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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1456- iv
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
policing large scale disorder
TUESDAY 11 OCTOber 2011
Professor Tim Newburn and Paul Lewis
Evidence heard in Public Questions 554 - 604
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 11 October 2011
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witness
Witness: Bill Bratton, former Chief of Police, Los Angeles Police Department, gave evidence.
Q554 Chair: Mr Bratton, thank you very much for coming to give evidence to the Committee. I apologise for keeping you waiting. Part of that was due to the fact that the Commissioner was praising you about the work that you have done. I have had a look at your programme. You are going to see the Prime Minister. You have a reception at No. 10 and an international conference on gangs. You are seeing the Home Secretary. You are seeing the Policing Minister. It is quite a visit, almost a visit of a head of state.
Bill Bratton: You are getting your money’s worth out of me considering what you are paying me, which is nothing.
Q555 Chair: Are you disappointed that you did not become the Commissioner of Police in London?
Bill Bratton: I think you benefited from the selection process you just went through ,and I think you have just had the opportunity to hear from him, as I did this morning in a private meeting in his office. I think you are very well served with your new leadership at the Met. In terms of my interest or lack of interest, it is kind of a moot question in some respects; it is water under the bridge. The focus is very appropriately on the new individual there and his plans for the organisation moving forward.
Q556 Chair: Can you tell us a bit about the role that the Prime Minister has appointed you to? He announced that you were to advise him specifically on gangs. It is obviously a part-time appointment, because you have other duties that you perform in respect of your work. When he rang you up and said he would like you to be involved in this, what exactly is your job description?
Bill Bratton: Let me clarify that, because I think most of the understanding or lack of understanding of that assignment has been formulated by the media. Very specifically I, along with several dozen others, have been invited to attend a conference to be held Thursday here, sponsored by the Home Office, to consult and talk about the issue of gangs and gang violence in our respective countries. I understand there are representatives, criminologists, academics, police officials from half a dozen countries. My successor in the Los Angeles Police Department, Charlie Beck, is coming over. This week I have been asked, prior to the conference, to visit a number of cities. I was in Manchester yesterday looking at their Excalibur initiative. This afternoon I am spending the afternoon over at New Scotland Yard being briefed on the initiatives they are engaged in, such as Trident, and also Hackney where they have very significant efforts under way. Tomorrow I am travelling to Birmingham to spend time there being briefed on their issues.
Q557 Chair: Sorry to interrupt, and we will come to all these points because they are very relevant. Specifically to the Prime Minister’s remit, you are not therefore a gang tsar for the Prime Minister or an advisor, because when he came before the House and he spoke about your role, and indeed when you were raised as a possible Commissioner, it was viewed that you would have a specific role at No. 10, but actually it is quite a general advisory role along with other people.
Bill Bratton: The role is the same as that shared by the other attendees at the conference, to impart information about our own experiences. So I have no, if you will, portfolio with the Prime Minister. The Home Office is the entity hosting the conference, so I certainly don’t think of myself as a special advisor. I have been asked to provide consulting services at that conference and am happy to do it.
Q558 Chair: That is very helpful and it certainly has cleared up a lot of misunderstandings that some of us had about your role. You did say in August that communities should not feel that they can arrest their ways out of gang-related crime. What did you mean by that?
Bill Bratton: Los Angeles, a city that I was privileged to be Chief of Police in during the period 2002 to 2009, for most of its history its principal strategy in dealing with the gang problem was arrest. There was an unofficial motto of the department, whose official motto was to protect and serve. The unofficial motto was "Hook 'em and book 'em", meaning to hook them up with the cuffs and book them, and that was the way to deal with the crime and gang problem. It didn’t work. The gang problem kept increasing in terms of its violence, its deterioration of quality of life. So myself and Sheriff Lee Baca who ran the County Sheriff’s Department, between us we had over 100,000 gang members in an area with 10 million people; 100,000 documented gang members. I had over 400 gangs in the city of Los Angeles.
I am pleased to report that our efforts over the period 2002 to 2009 in many respects were similar to some of the briefings I have received on some of the efforts of some of your communities, the idea of partnership. You cannot arrest your way out of the problem. Police are not the solution to the gang issue. We are, I would argue, the most significant component of it but it is the partnerships that police are able to form, in the case of what I heard yesterday up in Manchester, with the probation department, with the children’s services department, national agencies willing to work with that local constabulary. The partnerships they have formed have resulted in significant reductions in gun violence, where that is such a significant problem there.
So the term "Hook 'em and book 'em" to give you a sense of the turnaround in the approach of the LAPD-
Chair: We will come on to that in one second. I think Mr Michael has a question about American examples.
Q559 Alun Michael: Yes. That partnership message came out very clearly when I met Charlie Beck and others during a visit to Los Angeles recently. I am keen to get to the heart of what we can learn from the American experience, not just in Los Angeles but elsewhere. Could you boil down to two or three key elements what lessons you think we should learn from the experience in America, including what you have already referred to?
Bill Bratton: Again, you are well under way in what is a nascent problem at the moment, as I would describe your experience. It is only 15 to 20 years you have been dealing with a problem that in America we have been dealing with for almost four generations with our Latino-Mexican gangs and for three generations with our black gangs. So our experience is one of much more significant violence, although it has similar elements to it, but with the gun violence in our country, the death toll and the injuries are much more than you are experiencing.
The good news for you is the idea that there is much to be learned and that you are dealing with a much smaller problem, but as I have referenced it is not a police problem alone, because it involves deterioration in the quality of home life for many of these young people. Where there isn’t a home life there is deterioration in the control that schools and society might normally have on young people and the desire to belong to something, and unfortunately gangs are there. The approach to gangs is the idea that they will always be in existence. You are not going to do away with gangs. That is the reality. They are part of social life in the United States and they are part of yours, I would dare say. What you can do is control their behaviour and you can also seek to prevent their expansion with the recruitment of new members by providing alternative services. That is where the partnerships with other government agencies and community agencies come in.
Q560 Alun Michael: Would you agree with the proposition then that the recruitment is of those who have no better alternative in life, and that the provision of better alternatives is key to combating the expansion of gangs?
Bill Bratton: A significant element of my experience in policing is if you focus on prevention that you in fact can then prevent. The issue that you have, where gangs are a relatively new phenomenon, part of the effort in terms of dealing with the existing violence is certainly one element of the strategy necessary. Another key element is the idea of finding ways to deter young people from being either recruited or coerced into joining gangs because of their fear of if they are not in the gang they are going to be harmed or the idea of belonging to something in which they feel that they are cared for.
Q561 Alun Michael: Just one final question. Are there any lessons that you would advise us not to learn or approaches that you advise us not to import from the American experience?
Bill Bratton: Again, not to repeat the mistake of the Los Angeles Police Department where for most of its modern history, dealing with both the Latino and African-American gangs, the approach was pretty much to do it on their own not in partnership with other government law enforcement agencies or criminal justice agencies or with societal agencies. A significant turning of the corner-and Chief Beck can be credited with this, my successor in the LAPD-was the use of interventionists, for example former gang members who could help to stop a lot of the retaliatory crime that is such a significant part of gang life. If you can stop the retaliation you effectively stop 50% of the crime right there without the tit for tat that goes on constantly among the gang members.
Q562 Michael Ellis: Mr Bratton, you have been asked a bit about gangs. I want to ask you a little about riots now if I may. We had some riots, as you are well aware, in August this year, which were described by the Association of Chief Police Officers as unprecedented. I am just wondering if there are any lessons that you think can be gleaned from large-scale disturbances that have taken place in the United States?
Bill Bratton: I can speak to the situation in the United States where certainly the community that I just came from, Los Angeles, and then the community that I was Police Commissioner for in the 1990s, New York, both of those had very large-scale disturbances. New York in the earlier 1990s, the Crown Heights riot that went on for three to four days, for the first two days unchecked by the police, and in Los Angeles certainly the horrendous riot they experienced, over 50 people killed during that disturbance, millions of dollars of damage, where in a similar fashion police were not present for the first day or two in appropriate numbers and appropriately located. Indeed, the Los Angeles riot I think its quick escalation was a combination of the media reporting clearly showing that the police were driven from a certain neighbourhood in which there was a great deal of violence occurring, the first time in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department that they gave up a piece of the city property. In doing that that emboldened the crowd and through the media-
Q563 Michael Ellis: Do you think something similar happened here?
Bill Bratton: That ultimately will be for you to determine as you look at what occurred there, but the experience in America has been usually disturbances of the nature of what you just experienced. Oftentimes it is as a direct result of a police action. That has been the history of our riots in the United States. It seems to have been at least part of-the causal impact was, if I understand, a shooting death at the hands of police of a suspect. I can see that happening in the community where that occurred, but the widespread rioting almost across your nation that occurred, it will be interesting when you look at it as to whether they were copycat disturbances. Was that as a result of the first incident or was it just this idea of, through the social media and other forms of coverage that it spread, it having nothing at all to do with the initial event?
Q564 Michael Ellis: Do you feel, though, that as it applied in the United States, in Los Angeles for example, it was the absence of policing and that being viewed on the media by others that caused the riots to propagate?
Bill Bratton: That is my belief. As you appreciate, going in as the new Chief of Police shortly after the horrific events of the riots of the earlier 1990s there was always a great concern of a repetition of that. So, in addition to dealing with gang violence and other violence, I had to be very concerned with the issues of a repeat of that. A lot of our focus was on the idea to not repeat the mistakes that were learned from that event and one of those mistakes was to cede territory and to not have sufficient forces on hand.
In the case of Los Angeles this also goes to the partnership that the LAPD was always an agency that wanted to go its own way and so did not link up with the Sheriff’s Department and other agencies such as the California Highway Patrol. Something that your police forces benefit from is that you have the ability to move large numbers of police very quickly across the country. They train similarly and you also have a national radio communication system so that every officer’s rover or walkie-talkie works off the same system. We in the United States are still in the dark ages when it comes to that essential element, the ability to communicate, so that when we do bring outside agencies into our city we effectively have to loan them walkie-talkies so that we can talk with each other.
Q565 Michael Ellis: Can I just ask you about the broken windows approach to policing, which advocates tackling minor crimes in order to avoid more serious crimes, I think it is true to say? Do you think that approach has a part to play in preventing the sort of large-scale disorder that we have seen in the United Kingdom recently?
Bill Bratton: It can either mitigate it or it can instigate it. Let me speak briefly about "broken windows". It is a strategy that I have employed in every city I have worked in and every subway system I have worked in; the importance of taking care of things and being able to deal with them more effectively when they are small before they get big. Weeding a garden; if you don’t take the weeds out when they are small they are going to kill the oak tree in the garden; similarly, street conditions. So much of what creates fear in a community is what they see every day and which in your country and my country in the 1970s and 1980s police paid very little attention to the so-called broken window of street prostitution, drug dealing, disorderly behaviour, drinking in public, graffiti, abandoned automobiles. That was what was creating fear every day. As for the overall crime situation, the majority of citizens fortunately are not the victims of serious crime. They may be aware of it but it is what they see every day that police and government are not paying attention to.
When we began to pay attention to it in the subways of New York in the 1990s, the streets of New York in 1994, 20 years later New York can comfortably claim itself to be the safest large city in America as it relates to crime.
Q566 Chair: Thank you. What was interesting in evidence we have received as part of our riots inquiry is the different tactics used by different police forces. The Met seems to have waited a day before putting out a lot of police officers, whereas in Liverpool as soon as they knew there were disorders there was a huge influx of officers on the streets. What is the right tactic to use in circumstances like this?
Bill Bratton: The idea in many respects is to plan for the worst, hope for the best, and at the same time be very capable of spontaneity, in the sense of, as you saw clearly, each city had a similar set of circumstances but had different circumstances to be taken into account. So a lot of it has to be the ability-and again speaking of the American experience-of having a lot of planning beforehand, constant training exercises, but understanding that no demonstrations are going to go according to plan so you have to be prepared to deal with that which may spontaneously erupt. So again, that experience that you have related, I am just not intimate enough with the differences in the various disturbances in your different cities and the different responses that were directed at them to really comment in any informed way.
Q567 Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr Bratton, Waltham Forest in the north-east of London is one of several local councils who are piloting a new approach to tackling gang-related crime and gangs in particular. It involves offering gang members a chance to end their involvement with gangs and if they agree they are given help to do so. If they refuse they are charged with low-level crime, which may go on to high-level crime. Presumably this is something that you would agree with, this way of tackling it?
Bill Bratton: What you are referencing sounds very similar to the programme that was first developed in my country in the city of Boston where I was Police Commissioner, called Cease Fire; David Kennedy and Paul Evans the former Police Commissioner. It was the idea of bringing in gang members who tended in that city at that time to be very young because the gang movement was just beginning. The gangs were very small. The idea in some respects was to scare them straight with the idea that they were called in and they were exposed to judges, federal agencies, local agencies, all of the array of forces that could be aligned against them, and pretty much informed, "If you don’t change your behaviour this is what is going to happen to you". Effectively the idea was to scare them straight. It was felt the programme was very effective in the city of Boston. It is currently being tried in about 75 different American cities.
I opted to try it in Los Angeles where the gangs are much more mature, they tend to be much older and much larger, much more entrenched and much more sophisticated. So I don’t know if that scared straight approach will work as effectively with that seasoned criminal gang member, if you could even get them to come in voluntarily to meet you. So that is what we are trying in the United States. Again, with your beginning of a gang problem-in Manchester yesterday they indicated the gangs have been around for about 15 years now. That was about the age of the Boston experience when they began their initiative.
Q568 Lorraine Fullbrook: Just in comparison to the Boston experience, these local councils, not the police, the local councils, are giving help to gang members who want to disconnect from their gang. Is that something you did in Boston? Rather than scare them straight, did you actually help them as well?
Bill Bratton: I think that is where the partnership with the other societal agencies, both government as well as community and volunteer groups, comes in to offer an alternative to what the gangs provide, which is this idea of connectivity, this idea of buying into something. Going back to the first comment about the prevention focus of this, the idea of providing alternatives, it is not just about enforcement or threat of enforcement, it is about alternative pathways.
Q569 Steve McCabe: Mr Bratton, there seems to have been a lot of speculation about the role of social media here, both during the disturbances and in terms of the work of gangs. I wonder from your experience have you anything to contribute on the way you know social media is used to either extend the activity of disturbances or promote the work of gangs?
Bill Bratton: The social media phenomenon is going to be with us for the foreseeable future and probably will manifest itself in many different ways as it continues to morph outward, but there is no denying that in policing, in your country and mine, that we are attempting to play catch-up on its impact and its potential criminal impact. Whether it is the idea of flash mobs that come together for partying or flash mobs that come together for rioting, experiences I had within the United States tended to be, during my time, much more social networking where a group of bicyclists would show up to go on a spontaneous ride and New York was dealing with the idea of 500 or 1,000 bicyclists in a big mob going through the streets in an unregulated fashion, a problem but certainly not a problem of violence or crime. In Philadelphia in our country where they are dealing with the phenomenon of large numbers of young people gathering in a location, that gathering in an uncontrolled environment has for them, unfortunately in a number of instances, led to violence and disruptions in stores in the area.
Policing is now beginning to play catch-up, if you will, in appreciating the importance of this as a tool, both for detecting as well as responding more quickly to events that are occurring. It fits very nicely into the new evolution of policing moving towards what is called in the United States "predictive policing", where we are getting much better at looking at our crime numbers and with new algorithms that are being developed that there is the capability with some degree of certainty of being able to put cops on the dots, meaning putting cops on crime problems before they occur rather than traditionally we have a couple of dots showing where crime has occurred and that is where you put your police. So the social media phenomenon has both a negative capability as well as a positive for the police at this current time.
Q570 Chair: Do you think that if during a disorder it should be shut down it ought to be shut down?
Bill Bratton: I am sorry?
Chair: Twitter and Facebook, during disorders do you think that if it needs to be shut down it ought to be shut down?
Bill Bratton: I can’t profess an intimacy with a lot of the technology, particularly for the two years I have been out of policing, but that is a tool available. My understanding is it is not a selective shutdown if you shut down. For example, in law enforcement in LA a principal means of communication is the BlackBerry among command staff. So if you shut down the BlackBerry system in Los Angeles you also lose that very valuable tool for the police. So I don’t know if there is a capability-it may develop over time-where you can selectively shut down private users versus, in our case, police and emergency departments. I am sure that will eventually evolve over time but right now I think my understanding of the technology is that you would shut everybody down.
There is also the implication of good people wanting to find out where their children are. We are so dependent now on that everybody is carrying those devices that you have the potential to throw the whole community into even more critical shock by shutting everything down and then, similarly to what happened in New York City on 9/11-I can remember 9/11, my wife is sitting behind me-when we could not communicate with each other and so the fear in that city was, where are they? Was she down there? Was I down there? It wasn’t until hours later that we were able to finally connect, and that is when the system was shut down because of that terrorist act rather than anything voluntarily-
Q571 Chair: So you would be against the mass shutting down of social media because of the difficulties it would pose to people not associated with the disorders who wish to communicate with each other?
Bill Bratton: Exactly. There is also a way of getting information out through social media from the law enforcement community advising people that, "There are disturbances in this area. Stay out of this area while police deal with bringing it under control", much the same as you would if there was a major fire, and so on. There is a good and a bad element to it. Again I am just not sufficiently sophisticated in terms of the technology and its current capabilities to respond other than giving an opinion.
Q572 Chair: Finally, Mr Bratton, when you were last before the Committee last year you talked about police and crime commissioners. Are you able to enlighten us any further with your views as to whether they are a positive development or not?
Bill Bratton: I think if I understand where you are, last year it was still being discussed and debated, the concept, and I tried to clear up for your Committee and the public the confusion of its comparison with the American system where we have such a hodge podge that you could compare it with any one of 17,000 systems we have. If I understand it correctly, next November you will have elections. It has been determined that this is to go forward and so, to use the American term of advise and consent, the time to advise, whether it be by police or the public, is now coming to an end and the time to consent that this is going to happen, to get with it, to start planning for it, to start showing leadership. This is going to be critical to public safety in Great Britain and to lean into it instead of leaning away from it.
Q573 Chair: Are you expecting a call from the Prime Minister to suggest that you might be standing in one of these counties?
Bill Bratton: I think not. In the sense of again you have a very interesting experiment under way. You have a country that is united in many ways but you also have a very diverse country, and so the 43 constabularies that you have I think you are going to have 43 very active experiments under way for a couple of years.
Q574 Steve McCabe: I wonder, because you have so much experience of this, what proportion of the electorate need to take part before a commissioner has got legitimacy?
Bill Bratton: What proportion of the-
Steve McCabe: What proportion of people who can vote in the electo rate need to participate. I mean with someth ing like a 10% vote, does that commissioner have legitimacy to police?
Bill Bratton: I am going to apologise, I don’t understand the question.
Q575 Chair: I think Mr McCabe wants to know about the turnout. What kind of turnout of the electorate would show that the Commissioner is credible?
Bill Bratton: I cannot even begin to comment on that. I don’t know what your British election experience is as far as turnout. I know in my country unfortunately it is abysmally low. I think it will come to the idea of how aggressive the campaigning is for the positions, how much they are publicised and then certainly, because it is going to be something that is so significant, the issue of public safety, the first obligation of government and the first thing that the public expects of government, that I would hope that the turnout would be very large to basically determine who was going to be guiding public safety in any one of your communities.
Q576 Steve McCabe: Would you have been happy if 10% of people had turned out to vote for you?
Bill Bratton: I am not going to profess an opinion on the number. I really don’t know. Not being a politician, I don’t pay attention to those things.
Chair: You are well versed at dealing with questions from politicians I am sure. Mr Bratton, as usual, when I rang you and asked you to give evidence today you readily agreed to do so. It is a great pleasure to have you here. Thank you very much for coming.
Bill Bratton: I was delighted to come again. Thank you.
Chair: Good luck with the rest of your programme. Thank you, and of course Mrs Bratton.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Tim Newburn, London School of Economics, and Paul Lewis, Guardian journalist, Reading the Riots project, gave evidence.
Q577 Chair: Thank you very much for coming to give evidence today. My apologies for keeping you waiting. As you can see, we have had some heavy sessions before you, but we are very keen to hear what you have to say. If I could start with a question to both of you. What are the aims of the study that you are currently undertaking and what are the initial findings? Mr Lewis?
Paul Lewis: I think the best way to begin would be to say that the genesis of this was the realisation that we have seen some quite shocking disturbances across the country, arguably one of the most serious bouts of civil unrest in a generation, and yet a reluctance on the part of many to conduct serious empirical research into what was happening. Many of the obvious organisations, Government Departments, that might have been keen to open some kind of an inquiry, did not. I think this Committee is a notable exception. So we felt that it was necessary and proper to have a proper and serious empirical statement.
To answer the question about objectives, we hope that by the end of this first phase in December, having interviewed a number of the people involved in the disturbances, having undertaken some rigorous analysis of a database of 2.5 million tweets that we have, that we will have a more advanced understanding of, first of all, the possible causes of the riots, but also the consequences as well.
Chair: Professor Newburn?
Professor Newburn: I think Paul summarised it. A couple of things to add, possibly.
Q578 Chair: Maybe you can take us to some of your initial conclusions. I know it is early days.
Professor Newburn: Possibly. Let me just add a sentence on the aims of the study, or two further things. There is also for us a real set of important questions around moving away from thinking about the riots as a single set of events and at least asking the question fairly broadly and openly whether or not the things that we saw in different parts of the capital and in different cities across England were the same or different in their origins, whether the people involved were similar or different, and how we might explain those things. I think it is important for us to think about the riots in fairly broad terms. The second thing, and this may sound slightly self-serving, is one of the objectives of the work is to show that it is possible to do rigorous social research quickly. Obviously, it is an unusual partnership, between a national newspaper and a leading research university, but the aim is to say that it is possible, in the absence of public inquiries, judicial inquiries, whatever it may be, that there are other means of collecting rigorous empirical evidence quickly.
I am going to demur somewhat on what are the early findings. I have said we have moved very quickly. It is a couple of months since the riots. We have been in this conversation maybe for six weeks about doing research. We are up and running with interviewers who have been recruited from the local communities in many cases affected by those riots, who are out now interviewing in various parts of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Liverpool, people who were involved in the riots. That in itself, I think, is quite an achievement. It will be a few weeks yet, but only weeks, before I think we can talk with any certainty about what the emerging findings are.
Q579 Mr Winnick: The interest many people are bound to have over what occurred is the nature or the reason why those who are normally law abiding engage in criminality. I have, as we all have in this Committee, statistics from the Ministry of Justice. One of the statistics that I find interesting, and perhaps you will comment, is that 27% of those brought before the court for their role in the disorder had no previous cautions or convictions. So far in your inquiry, does that tie up with the evidence that you have had?
Paul Lewis: I think what we are doing, which will be significantly different and useful, is not just interviewing people who were arrested and came to court and were prosecuted. The potential issue with those Ministry of Justice figures on people who were involved in the disturbances is they focus, of course, on people who were arrested, and there may be very obvious reasons why they are a certain category of people or why the figures may show certain things such as prior convictions, which don’t pan out in a wider population of people who were involved in the disturbances. As Tim said, we are some weeks away from saying we have concluded the first phase, we have interviewed the people we wanted to speak to who were directly involved in the disturbances and we can look at the findings. I think I can say at this stage that some anecdotal and early sense of where we are now it does look like a quite broad range of people who were involved in this. We are speaking to people of all ages. The youngest we have interviewed so far would be 14; there are people in their 40s, 50s, 60s who were involved too.
To add to Tim’s point about the differences, I think these were and continue to be characterised as kind of homogenous riots that happened across the country. Already what we are seeing is that that is not the case and actually there were very unique and different geographical characterisations to this. Obviously, what happened in Tottenham was very different to what happened in Hackney. There were areas where there was no rioting at all but there was exclusively looting. Similarly, there were areas where there were no shops broken into but there were repeated clashes with police. As we begin to drill down into some of these distinctions, I hope we will get a much more nuanced sense of what happened.
Q580 Mr Winnick: Thank you. Professor Newburn, it would be understandable that, as the statistics show, if they are correct, and no reason to believe otherwise, that 73% of those who have so far appeared before the court for disorder had a previous caution and conviction. What I think many people will be interested in, and I am wondering from your academic point of view on this, is why a good number of people-I already quoted the figure of 27%-who live apparently a law-abiding life, as a result of what occurred were encouraged to engage in criminality. Do you think it will be an interesting aspect of the findings why they decided to do so, which otherwise they may never have appeared in the court in their lives?
Professor Newburn: Indeed, and I think it goes to the heart of the study. Plausibly, one could argue that that is in some ways the most interesting group, which one reasonably imagines is far more than 27% of the people who were out on the streets that night involved in the disturbances in whatever way. There are all sorts of good reasons to imagine that the people who have ended up in court are not necessarily representative of the social groups more generally who were involved, whatever that may mean, in rioting. But the big questions there that you raise are, what was it that drew people out on to the streets? Who were those people? What were they thinking about when they made a decision to do whatever it was they did, go and watch, get involved, throw bricks, shout at the police, steal goods, attack somebody, whatever it may be? But I imagine, without wanting to sound too much like an academic making things terribly complicated, that the explanations for those things are of themselves quite varied. The danger, I think, in many of the things that we certainly heard in the immediate aftermath of the riots was a kind of search, a grasp for simple answers to what are inevitably very complex problems.
Q581 Steve McCabe: I accept what you say about this being complex, but I wondered if you have picked up any indication from those you have spoken to so far that the TV news media played a role, however inadvertently, in promoting the activity, given that it was so widespread?
Paul Lewis: Again, with the caveat that we have many more people to speak to and to just pause quickly, I want to say about the mechanics of the study. These are hour-long interviews. They adhere to what you would expect for an academic piece of social research, qualitative interviews, but also structured, survey-style, attitudinal questions, so we do get a lot out of them. It is early to say, but I don’t think television, from what I have read so far, seems to feature significantly in the interviews. Social media has been brought up repeatedly, and there seems to be a conflation-
Chair: We will come on to that.
Paul Lewis: Sure, no problem. But just in response to your question, I would say that is more likely to be a more significant factor than TV news.
Q582 Chair: Would you describe these as copycat riots, which is a term being used before? No? Rioting in London; the next day rioting in Birmingham; the next day rioting in Leicester?
Paul Lewis: There was inevitably an element of contagion in all of this and I think that one of the reasons it is so fascinating and we want to find out more is because the nature of these riots does not fit the model of historical riots. The fact that it was spreading from place to place, and the fact that there was such sustained looting in some areas was something this country has never seen before. So, copycat, contagion, I am sure these were all aspects of what was going on, but why some areas and not others? That is a very tricky question but one we need to get to the bottom of.
Q583 Lorraine Fullbrook: Can I ask, were you on the streets on the nights of the riots? You were?
Paul Lewis: Yes.
Q584 Lorraine Fullbrook: The evidence that the Committee has taken from the people who were on the streets, particularly in London-Battersea, Clapham, Croydon, Enfield-they did all comment, in terms of why were they there, it was because they could get away with it. That is why they were there. They could do it and nothing was going to happen to them. That was said by all of those in London, that they heard that on the streets. You must have heard that as well when you were out there. Why were they doing it? They were doing it because they could.
Paul Lewis: I think that would probably be a valid explanation for why some people were there. I was in London, in Tottenham on the first night and then Edmonton, Enfield, throughout London for several nights. Also, I witnessed what was happening in Birmingham and Gloucester, and it was different in each place. But I don’t think it is the case that there was any single explanation for everybody being there. Many people were just curious. There were large sections of the crowd that were there because they were interested to see what was going on. What I think is really interesting is there were people there who went for that reason and later found themselves committing criminal acts.
Lorraine Fullbrook: Absolutely, I agree. Thank you.
Q585 Alun Michael: Just on that point of contagion, you said that we had never seen such a series of events in the UK before. In the sense that this seems to have been violent and acquisitive crime that is probably true, but we did have the riots in the 1980s and so on where contagion was the case, although there does seem to have been a common trigger in different cities then. How would you see the similarities and differences?
Professor Newburn: Perhaps I can start on that one. I think you are right to say that there are some quite strong parallels with some of the things that happened in 1981 and 1985. I don’t know whether contagion is the right word but the spread perhaps from the Brixton riots initially and then disturbances in Handsworth, Toxteth, Leicester even, I remember, in the 1980s, and rather more substantial was the case here, that seems to be something we have experienced before on several occasions, in fact, an outbreak of violence, disturbance, whatever it is, in one place followed on subsequent nights in some other cities. What is different, or at least what appears to be different, on this occasion is exactly what you point to, Mr Michael. I was not there on the evenings but watching what unfolded through the news media, it was, for want of a better description, widespread looting without a particular focus. Going back to those 1980s riots, even in some of the other cities that were the subsequent ones, the contagion bits if you like, there did appear to be a history of, among other things, very poor police-community relations in many of the neighbourhoods in which the rioting took place. It is not entirely obvious that that was always the case in relation to these ones.
Q586 Alun Michael: I wonder about the need for your research, given that John Humphrys already knows what happened this summer. I think the way he put it to you this morning was that the police lost control and people knew they could get away with it, as simple as that. Why do we need social research to look into the causes? Or is he oversimplifying?
Professor Newburn: A radical view would be that he is oversimplifying here, I think. I think on this occasion most people would think so. I think the vast majority of the British public would think that he was oversimplifying. It cannot be reduced, I think, to policing or gangs or social media or sheer criminality or being a member of the feral underclass, or any number of possible other explanations one might reach for. All of those may have some part to play, I think, in our explanation-and possibly in different ways in different places-for the things that we witnessed in August. But I think, as you will know even better than I, these were very complicated events, which have much more complex roots than John Humphrys suggests.
Q587 Alun Michael: You commented earlier that this research of yours has been conducted in the absence of a formal public inquiry. A formal public inquiry can take even longer than social research, and produce even less clear outcomes. On the other hand, the Scarman inquiry was quite quick and came out with very insightful-do you wish that your research was going to feed into that sort of in-depth inquiry?
Paul Lewis: If there were an in-depth inquiry, we would absolutely want our research to be part of that. We will be very keen to share and disseminate our findings as widely as we can to Government stakeholders, but of course everyone else who cares. It does not necessarily need to be a fully-fledged Scarmanesque public inquiry, but a desire to find out what happened. If you look at the Oldham riots, and Bradford too, Toxteth, even if they were not full-blown Scarman-like inquiries, there were always attempts to find out what had happened. I think we did find that concerning. You mentioned John Humphrys, but look at anybody, any political figure who is trying to interpret the riots and give an explanation, and it is often through their own political lens. That is why I hope, with a degree of objectivity, we can come to this from a new angle.
Q588 Chair: You used a number of phrases, the feral underclass, the broken society, and so on, which politicians used immediately after the riots. Do you think there was too much of a rush to judgment?
Professor Newburn: It is easy to condemn, I think. Politicians are in an extremely difficult position. When something like that occurs, there is a public desire to have political leaders make statements and so it would be ill advised, I think, to blame politicians for being politicians.
Alun Michael: Why not? Everybody else does.
Mr Winnick: That is nice to know, Professor.
Professor Newburn: Not me. I have already lost a friend on Radio 4, so I will stop there. But beyond that, yes, I do think that there was a rush to final judgement, as it were. I think there is a difference between commentary, perfectly reasonable to comment and interpret and seek to offer views, but my fear was that what was happening in August, at least some of the time, was people drawing conclusions, which I think is a different matter. Reaching conclusions requires investigation of the sort that you are doing and that we are doing.
Q589 Chair: Mr Lewis, rush to judgment? Do you think people should have calmed down a little?
Paul Lewis: You heard from Bill Bratton that he has a big conference that the Home Office has organised for this Thursday on gangs, and it feels very much like-
Q590 Chair: Yes. Were you invited to the conference?
Paul Lewis: We are not. If we were I am sure we would be there.
Chair: No, neither are we.
Paul Lewis: But it does feel that the upshot, in terms of what the political establishment have taken from this, was that gangs were absolutely central and pivotal to what was happening, as were social media. I am yet to see the evidence on that, and I think that will be one of the intriguing questions we will be asking of our researches and of our data is to what extent is it the case that gangs were influential in orchestrating what was happening. If they are not, why are we spending all these resources on a gang-focused policy?
Q591 Alun Michael: Just quickly to understand the way you are undertaking the research, are you also doing any work in cities where riots did not take place, like Liverpool and Cardiff for example? Also, are you trying to interview people who were there and took part, but have not been arrested and charged?
Paul Lewis: Yes. To take the first part of your question first, we are funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Open Society Foundations, and the funding that we have enables us to first and foremost interview people who were directly involved in the riots. But we hope as a second phase to look at those cities where it did not happen, and we think that that is essential. Sorry, the second part of your question was-
Q592 Alun Michael: Interviewing people who were there and took part but-
Paul Lewis: Yes, of course, who were not arrested. That is absolutely crucial for us. We have our own database of 1,100 people who were arrested, prosecuted, appeared in court. We have contacted all of those, and many of those have come forward and they are willing to take part in the research. But beyond that, we have been quite successful already in getting through to people who were not arrested but were definitely involved, and involved sometimes in some quite serious criminality. They are speaking to us and I think it is going to be better for the research that they do.
Q593 Lorraine Fullbrook: A quick supplementary to Mr Newburn. Respectfully, I would like to disagree with your suggestion that after the riots politicians were quick to judge, because local MPs and the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister only described it as criminality. They did not give any "feral underclass" tone. They said it was very complicated, which is why the Prime Minister announced the inquiry. So I beg to differ with your analysis of what politicians said, because local MPs and the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister did just call it criminality.
Professor Newburn: I am happy to accept the correction. My sense was, and I don’t think I am alone, that there were a lot of fairly final conclusions being drawn, it seemed to me. If I am wrong I am wrong, but certainly my feeling was that what we were not necessarily likely to see was a fairly broad and deep inquiry into both the causes and the consequences of the riots. That is why we are doing what we are doing.
Q594 Michael Ellis: It is not just politicians who made comments about it. I seem to recall an academic being interviewed who was an expert on riots, who said that the closest parallel that he could think of was the Gordon riots of 1780. Perhaps you might want to have a look into that, I do not know, as part of your study. Are you interviewing any victims at all?
Professor Newburn: Rather in parallel with the answer that Paul gave a moment ago, our current focus is upon those communities in which the disturbances took place and people who were directly involved in the riots. We are doing that primarily because our sense is, on the one hand, that is the most obvious missing voice thus far in a lot of the work that has been done, but also it is very difficult work to do and therefore we need to get on with it fairly quickly. Then there are a number of broader things that, if we can, we would very much wish to do. One is to look at those communities where you might imagine those were places where there might have been riots but there weren’t, but also to talk to people in the riot-affected communities more broadly than those who were involved, so shopkeepers, local citizens and so on, about their involvement and their experience of the riots. There are several phases of the work, potentially, still to do.
Q595 Michael Ellis: Can I move on to the social media aspect of things? I understand that you are undertaking an advanced analysis of over 2.5 million Twitter messages that are said to be riot-related. Is that right?
Paul Lewis: That is right, yes.
Q596 Michael Ellis: Can you tell us what this advanced analysis entails?
Paul Lewis: It is an emerging discipline, and we are pleased that we have on board some experts from Manchester University and University College London who have already analysed large corpuses of Twitter data.
Q597 Michael Ellis: Can I just stop you there? Is it just Twitter? What about Facebook and other social media like that and other forms of messaging?
Paul Lewis: One of the key ways in which we are going to find out the role of social media will be speaking to the writers themselves, so that is kind of apart, but we do have an analysis of, to a degree, BBM messages that we got hold of during our reporting. Beyond that, we are in a very privileged position with this database of Twitter messages. There may be a whole range of things that we can do, such as sentiment analysis and, at the moment, we are thinking of hand coding several thousand, tens of thousands of the messages.
Q598 Michael Ellis: What does that mean, hand coding?
Paul Lewis: That means going through individually perhaps as many as 30,000 messages and seeing from that sample what they tell us about the broader 2.5 million.
Q599 Michael Ellis: Are you looking for the causes and responses to the disturbances or are you looking specifically for the role that Twitter and other organisations may have played in these disturbances?
Paul Lewis: Both, but I would say more the latter. We want to find out how Twitter was used, not just by people involved in the disturbances, if at all. I think the evidence that Twitter was used by people who were rioting is extremely slim at the moment, despite what many people say. But more how it was used; how it was used by police, how it was used by local communities, how it was used, indeed, by journalists like myself. That is one of the most exciting dimensions, I think, of the research study because it is extremely rare to get hold of a database of that size, and I think the-
Q600 Michael Ellis: Yes. Do the police have hold of that database, do you know? Do they have access to that information?
Paul Lewis: No. These were publicly broadcast tweets, but Twitter, the company, was very helpful in coming forward and helping us get hold of those messages in order that we subject them to rigorous empirical interrogation to see what it tells us about how Twitter was used during the riots.
Q601 Chair: You don’t subscribe to the view that Twitter should be closed down in circumstances such as this?
Paul Lewis: Here I have to declare an interest, that being that I was a journalist reporting from the riots, and Twitter is now a medium like radio, television and newspapers; in fact better than all three insofar as immediate reporting goes. It was absolutely crucial for the way we reported the riots and if it had been impeded in any way whatsoever, that would have been tantamount to impeding the press from doing its work. From a personal perspective, absolutely not, but beyond that I think that one of the dangers when you have these moments of crisis is if people stop talking and there is an absence of communication and flow of information. People need to find out what is going on and Twitter, as we all know, is one of the obvious ways in which they do that.
Q602 Lorraine Fullbrook: I am interested to know why you are looking at Twitter. Are you looking at only Twitter?
Paul Lewis: No. As I said, we are also looking at BBM messages. We will be taking into account the extent to which people were using Facebook as well, but one of the principal reasons we are looking at Twitter is because it was instrumental in the way the riots were reported. There is a huge amount of information there. That database is an encyclopaedic record of what was going on across the country in some ways. But also because Westminster was very keen on the Twitter question, on the social media question, and I think we have a responsibility to respond to that political debate.
Q603 Lorraine Fullbrook: The reason I ask is BB Messenger was used in all of the riots across the country, mainly because it is free and it can’t be seen by anybody else. You need to be somehow speaking to people who have been using BB Messenger.
Professor Newburn: As Paul said earlier, the core bit of this phase of the research is interviews with, for want of a better description, rioters. A core element of those interviews with what will most likely be several hundred people is asking them about their means of communication.
Q604 Lorraine Fullbrook: Which was mainly BB Messenger.
Professor Newburn: Well, with respect, that is a research question, I think, isn’t it? It is asking them what they were using. If they say BB Messenger then, yes, it was BB Messenger. If they say, "No, it was Facebook", then maybe we would need to rethink that. That goes to the heart of why to do research on this.
Chair: Mr Lewis, Professor Newburn, can I, on behalf of the Committee, thank you for coming here, but also commend the work that you are doing on this research? We are very interested. Obviously, we are doing our own inquiry. If you come across any difficulties that you want to draw to our attention and if we can assist in any way, that would be very helpful. Of course, we look forward to looking at your work, because it is not a duplication, it is complementary to the work that is being done by this Committee. You can reach parts, in a sense, that we can’t reach, because some people prefer to talk to people like yourselves rather than Members of Parliament. I think that what you are doing is absolutely excellent and please carry on the good work. Thank you very much.