First there was the violence and now there is the justice.
After nearly five nights of violence in towns and cities across England, riot suspects are appearing before the courts where magistrates and judges are under pressure from politicians to hand out severe punishments.
In London, the City of Westminster Magistrates Court remained open all night to deal with a backlog of riot suspects held in custody since trouble erupted Aug. 6. Police say some were arrested at the scene of crimes, while others were arrested after having been identified by surveillance cameras or witnesses.
In a speech to the recalled British parliament, Prime Minster David Cameron said there had been more than 1,200 arrests across England, including 922 in London alone.
“It is criminality pure and simple. And there is absolutely no excuse for it," he told members of Parliament. "We have seen houses, offices, and shops raided and torched, police officers assaulted and fire crews attacked as they try to put out fires, people robbing others while they lie injured and bleeding in the street, and even three innocent people being deliberately run over and killed in Birmingham.
“We will not put up with this in our country. We will not allow a culture of fear to exist on our streets," he said. "And we will do whatever it takes to restore law and order and to rebuild our communities.”
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Suspects range from a postman to a millionaire's teen daughter
Despite public outrage few people have turned up at courts to see justice meted out.
At Camberwell Green Magistrates Court, south London, David Pickering from Brixton was the sole person sitting in the public benches waiting to see the court proceedings. He said: “I just wanted to see their faces and who they are. I’m angry about what’s happened and want to know why think they can break windows and steal from shops as if it doesn’t matter.”
In the dock was Piotr Dziedzic, a Polish immigrant who police found in a betting shop in Clapham. Charged with burglary with intent to steal, he appeared indifferent to the charges. He was not required to enter a plea and was remanded in custody.
Others on the court list face similar charges ranging from burglary to possessing an offensive weapon.
At Westminster magistrates court it was revealed that university graduate Natasha Reid had handed herself into police because she was "unable to sleep" after stealing a television from an electrical store in north London.
Despite Ms. Reid acknowledging her remorse and guilty plea, district judge Elizabeth Roscoe said she still faced prison ahead of sentencing because of the serious nature of the offenses.
In other courts the faces of those allegedly taking part in the riots emerged and many were not the impoverished stereotypes assumed to have been behind events. They included a postman, school mentor, students, a lifeguard, a charity worker, and a millionaire’s teenage daughter, Laura Johnson, accused of stealing £5,000 ($8,100) worth of electrical gear from a chain store in southeast London.
Perhaps most shocking was the appearance of an 11-year-old boy at Highbury court in north London and a 12-year-old in Manchester, both charged with looting and stealing.
Peace largely restored
While the courts deal with the list of defendants, peace has largely been restored in London – where 16,000 police will again be patrolling tonight – and other cities such as Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Manchester and Liverpool.
Insurance experts have estimated that claims from riot-hit businesses could run to £200 million ($324 million). Many smaller traders, already struggling in the recession, do not have insurance. In his speech today, Mr Cameron announced a £20 million ($32 million) program to help affected businesses and a £10 million ($16 million) recovery package to help local councils pay for the riot damage.
In a shift away from traditional British policing, Mr. Cameron said police might be allowed to spray rioters with dye to help identify troublemakers, possibly from water cannon.
He also said that police might be given new powers to remove face masks, possible bans on would-be rioters using social-network sites to encourage trouble, and initiatives to stop the spread of gang culture. He cited the successful implementation of the task force set up in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2008 to combat gang membership and the Boston cease-fire project set up in the 1990s.
Cameron pressured to curtail budget cuts on police
Cameron, despite earning plaudits since returning from holiday on Tuesday to take charge of the crisis, is coming under increasing pressure to stop police budget cuts because of the credit crunch, which critics say will lead to as many 16,000 officers lose their jobs.
Opposition leader Ed Miliband of the Labour Party said: “The events of the last few days have been a stark reminder to us all that police on our streets make our communities safer and make the public feel safer.
“Given the absolute priority the public attaches to a visible and active police presence, does the prime minister understand why they would think it is not right that he goes ahead with the cuts to police numbers? Will he now think again on this issue?”
He was joined by London mayor Boris Johnson, a conservative colleague and Oxford University friend of Cameron. He told the BBC: “If you ask me whether I think there is a case for cutting police budgets in the light of these events, then my answer to that would be a 'no.' ”