The news in the last seventy-two hours takes me back to the 1985: the Broadwater Farm disturbances and the events that led up to them. In October 1985, the death of Mrs Jarrett during a police search of her home was followed by a demonstration outside Tottenham Police Station which in turn was followed by violence on the Broadwater Farm estate, during which PC Keith Blakelock was hacked to death.
My immediate response on hearing of the shooting dead by police of Mark Duggan, who at that stage had not been named, was to warn of a “potentially lively community reaction”. And anyone who remembers vividly as I do the night of 6th October 1985 would have seen yesterday’s demonstration outside the Police Station as a likely trigger for attacks on the police and even for rioting.
There are, of course, many parallels with 26 years ago, but also many differences. In 1985 police-community relations were appalling – even before the riot. They are nothing like as bad now, but nonetheless could no doubt be better. Unemployment in Tottenham is not as bad as it was in 1985, but is still the highest in London and the eighth worst rate in the UK. Tottenham continues to be a vibrant community with much strength in its diversity, but there is still a sense of hopelessness amongst many young people.
What is depressing is that having spent twelve years of my life as Council Leader trying to kickstart regeneration in Tottenham and Wood Green the need for sustainable economic development remains as acute as it did in the late 1980s.
The irresponsible violence and looting last night can never be acceptable or condoned , but one of its consequences is that many of the businesses affected will have been destroyed by what has happened and others will be damaged by the blight and stigma that may now fall on the area.
The most important immediate task is to lessen the tension and to address the rumours that are swirling about the death of Mark Duggan. The Independent Police Complaints Commission could make a big contribution to this. One of the problems with this sort of dreadful incident is that often the investigation is shrouded in total secrecy and in the absence of hard information unsubstantiated stories or even malicious misinformation spread like wildfire – this is particularly so now in the age of Twitter. I understand that the IPCC are shortly due to make some sort of public statement. I hope they will be as open as possible and commit to providing regular briefings about the state of their investigation. As soon as they are able to confirm or otherwise, for example, whether a non-police weapon was at the scene or not and whether it was fired or not, the better it will be.
The next urgent task is to get Tottenham and Wood Green functioning again. The police will obviously have an important job to do in sifting through the debris for evidence (indeed, it still needs to be conclusively established that nobody burnt to death in the fires that swept through buildings). However, I hope this can be done as quickly as possible so that the clear-up can begin and those businesses that are able to can start to function again. Haringey Council will no doubt put in significant resources to enable this clean-up to happen but I hope that the Government will undertake to underwrite this work given that the Council is still having to implement swingeing budget reductions as a result of cuts in Government grants.
There will also need to be a review of what lessons need to be learned about the police response to the developing disturbances last night. Many people in Tottenham and Wood Green felt undefended despite the bravery of the police and fire officers deployed. Should there have been better intelligence about what was likely to happen? Should more efforts have been made to monitor the traffic on social media sites? Indeed, what is a proportionate and appropriate level of such monitoring? I am sure colleagues on the Metropolitan Police Authority will want to pursue these issues in detail (it is not quite clear who will do this once the Police Authority is abolished once the Government’s Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill gets Royal Assent in September or October).
Finally, some of the underlying causes of what happened need to be addressed. What is to be done about escalating gun violence in London (particularly if police resources are to be reduced as part of Government policy)? When is Tottenham going to see the regeneration it deserves and how are young people in Haringey going to be supported to achieve their true potential?