HL Deb 03 July 1986 vol 477 cc1142-4WA
Lord Brougham and Vaux

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police expects to complete his public order review following the riots at Brixton and Tottenham last year; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)

The Commissioner yesterday published a report which includes details of the outcome of the review, copies of which have been placed in the Library.

The Government welcome the report. It provides a useful and frank account of what happened at Brixton and Tottenham, describes some of the work being done with the community to prevent crime and disorder and sets out the action taken, following the review, to improve the capacity and preparedness of the Metropolitan Police to tackle disorder if and when it arises.

The report chronicles the events at Brixton and Tottenham following two tragic incidents—the shooting of Mrs. Groce and the death of Mrs. Jarrett. It gives a full and chilling picture of the ferocious attack which the police faced in the front line against the violence of the mob. At Brixton, the police faced a barrage of stones, bottles and petrol bombs and under the cloak of mob rule many crimes of serious personal violence against members of the public, looting and damage to property were committed. A press photographer suffered injuries from which he later died. At Tottenham, the police took the full brunt of a murderous attack during which firearms were used against them in addition to petrol bombs and other missiles and weapons. At the height of the rioting PC Keith Blakelock was killed.

The report rightly emphasises the positive efforts which the Metropolitan Police have made both before and after the riots to develop the good working relationships with the local community which are an essential basis for tackling crime and disorder. These efforts include close consultation with community/police consultative groups, helping to set up neighbourhood watch schemes, victim support schemes and working with other agencies in tackling the particular problems of inner city housing estates. In addition action has been taken to ensure that officers are trained in the skills necessary to understand and cope with the problems of the community they serve.

This commitment to positive and constructive policing policies remains and is being developed. At the same time, the Commissioner has taken action to improve the capacity and preparedness of the Metropolitan Police to deal with extreme disorder in the light of the lessons learned from the rioting last autumn. Selected officers at senior and middle management level have received further intensive training, radio communications are being improved and better information gathering systems and command structures are being introduced. The new territorial support groups will also help in providing an early response to disorder.

In the Home Secretary's statement on 21st October last year, which I repeated in this House, he said that the Metropolitan Police were obtaining more shields and defensive equipment. As a result of the review the Commissioner has asked for his authority to purchase a number of items of equipment. He has given approval for the purchase of 700 additional radios, 24 ballistically protected vehicles, (which, in the light of the experience of Tottenham, are necessary to provide protection against firearms and petrol bombs) and 80 protected personnel carriers. This equipment will be made available as soon as possible.

At Tottenham the police lines were assaulted with long poles and other similar weapons. Shields and short truncheons proved ineffective in dealing with attacks of this kind, and the only available alternative was the use of plastic baton rounds or CS. The Commissioner has therefore sought the Home Secretary's authority to acquire long truncheons to enable police officers on foot to protect themselves and respond effectively to such attacks. He has given authority for the purchase of 1,500 long truncheons for this purpose. These will be deployed only in a situation of extreme disorder, where other methods have failed or are unlikely to succeed, on the authority of an officer of at least Commander rank and used under the direction and control of the senior officer in charge at the scene.

The Government share the Commissioner's hope that the availability of long truncheons as an intermediate option in dealing with serious disorder may prevent a situation escalating to a point where the use of plastic baton rounds or CS is necessary. But the Home Secretary has made it clear to the Commissioner that if, in the event of further extreme disorder, he concludes that there is no alternative to the use of plastic baton rounds or CS, he will have his full support. The strict conditions governing the use of plastic baton rounds or CS were set out in my right honourable friend's reply in another place to a Question from the Member for West Lancashire (Mr Hind) on 19th May.

The Commissioner's report is a thorough and wide-ranging review which seeks to move forward from the dreadful events of Brixton and Tottenham and ensure that the lessons are learned and acted upon. The report clearly has implications for other chief officers of police and it is being widely disseminated within the police service.