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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1456-viii
hOUSE OF cOMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
Policing Large Scale Disorder
TUESDAY 29 November 2011
Sir Denis O'Connor
Darra Singh, Heather Rabbatts and Louise Casey
Evidence heard in Public Questions 794 - 842
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 29 November 2011
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witness
Witnesses: Sir Denis O'Connor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, gave evidence.
Q794 Chair: Sir Denis, my apologies for changing times around. It is all the fault of the Chancellor because of the Autumn Statement; the times of the House have changed so Members are in and out because Questions have started early. I am most grateful to you for coming earlier.
May I start by asking you a resources question? You are busy doing your normal duties as Her Majesty’s Inspector. You have lost Mr Bernard Hogan-Howe, who has now become the Commissioner, who was your deputy. Every time something goes wrong the Home Secretary calls for Sir Denis to do a report or an inquiry. How are you coping with all these inquiries that you have to conduct, apart from your job as the Inspector of Constabulary?
Sir Denis O'Connor: Chairman, I am trying to stay light on my feet, as you are.
Q795 Chair: Excellent. As far as the causes of the public disorders are concerned, of course, you have the Darra Singh report. We are hearing from him, Heather Rabbatts and Louise Casey shortly. We will produce our report before Christmas, so there is not a lack of reports coming out on this issue. What was the cause of these public disorders? If you had to pinpoint three or four key issues, what would they be?
Sir Denis O'Connor: Chairman, that really wasn’t our bag. Our bag was to find what could be done about the police response. What I would say is that, looking at what happened, it did differ in different areas, and the motivation that led to displays of anger in some areas, avarice in others and antagonism between communities, has not been fully explained yet. I look forward to part 2 of Darra Singh’s efforts to get underneath all of that.
Q796 Chair: You are a very experienced police officer. You have seen these riots before. You must have some kind of view as to causes?
Sir Denis O'Connor: If you go back to the 1960s-the President’s Commission, Scarland, all of that-there is usually something going on that people are kind of aware of but does not crystallise itself. There is a trigger incident-quite often it can involve the police-and the question then becomes: is the issue dealt with rapidly, successfully or not? That is the pattern, going back over rights over very, very many years. All of those things were present here. What I think it does, though, is draw our attention to the police intelligence to respond well, the way they are organised and their manoeuvrability in order to deal with these things well.
What happened in relation to Tottenham and London was that for those who wanted to take the opportunity, whatever their motivation, they demonstrated an ability to succeed repeatedly over three days, basically, and that is clear. Our work is to get underneath that and ask what were the factors, in policing terms, that got us there because you will know, Chairman, we have been over some of this ground before, and so have you.
Chair: Indeed, and we will come to some of those questions, starting with Mr Mark Reckless.
Q797 Mark Reckless : Sir Denis, in you report of February this year, on policing public order, you posed a question, "Is the present command communication model sufficiently responsive in fast-moving and complex situations, and could a more devolved command allow officers to act with greater speed?" Are you any nearer to answering that question after the August disturbances?
Sir Denis O'Connor: Yes, I think we are nearer to answering it because we have identified a number of factors, which range from the local situational awareness, intelligence, but in a very broad sense, not in a narrow policing sense, all the way through to the tactics and confidence that those commanders have to act and the ability of the police service to support them, not just in mobilisation tasks but in preparing them in advance. In essence, the key issue has been that they are trained, by and large, to stand, hold and protect. A great deal of training is around set piece events.
What we have seen, and you have seen over the last year or so, is the ability of people to use social media and other mechanisms to organise themselves and outmanoeuvre. All of that points me towards devolved command in order to make an immediate assessment, and the need to have done enough in advance so that you have more than one game to play in order to protect the public. Our analysis suggests that police training at the minute is insufficient for that. People do not get an opportunity to look at a number of scenarios. When people don’t retreat from a junction and happily go away from you-when they scatter and reappear somewhere else-devolved command is a way forward but you need to prep for that in a way we haven’t before.
Q798 Mark Reckless: As well as the more devolved command, is there also an issue, at the higher level of command, that rather than summing up the situation for themselves and considering in a common-sense way how best to respond to those specific circumstances, at least initially senior commanders would instead refer to the ACPO manual on keeping the peace and look for guidance as to how they should act?
Sir Denis O'Connor: I think-if I can use the phrase-when you are in the heat of battle, it is rather late in the day to turn to the manual. If you are not prepared, trained and ready to go you are almost pretty certainly doomed to where the Chairman started this. Things are going to escalate and get out of hand. It is too late for reading at this point. You have to have prepared yourself for enough possible eventualities so that you can customise what you have done, what you have learned, the kit you have to protect the public. However, I do think the guidance does focus a great deal on dissent and protest, which has been the pattern over the last few years. We have had a long period of calm, relatively speaking, in disorder terms. It is time to rethink the tactics and the training and the approach to intelligence. That is what comes out of this and that is what we have done and we are pretty close to completing that now.
Q799 Mr Winnick: Denis, first of all, apologies, I am going to Question Time and I hope you don’t consider, having asked you one or two questions, that I am being discourteous but it is one of the few occasions when the Committee clashes with what is happening in the Chamber, for the reasons that the Chair explained.
Let me get to the question straight away. When we were in Croydon talking to some of the victims of what occurred in August, the point was made repeatedly that while they recognised-I think that means most of them did recognise-the tremendous pressure on the police, when they were trying to contact the police they had little success. Indeed, Malcolm Wicks, in his speech in the debate in the House of Commons in August, made the point that some of his constituents had told him that when they rang they were told there was nothing the police could do at that particular moment. Are lessons being learned or is it accepted that that will be inevitable in a sort of repeat situation, which hopefully will not occur, like what occurred in August?
Sir Denis O'Connor: I don’t think this Committee or the public would be happy with a counsel to surrender to the inevitable. We aspire to a bit more than that, don’t we? David Lammy made the same point to me in quite clear terms. I do think we need to understand that when you do have something that happens in a widespread way like this, there will be a period when it is probably ambitious to give a very clear response that is going to satisfy somebody who is frightened or concerned at the other end of the phone. I do think we need to think about police communications, definitely, in those circumstances. We need to think about what can be said to people that is true and useful-absolutely. If the police on the ground, though, are geared to deal with the issue you will probably have less of those calls, and that is the most fundamental part of this and that is where we focus a lot of our energy and effort.
Q800 Mr Winnick: Sir Denis, I don’t know how far you are in a position to give a view on this, because it does touch on national policy, but I will put the question and you decide how you answer it. Do you think there should be some caution, at least, about any substantial reduction in the police force, as a result of the disturbances and the possibility that the rule of law could be challenged in certain areas in the way in which undoubtedly it was five months ago?
Sir Denis O'Connor: We have probably all got to recognise a new fiscal reality, which does affect police numbers. In essence, we currently forecast a 16,000 reduction. That would leave around 127,000. Even if it was a bit more than that, Mr Winnick, we have to think, "Are we using those officers that we have well, and have we accorded the right level of priority to what many would think is probably the first duty of the state-civic order?" and I think the answer lies in those second two issues. We will never have enough police officers; best we use the ones we have really well and best we give them a clear view about the priority that we attach to this in our civic life. Let us be absolutely honest: public order, because we have gone through a relatively quiet period-setting aside the protest issue-has not been to the fore. Part of our recommendation in this is that it very much should be to the fore and there is an opportunity in what the Government are doing, and the strategic policing requirement, to put it to the fore. After all, we do that in relation to counter-terrorism and organised crime.
Q801 Alun Michael: There is a tension, though, isn’t there, because I am well aware that in your career, Sir Denis, you played a significant part in what Robert Peel described as the first responsibility of the police-to prevent crime and to prevent disorder. You have suggested changes in tactics, guidance and training as a result of what we have seen this year. That will cost money, won’t it?
Sir Denis O'Connor: It will.
Alun Michael: It will cost people being off the street in order to undertake the training and things like that. Have you made an estimate of what those costs are likely to be and how they should be met?
Sir Denis O'Connor: In essence, we have not although we have some appreciation of what they might be. At the moment, just to give you a view of it, for those at level 2, which means basically to be able to turn up, advance and be able to stand, hold and protect, we normally attach about two days’ training to that a year. That does not produce the kind of flexibility that Mr Reckless was taking us towards earlier on. The kind of thinking, the manoeuvrability-
Q802 Alun Michael: Presumably, that will also involve more training for the sergeants and the inspectors who will be managing them?
Sir Denis O'Connor: As we sit here, the only force, ironically, that have that training, for inspectors who lead this, are the Met. There is no national product for the inspectors who need it elsewhere. This has not being to the fore. I am not going to beat about the bush here. I do think two things. First, we will make some recommendations. If the Government and the police service adopt them we will then be in a position to cost what part of the menu they select. I think we should put more into this because of the results that we pick up in our public confidence sampling, particularly for people who were left, for example, for two hours in Clapham Junction where the state didn’t exist for them. I think we do have to put this on a different footing and I think we should calculate it.
Chair: Thank you. Apologies for Mr Michael; he has to go to Foreign Office questions. They will all return in due course.
Sir Denis O'Connor: Understood. Chairman, I am not taking this personally at all.
Chair: I am still here, Sir Denis, and so is Dr Huppert, of course.
Q803 Dr Huppert: Sir Denis, the first of your aims and objectives, talking about looking at assembly and critical mass, what have you done so far in terms of developing that critical mass and what conclusions are you likely to reach on it?
Sir Denis O'Connor: We have looked at what happened in critical mass terms, and ACPO’s estimation of requirement for three seats of disorder was 297 PSUs; that is about 25 police officers-led police officers. At peak they reached 390. That was in order to decisively dominate the situation. That is Tuesday. We know that the critical mass, as they saw it before, in more peaceful times, wasn’t enough. So that is one thing. The second thing is that we have looked at it, and if you want to go forward and arrest people, the calculation is that you need between three and five people in order not to deplete your front end to the point where you protect the public and you are still able to go forward. So there is a juggling issue here about your tactics and your numbers. That is part of what we are going to suggest. In the end, it is a combination of factors that will give you a decisive advantage.
Intelligence cannot be underestimated because if you anticipate, you probably need smaller numbers in order to deal with the thing over a period of time. If you mobilise rapidly, especially locally, that is a huge advantage. If you have the tactics that allow the manoeuvrability issue, allow you to go forward, then having the top line numbers is useful but only as a very broad reference point.
I guess if I was to crystallise this, the strategic concept at the moment, which is never fully articulated, is that we will deal with this by intensive police numbers. I think numbers matter but they are not enough. It is the mix of intelligence, tactics and manoeuvrability that will deal with this. If you think about it, it starts in Tottenham-one borough. By Sunday it is four boroughs. By Monday it is 22. If you can mobilise early you will need a lot less people to deal with the problem and that is the fundamental point. We are going to replay these factors and, depending on how the police service and the Government react, then we will calculate what it will cost to put them in place.
Q804 Dr Huppert: One issue that has been put to us is about how many police can actually do this. It has been suggested to us that every officer should be level 2 public order trained. Do you have opinions on that?
Sir Denis O'Connor: If they are level 2 public order trained, as we are at the moment, it is probably not going to do us a great deal of good. It will actually help that we have more people who can stand, hold and protect but, as I said to you, that is not enough when people are flash-mobbing across the capital city. You might have more to stand, hold and protect, but not to go forward and disrupt. Essentially, we favour a strategy of disrupting and intercepting the people.
Let me illustrate with something else. You probably saw on television vehicle tanks being used. They are called "gentles". They are quite fierce looking machines. There are 12 of those in the capital; 22 boroughs, 12. The go forward ability was limited. That is the kind of mix that we are looking at. We are not looking to escalate the numbers dramatically; we are looking to improve the ability of the police to go forward. That, we think, is the fundamental point in dealing with this.
Dr Huppert: That is very interesting to hear that it is about the smaller number of people being more highly skilled.
Sir Denis O’Connor: Sorry, if I may, it is about the people you have being highly skilled, prepared and ready to go, with the right kit to do the job.
Dr Huppert: Rather than just more people.
Sir Denis O’Connor: Rather than just more and more and more.
Q805 Dr Huppert: I had an interesting conversation recently with the Commissioner. He highlighted the fact that these things come in cycles and that there is always a habit in all organisations of preparing for the thing that happened last time. Is there a risk that we will over-prioritise some of the things that you are looking at, and hence withdraw support from other aspects, and then in a few years’ time you or your successor will be asked to look at how we move skills from one style back to something historic? Are you aware of that concern and how are you tackling it?
Sir Denis O’Connor: I am. I would say two things. Had we been more aware of the past then our knowledge about dealing with this might have been stronger. I think that is the case. I do think this is where policing by consent, which is something we address in this report, may have to take a more rehearsed, formalised approach for the future because we are into choices about what matters most to us. In the absence of order, as far as I can see, almost everything else falls away behind it-not just the confidence of the poor people who are left there, but the reputation of the country when these things are played on television.
So we are into choices among difficulties. This looks to me like a good choice to make, because if you are good at it in these kinds of situations it will probably transfer into how you deal with everything, including antisocial behaviour and local disorder at weekends, so it is quite a big payoff.
Q806 Chair: But, Sir Denis, this is a serious criticism of the way in which the Met handled the riots, isn’t it? What you are saying, although obviously you put it in elegant terms, is that they failed to mobilise early enough; they ought to have mobilised earlier, and if they had mobilised earlier it wasn’t a question of numbers-it was a question of how you used people. They did not use their people effectively; they didn’t bring people out on the streets earlier, whereas in Liverpool, when the Chief Constable saw this happening when he was abroad, as most of us were in August, he got his force out, as did the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire. The difference was the difference in the police response, and the lack of confidence is because in somewhere like Croydon it just wasn’t happening.
Sir Denis O’Connor: I think it is a matter of public record that the Met have already acknowledged that they didn’t do as well on this as they should, to say the least. Mr Murphy had the advantage of seeing it on television and he would know from his memory-this is where, in response to Mr Huppert’s question, memory was important-that copycat rioting is entirely possible, so he had that advantage. I think the thing to do is to look forward at what we expect from the Met.
Q807 Mark Reckless: He had the advantage of having seen it on television?
Sir Denis O’Connor: Foreknowledge. He could see on television what could happen in Merseyside because he has enough service, and he will have gone through the 1980s, and the rest of it, when people watched television and copied these things elsewhere. This is the pattern of what has happened in the past, which has been forgotten in the present, I am afraid, by some people.
Q808 Mark Reckless: But couldn’t other Chief Constables have switched on their televisions too?
Sir Denis O’Connor: Actually, there is evidence that several of them did, and this is true in the West Midlands, you will be heartened to know. They did that in the West Midlands and to a degree they did it in Manchester. So they had that advantage and they used it, actually, to start putting people in place. Not enough; they would say this-I spoke to Chris Sims this morning-but he did anticipate what might happen and started standing people up.
Q809 Chair: Sir Denis, it was in the West Midlands that Tariq Jahan lost his sons because there were no police officers protecting the shops on the Lozells Road and they died. So Chris Sims may have got his people out but they weren’t out quick enough in sufficient numbers to protect those properties; you must accept that.
Sir Denis O’Connor: You are absolutely right and he would accept it. He got some out; he didn’t get enough out, and then were the tactics strong enough to protect those people? Answer: "No," and he is reflecting on that.
Q810 Mark Reckless: So there is the issue of the speed of deployment within the Met itself, and then we have the mutual aid arrangements. Did the Police National Information and Co-ordination Centre operate as it should? Are its protocols sufficiently speedy to deliver the response needed?
Sir Denis O’Connor: A lot of people tried hard and did valiant work on that, and I think you have seen one or two of them, like Mr Hollis, but let us be absolutely clear: this starts up 35 hours into the sequence of events. It is responsible, at best, for about 23% of the resources supplied. I think we have to regard PNICC as a slower time arrangement on a glide path as it is presently organised. It is a small body of people who gather together and then seek to try and make sense of a picture without any serious intelligence reference points about what is happening, although they can watch television, as the Chairman has pointed out, but nothing beyond that. That is a few people, 35 hours into the cycle, 23% of the resources and they react on the basis of what people ask them for, and quite a lot of people don’t really understand their contribution. So I think that is a part of the jigsaw but it is not the answer in the game.
Q811 Mark Reckless: Assuming ACPO does cease to exist under the new policing landscape, where could that function, such as it is, or an enhanced and more appropriate function, potentially be based? Could the National Crime Agency or another body potentially co-ordinate mutual deployment of resources better than is done at the moment, or should we simply look to the individual force requiring that assistance?
Sir Denis O’Connor: I think there are two things we have to do. The one absolutely crystal clear thing is that local understanding, knowledge and mobilisation is the most fundamental thing. That gives you the best shot. But we can’t just look to the last war, which is this. We might have pandemic flu; we might have a lot of other things that worry our citizens where the police have to react, so we do have to have some co-ordination centre. Where? NCA is accumulating a number of potential responsibilities, as the Chairman has pointed out. In the absence of the NCA, it is difficult to see another obvious body that does not have other important things to do that could divert it from the national need as opposed to their local need.
Chair: So you don’t want it?
Sir Denis O’Connor: Chair, I know my place, I think, mostly, and my place is not to direct or organise policing; it is to provide an analysis of what they do well or not.
Q812 Dr Huppert: Just a brief question. You have mentioned social media a few times and you presumably recall that the Prime Minister was looking at the idea of banning it for a period. I would be interested, partly in your comments on that idea, but more on your recommendations on what the police ought to be doing with social media, both as an intelligence tool and to try to prevent and manage disorder.
Sir Denis O’Connor: I am glad you have asked it. Our view, and we have indicated towards this in 2009, reaffirmed it in February, is that social media is a game changer for the police, and for us all collectively, because it allows people to organise themselves and out-manoeuvre us if they choose to do so. Some of that, BBM, can be done covertly because it is an encrypted system. Some of it is open if you know where to plug in on Twitter or Twitter trends and you are alert to all of these things in Facebook.
The blunt fact is that the police service are not geared at the present moment to be able to data mine that, take the sentiment out of it and try and make sense of what it means geographically and in other terms. However, we have looked at a number of commercial suppliers and other agencies, and the good news is the capability is there for us to harness that. Personally, I think trying to ban these things looks to me a little bit like standing on the shore when the tide is coming in. I think we should work with them, understand them and use them. Actually, there is some evidence that some police forces did try and use them to countermand some silly stuff that was going on on Twitter, and the rest of it, in order to dampen things down but it was at the margins.
In terms of intelligence, a grip on what is happening on the social media-some kind of grip-is an essential part of a reconsidered intelligence. I think the view of intelligence from the police can be overly focused on criminal assessed intelligence, but actually the world is bigger than that. It is the knowledge that you have about copycatting, it is the social media piece and it is what some source, or sources, tell you. It is the whole bag. It is even television at times, isn’t it?
Q813 Chair: Why were they not equipped to deal with this? Obviously social media has been with us for a while, and surely in every constabulary they ought to be aware that this is one way of gathering intelligence. Apart from anything else, they can get very useful information. What has gone wrong in using social media in the past? I know you are very keen to look forward to the future, but this is a failing, isn’t it, that it has not been addressed?
Sir Denis O’Connor: I think it is addressed in part, to be fair. If you look at what police forces are doing with their neighbourhood policing using Twitter and other mechanisms to talk to people in various parts of the country, they are using it. In some of the control rooms during the riots, Twitter was not very far away from everything else that was happening. It was part of the game.
What we don’t have, Chairman, and what we probably need is some kind of national all-source hub. We have-
Chair: Another hub?
Sir Denis O’Connor: We don’t have a place where we can crystallise the expertise to take a view about what is happening nationally.
Q814 Chair: Where should we put that? In the National Crime Agency?
Sir Denis O’Connor: Chairman, let’s see what the report says, and let’s see how the Government react to that idea.
Chair: You think that would be useful if it was all drawn together and put in one place?
Sir Denis O’Connor: I think before the Olympics I would have thought it is essential to think in those terms.
Q815 Chair: On the point of the Olympics, does anything you have seen give you cause for concern about the way in which the Olympics are going to be policed?
Sir Denis O’Connor: A whole series of things are being done in order to try and test and ensure that our security is sufficient for the Olympics. The approach has to be one of eternal vigilance and constant sceptical questioning of what we have, until we get to the other side and it is gongs and celebrations all around. That basically is a posture-a very alert and vigilant posture, testing our assumptions, our ability to track what is going on, testing what some of our institutions tell us we should be quite content and happy about. Chairman, in various ways, I am satisfied that testing is going on. What I am also saying to you, though, is that because of this and other things we saw last November, I think this part of the jigsaw does need some hard, clear, fast work on it.
Q816 Chair: We have asked Mr Bristow to come in since he is just taking over. I think in December he is due to appear before us. We might put some of the questions to him. Can I ask you just a couple of other questions? First of all, have you now replaced Bernard Hogan-Howe? Are you up to strength at the HMIC?
Sir Denis O’Connor: We have not, but we are short-listing this afternoon, so I am optimistic, Chairman.
Q817 Chair: Good. Secondly, as far as the protocol is concerned that this Committee recommended, which will be put in place when the Police and Crime Commissioners take office, are you part of that protocol procedure? Have you seen the protocol-the final protocol?
Sir Denis O’Connor: I have seen the protocol between the Chief Constables and Commissioners.
Chair: The final version?
Sir Denis O’Connor: I have seen a version, which I assume is pretty close to the final version. If some consideration is given at the moment as to where HMIC may assist the Commissioners, that may assist in the event of a difficulty between the Commissioners and Chief Constables and that detail is being worked through.
Chair: So it is not completed?
Sir Denis O’Connor: Our involvement is still a matter of some discussion.
Chair: Negotiation? I see.
Sir Denis O’Connor: Yes-consideration.
Chair: Mr Reckless, do you have any points on this?
Mark Reckless: No I don’t think I have anything about that.
Chair: We will watch this space, as they say. We are due to have the Policing Minister over to see us just before Christmas.
Sir Denis O’Connor: We stand ready to advise; that is our role.
Chair: Sir Denis, as always your evidence has been extremely helpful and we are most grateful. Thank you very much.
Sir Denis O’Connor: I appreciate you are going to publish your report and I hope that we will be in a position to assist you with our report in terms of time scales.
Chair: When is yours due to be published?
Sir Denis O’Connor: Depending on the Home Secretary’s availability and other things, we hope within the next two to three weeks we would be there, and we will be in touch with you about that.
Chair: Excellent. Thank you very much.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Darra Singh, Chair of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, Heather Rabbatts, Panel Member of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, and Louise Casey, Head of the Troubled Families Team, Department for Communities and Local Government, gave evidence.
Q818 Chair: Mr Singh, Ms Rabbatts, Ms Casey, I apologise for the call that you received asking you to come slightly earlier. This was because the Autumn Statement is today and the timings of the House have changed, so some of our colleagues who are participating in this inquiry are in the House asking questions as we speak, but they will return. So please don’t take that as any disrespect. Members will be pouring in very shortly, I am sure.
Congratulations, first of all, Mr Singh, on keeping to a very strict timetable. I have just seen a report of your report in today’s newspapers, although I have not seen a copy of it. When do you anticipate the publication of the second part of your report?
Darra Singh: Chairman, our timetable is that we will publish our final report by the end of March next year. May I just say, actually, that it has been a very challenging timetable. I am grateful to Heather Rabbatts, my fellow panel member, as well as the other two panel members; we have worked together on this.
Q819 Chair: What are the main conclusions of the panel concerning the motivation behind those who participated in the report? Ms Rabbatts, I have seen your comments in The Times this morning, in which you seem to be encouraging Nike and some of these other brands not to advertise quite so much. Is that an accurate-
Heather Rabbatts: As you will appreciate, Chairman, sometimes what appears in newspapers isn’t quite what one said. I am sure we will come back to motivations of the writers, and we identify five separate layers. The point I was trying to make was that one of the distinguishing features of these riots was that they were not directed at a political issue. These were riots that were fundamentally targeted at the High Street and retail, and also within the retail offer, certain brands were particularly targeted and you saw that evidence on your television screens during those days in August.
Q820 Chair: Mr Singh, we are trying to find the five biggest motivations behind the riots; what would they be?
Darra Singh: A whole range of things, such as immediate gratification, a new pair of trainers, the latest electronic gadgets, so personal gain and robbery. What we have done is to profile different rioter behaviours from what we have heard from victims, communities and professionals in public services, so we have a typology of five. First of all, there are organised criminals. We had plenty of views given to us about people turning up in vans, in cars, orchestrating other activity, collecting, acting as focal points for collection of stolen goods. We had violent aggressors; unfortunately and sadly, a number of people wanted to attack the police specifically in some parts of the country. Thirdly, we had what we call "late night shoppers". That is not to trivialise what they did, which is a crime, but actually that is taken from a quote from a senior police officer who said, "This wasn’t political, it was shopping," and people turned up for that purpose. Fourthly, opportunists; and fifthly, people who just went to watch-spectators, as we call them. So we have a typology of five different types of behaviours that we came across in our work.
Q821 Chair: When you both saw this happening on the telly in August, and having taken evidence from so many people all over the country, were your initial conclusions different from the conclusions that you have come up with today? Is that what you suspected when you saw people rushing around, looting and rioting? Was there some surprise that you discovered during this process?
Darra Singh: I was abroad-
Chair: I think most of us were abroad in August.
Darra Singh: -between 6 and 10 August, so I actually saw what was portrayed over the internet abroad and that was shocking. I was very careful, and my fellow panel members were the same, that we didn’t come to this with any predetermined views. If you were to ask me personally what shocked me the most, it would be the conversations I had with some young people, including some who rioted, and the absolute absence of any hopes and dreams that those individuals had and their feeling that there was a real lack of opportunity in terms of jobs, in terms of accessing education. That for me was profoundly shocking, and that is why, for our next stage of work, we want to review policy responses across six themes that we have identified in the report, and report back on those in March next year.
Q822 Chair: Ms Casey, your appointment by the Prime Minister, shortly after the disorders, was seen as a response to the disorders. I too was abroad, but I can remember the Prime Minister’s statement at Downing Street saying that this was the broken society. Do you see this as the purpose of your appointment and the unit that has been created to support you? Is it to try and mend the broken society? Is that one of the reasons why these people rioted?
Louise Casey: What happened after the riots was that the Government, rightly, looked at-I think the Prime Minister used the expression that he wanted to look in a bold way-all of the different things across Government and whether things needed rebooting or boosting in the light of the riots. At that point what they did was say, "We want to have a look at this." They had had an ambition to try and turn around the lives of 120,000 families, and as one of a range of things, Chairman, they wanted to look at, to quote the Prime Minister, "Putting a rocket booster on the activity around troubled families".
What we know so far is that the evidence from Darra’s commission and the Ministry of Justice and others shows that, obviously, if you look at people who rioted, what we know about them so far is that worklessness, unemployment and benefit reliance is quite a key factor. We know they are poor; we know that they are in receipt of free school meals; we know that they are more likely to have special educational needs. If one were to take a step back and look at what we mean by "troubled families", you will find a lot of similar sorts of issues. They are people that are long-term unemployed. Worklessness is part of what those families and households experience. They are more likely to have mental health or physical health issues and their children are less likely to be in school. In essence, they have problems and they cause problems.
So clearly, as one of a range of things the Government has done in the light of the riots, actually deciding to have a central unit and then more latterly, only more recently, appointing me to lead that central team is one of a range of things the Government is doing in response to the riots.
Chair: Yes, because neither of you in what you have said so far talked about the broken family syndrome as being one of the causes, though both of you have headed local authorities. Ms Rabbatts, you ran Lambeth for a long time; Mr Singh, Luton and Ealing, and no doubt others that I can’t remember offhand.
Darra Singh: No; that is it, I am afraid, Chairman.
Q823 Chair: We took some very powerful evidence from the Leader of Waltham Forest Council about the way in which they had targeted individual families. This is not rocket science, is it? Should not local authorities have done this in the first place as a means of trying to combat the deprivation that exists?
Darra Singh: We did actually hear, for example, when we were in Manchester, talking to the Leader and senior officials at Manchester City Council about their work on what they call "complex families," which is in similar territory. Actually our remit, initially, and we took this very literally, was to listen to the views of victims and communities about causes of the riots, motivational factors and a range of other issues. In those conversations and in public meetings when we asked the broader community what they thought the causes of the riots were, a number of issues came forward, some of which would be parenting, unemployment, lack of opportunity for young people and a range of other factors, which I think have significant parallels with the work of the Troubled Families Unit, if I have that title right. I think there is a lot of overlap there. Clearly, when we were in Harrow as well, I think the council there were very much turning their minds to working on a similar basis to Manchester, in line with the work that Louise Casey and her unit are undertaking.
Heather Rabbatts: To echo the points that Darra has made, and certainly in the local authorities I once ran, and in terms of the visits that we undertook, there is some interesting work that is being done by local authorities in partnership with other key agencies, and I think this is crucial. It is not within the sole remit of local authorities to make effective interventions in this area. They do need to work with the other agencies, in order to really try to see whether they can support complex families out of those situations and into pathways that enable them to have much better opportunities in terms of society, and I am sure that work will be part of Ms Casey’s analysis.
Q824 Chair: You were quite tough on the police, weren’t you, in your report? I am reading a headline here, because I haven’t seen your report, but you basically said that they were pretty slow at dealing with these riots and if they had been a bit quicker we would have had less disorder. Is that right?
Darra Singh: Chairman, could I just expand upon that? We have been very clear from the outset that we are not experts in policing. We are not experts in operational matters to do with how the police deploy resources and respond to public disorder. We went where the views of victims and communities took us, and actually every engagement we had in every location-we visited 20 areas in total, 17 riot-affected areas-in our discussions with members of the public, with shopkeepers who have been effectively victims, they raised views about policing, so we felt duty bound to reflect those in the report. We also reflect the fact that individual police officers, Special Constables, PCSOs, acted in an incredibly brave manner to protect communities, so we recognise that. But we also recognised that what happened in August over those five days was unprecedented. The scale, the speed at which the rioting spread from a standing start presented a unique challenge to policing, which I am sure, I hope, the contributors have recognised as well. So that is the context in which we reflect the views of victims and communities that we have talked to.
Heather Rabbatts: Could I just add to that point? It is very much the perception of what people were seeing on their screens that we were trying to reflect in the report, which I think is a challenge for policing in the future. The perceptions of certain images were ones that very much went across all the social media platforms. Clearly, social media enabled the contagion, if you like, of the disorder to spread in the way that it did. That is a significant issue and clearly was one that Sir Denis was echoing at the end of his evidence to you earlier.
Chair: Yes, I am sure Dr Huppert is going to raise that with you as well.
Q825 Dr Huppert: We could probably save time, your report is actually quite clear that social media networks should not be shut down during future disturbances, which I think fits with what we have heard from other people, so I don’t think we need to dwell too much on that.
I would like to ask, why did n’t the riots happen everywhere? I realise this is very much an interim report and , in particular , I presume you will talk to some statisticians about data presentation for the final one, but it comes up with a list of very specific things. There doesn’t seem to be a particular thread that I can see , in terms of answering the question as to why the riots didn’t happen everywhere. There seem to be special cases in each one. Can you, perhaps, describe for us more what you think overall? Is there any sort of overall thread that you can pull out?
Darra Singh: Unfortunately, we were not able to find one or two things that would specifically render an area immune from rioting. When we talked to officials, in particular in police and in local government-we visited three non-riot affected areas and actually had some written submissions from others-what they have said to us is, first, that they weren’t complacent; secondly, that they felt that if the rioting had continued across the country they may well have been drawn into that; and thirdly, as they had more notice so to speak, because they saw the troubles in Tottenham and as they have spread across London, people were able to put their emergency plans in place. So, a whole range of things happened, and what people mainly said was that what helped them was, first of all, really good partnerships between police, local government and the wider voluntary third sector; secondly, really good communication between all those partners, but also some innovative work in terms of communicating with those that were potentially at risk of participating.
So, for example, in Salford, we saw that Salix, which is a social housing provider there, sent text messages-if I recall correctly-to all their tenants advising parents to keep their children indoors and not to let them out, basically, if I may put it in straightforward terms, and we saw that happening elsewhere. In Sheffield and in Harrow we also saw street-based teams, which are multi-agency groups of people: police, Youth Offending Service, youth workers, other local government staff, going out into town centres. In Harrow, for example around the St George’s Centre, talking to young people who were congregating there and asking them to disperse, which they did. So a whole range of different initiatives, but early preparation.
The other thing, some really practical stuff-sorry to go on a bit, Chairman-was just to remove any potential missiles, debris and so on, so there weren’t any things lying around that could be used to cause damage. So it was a range of factors.
Q826 Dr Huppert: One aspect is the joint working. Presumably that is a long-running thing?
Darra Singh: Yes.
Dr Huppert: That is one of the messages, and the other message is about getting rid of missiles. Presumably , that is when you think something might start rather than a constant?
Darra Singh: Yes.
Dr Huppert: Those would be the two key things; otherwise it was partly luck, you think?
Darra Singh: There are other factors that we point to in the report, such as strength in terms of cohesion and relationships between different members of the community. There is some analysis by Experian that makes a linkup between where there are lower levels of community cohesion and rioting, but all these things are pretty imprecise. This is not a science as such; it is more of an art. There were some factors to do with layouts of town centres; multiple entry points and exit points, some real practical issues to do with physical environment. Some people also mentioned to us-and this is not a judgement that I make-the quality of the shops in certain town centres. My home city is Bradford. The leader of Bradford city profoundly challenged that. He argued that shopping in Bradford city centre was of a high quality, but other people we talked to actually felt that the reason there wasn’t any trouble and looting there was because of the quality of the shopping.
Q827 Mark Reckless: When people made criticisms of the police to you, what was it that people felt the police should have done differently in order to prevent or limit the disorder?
Heather Rabbatts: I think there were different levels. Again, I particularly talk about perceptions because the police and all of the police forces, and indeed the Metropolitan Police, are conducting their own internal reviews as to the tactics. But from listening to victims in communities, there was a perception that in certain areas the police were standing off and were not tackling the rioters. So we had evidence-and it is reflected in the report-of people contacting the police saying, "I can see disorder happening. I can see groups of young people about to throw petrol bombs," and there being no response. As I said, I am sure the police have good cause as to why that was happening and there were issues of resource deployment, but what we were concerned about was the constant repetition of that perception that the police were absent, in terms of victims and what those communities experienced during those days.
Q828 Mark Reckless: When you say that the perception is that the police were standing by, do you mean necessarily that they were absent and there were no police or that sometimes you were having police there but they weren’t doing anything?
Heather Rabbatts: There were different layers to that. In certain instances the police simply did not have the resources to put police officers on the street, there were issues about the number of police officers who were able to deal with public disorder. In some instances, communities would see police but they weren’t then being deployed because, actually, that is not their role in those circumstances. So there were different issues in terms of your question.
Q829 Mark Reckless: Are you aware of the doctrine that has developed in terms of public order-it has developed really from a managing protest perspective-of the police perhaps being perceived as standing by but taking evidence, CCTV, looking to follow up with arrests at a later date?
Heather Rabbatts: Yes. We are certainly aware of those tactics and, indeed, the idea of trying to maintain a sterile area. The challenge for the police was that you had public disorder on a scale and a way in which people moved that was very different to what they had experienced before, and no doubt that issue will be the subject of internal reviews by police forces up and down the country.
Q830 Mark Reckless: But in your view, on the basis that you have spoken, those tactics, as developed from previous things, weren’t properly applied in the circumstances as we had here?
Heather Rabbatts: Do you want to answer that?
Darra Singh: Actually, the police have accepted that what they faced in August was a unique set of circumstances, and in that we are looking forward to seeing the outcome of the work of HMIC and others on police tactics. When we were in Birmingham, Heather may recall, there was actually what I thought was quite a good description of the behaviour of the crowds, certainly in the city centre of Birmingham. Somebody used the term, "They were like shoals of fish." Groups split up and got together in quite a random way, but in a very fast and rapid fashion, which made-as we were told by senior police officers there-the traditional approach to managing public disorder inappropriate in these circumstances. But again, we are not experts in police tactics; we have never claimed to be and so-
Q831 Mark Reckless: You did also see Tottenham and how the policing progressed there. Did it continue to be treated as a political protest-type situation after it had become widespread looting?
Darra Singh: No. Our view is that, as we tried to make clear in the report, we don’t think the riots, certainly at a national level, were a political set of riots. In fact one senior police officer coined the phrase, "This wasn’t politics, it was shopping". It was a whole range of other factors at play. That is not to say that there aren’t underlying causes, which don’t excuse the behaviour but actually still need to be challenged in our view.
Q832 Chair: Ms Casey, you are in the fortunate position of having the confidence of three successive Prime Ministers. You have the confidence of Tony Blair, who appointed you Head of the Respect task force; under Gordon Brown you then became the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, and now Prime Minister Cameron has put you in charge of this very important unit. How many resources do you have at your disposal to deal with what is a very complex subject? How big is your unit?
Louise Casey: It is incredibly early days, actually, Chairman. You have me at the beginning of my fourth week in the job, so at the moment I am just-
Chair: Sure, and we are very grateful. We always think it is good to have people at the start and right at the end.
Louise Casey: At the end? Okay. Obviously I am happy to come back at any stage the Committee wishes to talk about this issue.
Q833 Chair: But you saw the Prime Minister and he appointed you. How many people did he give you as part of your unit?
Louise Casey: At the moment I am trying to work out what I need, to be completely honest with you. So at the moment, I am scoping out both the size of the task and how to go about doing it, and then I will work back to resources after that. I haven’t made a call yet on the type of team and the resources that we need in order to do the job, and I think one of the things for me, actually, having mentioned my past, is that I-
Chair: Distinguished past.
Louise Casey: Thank you very much, Chairman. I just think it is really important to stop and look at this quite carefully and to consider quite a number of, for me, very highly complicated and challenging issues. I would say, in relation to the 120,000 troubled families, that many people have trod versions of this path before, around renewal, regeneration, city challenges, new deal for communities and so on.
Chair: That is very useful and thank you for that, but may we just stick to resources? So when the Prime Minister appointed you, did he say, "Go away, Ms Casey, and tell us what you want in order to get your team together," which is what you seem to be implying to this Committee, "and come back and tell me what you need and I will give you what you need"? It is a very odd appointment, isn’t it? You were appointed to head a unit that doesn’t exist. You are not told how many people you are going to have; it is left to you to decide on the resources that you want. It is a very fortunate position to be in. Has he said to you, "Go away and tell us what you need and come back and I will give you what you need," or are there parameters?
Louise Casey: Well, I think that there are. I have been a senior civil servant for a long time and, of course, there are parameters and actually there was work happening across Whitehall in relation to troubled families.
Chair: No, we know all that, but when he appointed you-
Louise Casey: So at the moment we need to look at what that work was-what the staff were doing, and take a call on it. My starting point, in relation to the 120,000 troubled families, Chairman, is that there is a lot of money and a lot of work that is already being focused on these families.
Chair: So it is existing resources?
Louise Casey: It is potentially existing resources.
Q834 Chair: So it is not new resources. You are going to have a look at all the existing programmes and you are going to either cull them together or mesh them together and then say, "This is my unit". There is no new money coming in to support your work?
Louise Casey: I am currently thinking through and talking to Ministers and others about what is needed, what is the size of the task and what is possible.
Louise Casey: It would be wrong of me to speculate at this Committee either way around it all.
Q835 Chair: No, we are not asking you to speculate. This is a C ommittee of the House and these are serious issues and the Prime Minister has appointed you to a serious job. It is a legitimate question for a Select Committee to ask what resources are available to the person who the Prime Minister has put in charge of this task. We accept your answer that there are no new resources ; that you a re looking at existing programmes ; you don’t have a team ; you are assessing with M inisters what is going on. Is this a cross-departmental issue? Are you responsible to one particular M inister or are you going to be responsible to others, like Iain Duncan Smith, for example?
Louise Casey: I am responsible to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and obviously it is a cross-departmental approach to what we need to take with troubled families. Of course, it would be misleading for me suggest I am going to work across various ministries, including DWP, Department of Health, Education, Home Office, Ministry of Justice. So I will work cross-departmentally but my line of command is very clearly into Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Q836 Chair: When you were appointed by the Prime Minister-obviously, one welcomes any new initiative-did he say you have specific objectives? You keep mentioning those 120,000 families; what are the objectives? What are your benchmarks, because this seems to be a benchmark Government? The Prime Minister is very keen on criteria and results. That is what he said. Do you have any benchmarks?
Louise Casey: I am working them up at the moment, is how I would put it. The Government has made it clear that it has an ambition to turn around the lives of 120,000 families. We know from data that already exists centrally that there are at least 120,000 families that have a range of criteria, such as worklessness, ill health, mental health, kids not in school. There are at least five, and I will get to the fifth in a second-I will just check that one-poverty, thank you very much, and no qualifications. So we know that there are 120,000 families that have a range of these criteria.
This is what I am currently doing, in terms of turning around the lives of those families. We would want to look at work and we would want to look at education. I also think, Chairman, we would want to look at how we bring the collective costs of these families down, at the same time as asserting a better collective effort to then work for these families more effectively. That is where I am at the moment. To sound a little "civil servantish", I am at the stage of scoping, thinking it through and trying to work out what is the most effective way of going about doing it.
Chair: So basically, you were appointed on 1 November to a post. You have no resources that have been allocated specifically to you; you have been asked to look at all the programmes in existence. You have no benchmarks at the moment, but you will be scoping your own benchmarks?
Louise Casey: If I am honest with you, Chairman, I think that is quite a negative look at it. I would say that-
Chair: So make it positive, for the Committee.
Louise Casey: I am feeling very positive. I clearly have some staff that work for me already. Nobody has said to me I won’t get more staff if that is what we need. The Prime Minister said only a couple of weeks ago, I think in a Committee at the House, that he is looking at existing money but if new money is needed we will get it.
I don’t think this is an issue just about money, though. I honestly think, Chairman, and I have appeared before you a number of times over the years, that we really need to take a long, hard look at what we are doing with these families already and how we can make the best of what we have and how we can get the approaches right. That is not just because we have hardship times on the financial front, I genuinely believe that is the right thing to do by both colleagues in local authorities and other organisations, and we need to work out whether we are getting it right, Chairman, not just about the money.
Q837 Chair: Very helpful. Of course, absolutely. What happened to the Victims Commissioner’s post? Is that still empty?
Louise Casey: I believe so. Yes, it is.
Chair: Because you vacated it, so the Victims Commissioner’s post is about to be advertised, presumably?
Louise Casey: I don’t know that. I do know that I am very clear, as a former Victims Commissioner, that lifting the profile of victims within the criminal justice system is a very good thing. Whether that is a future Victims Commissioner or other things is up to the Secretary of State for Justice to decide.
Q838 Mark Reckless: Similarly for victims of the riots, what more could be done to assist them? T hey have had the opportunity to come before M r Singh’s panel, and a n extremely limited amount of compensation has been paid. W hat more should the Government be doing to assist on that front? If p erhaps Mr Singh but also Ms Casey could give me an answer, I would be grateful.
Darra Singh: If I may start. What we were struck by in our visits to many areas-and we talked to victims, shopkeepers, businessmen and women-was this point about compensation. Most people had received some form of compensation, facilitated by Communities and Local Government through local government, but actually two points were mainly raised with us. One was some concern about how individuals had been dealt with by their insurers. That is why we call on the insurance industry to root out the cases where service may well not have been up to scratch and to improve that; and secondly, under the Riot Damages Act, from what we learnt and what we heard, we didn’t meet anybody who had actually received a payment under the Act. So we call for that process to be speeded up, while accepting, given that over 5,000 claims have been made under the Riot Damages Act and 70% or so of those are in London, that is an enormous volume from a standing start. As we look at this issue from the perspective of victims, we felt it was important to make that point.
Heather Rabbatts: Adding to that, the other point that victims raised with us, as some of these offenders are released back into the community, was that some of them would like the opportunity of confronting those offenders with the losses that they had suffered, whether to their businesses or their homes. That was a very strong plea that was made and we echo that in our recommendations back to the agencies who could be involved in that process.
Q839 Mark Reckless: Ms Casey, do you think enough is being done for the victims of the riots?
Louise Casey: I am no longer the Victims Commissioner, but one of the things I thought was incredibly powerful is that the independent inquiry set up to look at this actually has, at its centre, communities and victims. I thought that, in itself, was a huge step forward; the fact that you have decided to have not only myself but certainly, more importantly right now, Ms Rabbatts and Darra Singh in today is a real indication of trying to hear the voice of victims. One of the things that I felt as a Victims Commissioner is that, throughout public life, the voice of victims wasn’t loud enough. So for me, the starting point was the evidence gathering that colleagues are doing on the panel; the type of information in their report needs to be heard. As a former Victims Commissioner, that is what I would say.
Q840 Dr Huppert: I have a very brief question, which I think is more for Mr Singh. You mentioned the IPCC briefly. How much of a role do you think their activities played in kicking off the riots?
Darra Singh: What we have set out, and what concerned many people, was the information vacuum that was then populated by rumour and speculation, and Heather Rabbatts has been leading on this, so maybe if I can ask-
Dr Huppert: Sorry; please.
Heather Rabbatts: I will fill in the rest of the point that Darra was about to make. I think our concern is in the protocols that exist between the IPCC and the Metropolitan Police in this instance. There is an understanding of how communicating with the media will change in the course of an investigation. That protocol was crafted in 2009 and clearly, in an age of very powerful social media, what we felt was that you couldn’t have viral silence. It became fuelled with rumours, which were not being effectively stood down by either the police or the IPCC. What we are asking in our report, because we believe that is a fault line, a complication, is that that be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Q841 Chair: The Committee is very concerned that there still is not a permanent chair of the IPCC and it has now been re-advertised. There is no good and great person out there who has applied for this job. Is that a concern that you all share?
Heather Rabbatts: I think it is a concern that leadership becomes very important in situations of high stress, and I am sure that the absence of a chair of the IPCC was and is a significant factor. Of course you had also gone through some very significant leadership changes at the top of the Metropolitan Police Service. Leadership, as we have seen in terms of local government and in terms of police commanders, is hugely important in these times of stress.
Chair: You aren’t thinking of applying, Ms Rabbatts?
Heather Rabbatts: I am not, sir.
Q842 Chair: One final question. The issue of race has been raised and then dismissed and then raised again. A quick answer from each of you from what you have gathered in the work that you are doing. Was race a part of this, Ms Rabbatts?
Heather Rabbatts: The panel did not conclude that the riots were racially motivated in the ways that this country has seen in the past. Is there a race dimension? Yes, there is, and we highlight the ongoing concerns around stop and search, which we believe erodes some of the confidence between certain communities and the police service. In terms of race being a motivating factor across the riots, while there will have been some local DNA, in terms of the riots up and down the country, if we look at it across the piece we would not say that these riots could be categorised in that way.
Darra Singh: I would agree wholeheartedly with that. I was involved in the Community Cohesion Review Team looking at the riots back in 2001 in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham, and from everything we have heard, in overall terms, these were not race riots. Having said that, some individuals may well have had certain motivations linked to race, but overall they were not race riots.
Chair: Ms Casey, from what you have seen, I know it is outside your box in terms of the grass-roots panel, but has this been a factor, and is it going to be a factor in your work?
Louise Casey: In relation to the 120,000 troubled families?
Louise Casey: I think that deprivation and black and minority ethnic groups are often over-represented in deprived areas, so it would follow on from that that it could well be a factor in what we look at in terms of problem families, yes.
Chair: Ms Casey, Mr Singh, Ms Rabbatts, thank you very much indeed for coming here today. I am most grateful.
Darra Singh: Chairman, would you like us to leave you some hard copies of the report? We have already produced them.
Chair: Yes, please. We have them. Thank you very much.