Police were out in force in London on Saturday in a bid to prevent any repeat of England’s worst riots in decades, which left city neighbourhoods smouldering and five people dead.
The number of officers was more than doubled to 16 000 earlier this week, and Home Secretary Theresa May said the extra police numbers would stay on the beat until further notice amid concerns violence could flare up this weekend.
England has had three quieter days following four nights of rioting, arson and looting which led to 1 600 arrests across the country, but politicians and police were taking no chances, even as they clashed on each other’s response to the crisis.
“We will be sustaining the numbers for a period of time,” May said.
“We have had some quieter nights but we are not complacent about that.”
The orgy of violence started in London but the trouble soon spread to other major cities, including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Nottingham.
London’s Metropolitan Police said they arrested 1 144 people, of whom 693 have been charged.
In total across England, 796 people have appeared in court, of whom 122 were under 18. Courts have been working through the night and two-thirds of those charged have been remanded in custody.
Calls for those convicted to be stripped of their state welfare handouts and booted out of publicly-owned housing were receiving growing popular support.
Wandsworth Council local authority in south London became the first to serve an eviction notice, on a tenant whose son has been charged. It will come into effect if he is convicted.
“For too long we’ve taken a too soft attitude towards people that loot and pillage their own community,” Prime Minister David Cameron told BBC television.
“If you do that you should lose your right to the sort of housing that you’ve had at subsidised rates.”
A week on from the initial flare-up of urban violence, debate is raging about how Britain has sunk to such lawlessness.
A Polish woman who was pictured leaping to safety from her burning home in the south London suburb of Croydon on Monday in one of the most striking images from the rioting, said she thought English society was “sick”.
Shop assistant Monika Konczyk (32) moved to Britain five months ago.
“I thought London was a civilised society full of gentlemen and ladies — but it’s not like that. England has become a sick society,” she told the Sun newspaper.
“I found myself jumping for my life after being attacked by thugs and thieves. They set fire to my building without any thought for anyone’s safety.
“They were happy for me to die. They were like animals — greedy, selfish animals who thought only of themselves.
“Flames were coming up over my head. The fire was so hot I knew if I got too close it would kill me. I thought I was going to die — I thought I had lost my life.”
As fears of renewed violence remained high, a row escalated between police and politicians as both sides sought to deflect blame for the crisis.
The police have been criticised for their reluctance to crack down hard on the first riot in the north London district of Tottenham last Saturday. Critics say the cautious approach encouraged unrest to spread across the capital and then to other English cities.
But senior officers hit back in rare public attacks on political leaders, who last year introduced funding cuts to police forces across Britain as part of a wider package of austerity measures.
An online ComRes poll of 2 008 adults for the Independent newspaper, conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, showed strong backing for the reversal of government cuts to police budgets (71%) and for automatic jail sentences for even the most minor of riot-related offences (78%).
Some 54% agreed that Cameron had failed to provide the necessary leadership to take control of the rioting in London early enough.
Downing Street said Cameron has asked former New York police commissioner Bill Bratton to act as a consultant to British police on how to curb street violence, drawing on his experience tackling gangs.
The English Premier League football season kicks off on Saturday, though Tottenham’s match against visitors Everton has been postponed as the local area will not be ready in time to ensure safe conditions. — AFP