Friday, August 26, 2011

My speech about the Ealing Riot

A couple of people have suggested that the speech I made at last week's special meeting of Ealing Council should be made available to a wider audience, so here it is.  Since then, the business of repairing the damage caused by the riots has continued.  Few physical signs of damage now remain, outside the couple of buildings severely damaged by fire, but many psychological scars remain for those who were involved.

The text of my speech follows:

It was unbelievable driving and walking around Ealing last Monday night.  To see our familiar quiet leafy streets descend into complete lawless was both terrifying and bewildering.

I witnessed local police in The Mall bravely holding the line while clearly completely outnumbered.  I had no idea until I heard from the Borough Commander tonight just how outnumbered they were.  Just forty-one officers with limited equipment holding back an angry mob of three hundred rioters throwing bottles at them shows a level of bravery which it is difficult to imagine.

I witnessed gangs of marauding masked rioters roaming who had come up the South Ealing Road from the Brentford direction roaming around Ealing Green throwing missiles, torching cars and destroying a bus, until I retreated when a bottle hit my car to what I thought would be the safety of the residential streets of my ward, but there I saw more cars on fire and small groups of rioters roaming at will. 

Later, I saw flames shooting from the roof of the building comprising the former Budgens supermarket and flats above despite firefighters spraying thousands of gallons of water from close proximity at great personal risk.  The latter incident was the most worrying for me personally as I know a resident of the building, who was forced to flee for her life and was made homeless with almost all her possessions destroyed.  The reason the fire took such a firm hold is no doubt that fire engines waiting on St Mary’s Road could sadly not reach the site until the police were able to clear the rioters enough for access to be possible.

Meanwhile, hundreds of local businesses in Ealing Common, Ealing Broadway, Walpole and other wards were smashed into and looted.  Polka Rastocvic, who has run Crispins Wine Bar at the bottom of High Street for 30 years heard rioters smash her windows and half the bottles and steel the other half as she hid at the back of the bar in fear for her life.

I didn’t venture to Haven Green but understand that the picture there was similarly horrifying to Ealing Green with the tragic addition of the fatal attack on Richard Mannington Bowes for simply acting as a concerned citizen.

I did not see Police reinforcements in large numbers with armoured riot vans until after midnight and it was not until the early hours that Ealing and West Ealing were calm.  Many residents of my ward were deeply disappointed that the police had not been able to assist them when they dialled 999 and were intensely fearful of a repeat of the violence the next night, which thankfully did not come to pass.

I understand from what I saw on the Mall that the reason the police could not attend burning cars and break-ins to homes and businesses in my ward was that they were so outnumbered and not due to any lack of bravery or failure of local tactics.  However, I think questions can legitimately be asked at the London-wide level about the overall level of the Met Police’s resources and their ability to reallocate officers dynamically between boroughs in reaction to rapidly evolving intelligence of threats at multiple locations.

The highest responsibility of society is to protect its citizens.  We cannot again allow parts of our Borough to descend into violent chaos and if this requires more police resources, we as a society must be willing to pay for that.

On a positive note, it was fabulous that there was such a positive response just a few hours later from around two hundred residents who came out with their brooms to help to clean up Ealing.  It is worth noting that social media was a force for evil in attracting rioters from outside the area but also a force for good in helping people to learn what was happening and get together to help their fellow residents out.

The Ealing community has come together since the riot and has become even stronger in the face of adversity.  Ealing can be attacked but Ealing residents will always be resilient and stand firm against whatever is thrown at us.

Finally, what motivated young people to loot and riot?  I have been on many political demonstrations.  It was abundantly clear to me on Monday that this was nothing of the sort.  The youths came from many ethnic groups – it was not a race riot.  For many of the people involved, it was as Sally Hitchiner said, about getting for free.  For others, the motivation was to be able to destroy property with impunity. But I think there are wider issues for society about why a small minority but nonetheless a significant number of young people – not all from deprived backgrounds – feel so disconnected from society that they can carry out these acts on our streets with wilful disregard for life and property.  Addressing these root causes is a difficult problem for politicians at all levels to wrestle with over the months and years ahead.