Report: Police response fueled UK riots

By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD | November 28, 2011 | 5:05 PM EST

LONDON (AP) — A weak police response allowed rioting to spread across Britain last summer, an independent panel concluded Monday.

The Riots Communities and Victims Panel said people believed that British police did not deal well with the riots which broke out after a demonstration over a fatal police shooting in north London turned violent.

The four days of rioting in August were the worst civil disturbances to hit Britain since the 1980s, leaving five people dead and many stores looted.

The panel found that the lack of an effective police response encouraged people elsewhere in London and other U.K. cities to riot and loot shops on subsequent nights.

"Rioters believed they would be able to loot and damage without being challenged by the police," the report said. "In the hardest-hit areas, they were correct."

The panel published its initial findings Monday after speaking to convicted rioters and people affected by the violence. The authors said they had heard "harrowing" stories from areas affected by the rioting, describing an "overriding sense of despair" that Britons could take part in destroying their own communities.

"Lives were lost. Parents had to carry children out of burning homes, leaving a lifetime of possessions behind to be destroyed," it said. "Shopkeepers lost everything they had built up over many years. The consequences of the riots are still being felt."

The report recommended that police authorities immediately review their emergency plans to better handle large public unrest.

"Our research has also led us to conclude that riots of this nature will happen again unless immediate action is taken," said Darra Singh, chairman of the panel.

London's Metropolitan Police said it has been reviewing its emergency plans and noted it already has publicly acknowledged that not enough officers were available quickly enough to prevent the riots from spreading.

"It is understandable that some people feel police abandoned them," the force said in a statement, adding that the scale of the disorder was unprecedented and the force "did everything it could with the resources available."

The report also recommended reforms such as ensuring that riot victims receive compensation quickly.

The panel will release its complete report in March.