community, which is his first responsibility, we will help other people.
Q758 Chair: One of the issues that has come up is the difference between different areas of the country, the way in which the Met dealt with it, the way in which South Yorkshire dealt with the riots. These are obviously unprecedented times; you have not seen riots on this scale before. As a police officer, how is it that South Yorkshire, Merseyside and Nottingham seem to have got it right but other parts of the country were not able to put the police officers on the streets on the day that this happened? Why did it take so long elsewhere?
ACC Sanderson: Difficult to answer. As part and parcel of our initial approach, one of the first things that South Yorkshire did is very much that. We made sure that all our neighbourhood policing teams were deployed immediately into communities; we used our PCSOs very proactively too. I can’t really comment on why others may have had more difficulty with that, because I police the streets of South Yorkshire. What I would say is that we did react very quickly with reassurance and effective deployment, particularly to certain areas. Sheffield is a little bit different to some of the other areas, because I think some of the major cities have a slightly different make-up in terms of the communities that circle the city centre. Sheffield has a fairly well-contained city centre, but for shopping most people would probably get on a tram and go to Meadowhall, for example. So in terms of deployment of our officers, it was very much about the towns and city centres, the main communities, but also ensuring that the main business areas, such as Meadowhall shopping centre, had a fair level of policing resource to provide that reassurance and visibility.
We didn’t have any major difficulties in the first 24 hours in terms of deploying our own officers on the streets of South Yorkshire and I suppose that is partly the difference. The deployment of officers from a force somewhere else in the country is a fairly complex equation to try to overcome in terms of mobilising police support units in particular, with all the kit and all the vehicles and everything else they would need to be able to deploy elsewhere.
Q759 Chair: Ms Swain, we have also had examples of local businesses expressing surprise and shock at the fact that police officers stood by while property was being destroyed. They could not understand why this was happening; they would ring the police. When we went to Croydon, Mr Reeves, outside the Reeves furniture store, told us that people were just standing by while this carried on. What do your members feel about this?
Ann Swain: This is one of the areas that is making them very upset because they could see them standing by while their business was being vandalised, they were losing stock, everything. There needs to be better communication on an ongoing basis, because all they can see is that it is their business being attacked. They do not understand the issues, that two or three police officers against a large number of rioters are not going to be that effective and in fact you could have injury to police officers, which no one wants to see. Also I think that if the people involved in the riots and the thefts had felt, "Oh, we’ve beaten the police, we won there," that would make the whole thing worse because the message would go out very quickly, "We can win in this situation."
Q760 Chair: We have had examples of businesses that been established for centuries, in some cases, ceasing to exist. Do you have evidence that people have given up or are the vast majority willing to claim their insurance and get going and carry on?
Ann Swain: They are trying to carry on but, as I mentioned before, at the moment some of them are experiencing real cash-flow problems and it would not take much for them to say, "Right, that’s it". One other major crime incident on their shop or business and they might think, "We’re not bothering here. We’ll stop." I think there needs to be this ongoing communication, this feeling that policing of business crime is important to people, and that politicians, local and national, recognise that business crime is a factor that should be recorded, reported and reduced.
Chair: Indeed. If there is anything that we have missed out today or there is anything else relevant that any of you would like to say, please write to us with that information. We are very keen to know the total cost to small businesses.
Ann Swain: I have made a note of that.
Q761 Chair: We are also very keen to know, Mr Sanderson, what happens to your application for the £1 million that you seek to get from the Government, which seems like a rather large amount of money for a police force that is saying it dealt with these disorders and there were not many disorders in your area. £1 million does sound like a lot.
Charles Perryman: A large proportion of that is what we spent in sending people to other forces.
ACC Sanderson: Three-quarters of that is the payment for officers that were not working in South Yorkshire, that were loaned to the Met and so on. So that is not the cost of policing the streets of South Yorkshire.
Chair: Thank you very much, Ms Swain, Mr Perryman, and Mr Sanderson. Thank you very much for coming in.