6 Sep 2011

Riots led by ‘criminal classes’

Riots which swept across England in August were the result of a “broken penal system” which failed to stop a “feral underclass” from reoffending, says Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.

Writing in The Guardian, Ken Clarke revealed that 75 per cent of the over-18s charged with involvement in the riots had criminal records.

The justice secretary said the outbreak of unrest was down to a lack of punishment for the UK’s “feral underclass” and called for government action to tackle the “appalling social deficit” the disorder had uncovered.

He said the riots were a further sign the penal system in its current form is not working, and criticised the rate of reoffending as “straightforwardly dreadful”. He said the riots made his efforts to reform justice all the more important.

Mr Clarke said sentencing for riot offenders – which has been criticised as being too harsh by some lawyers and human rights organisations – had been “about right”, but added: “In my view, the riots can be seen in part as an outburst of outrageous behaviour by the criminal classes – individuals and families familiar with the justice system, who haven’t been changed by their past punishments.”

In total more than 1,500 people have now appeared in court over the riots.

Met Police praised for riot handling

The home affairs select committee is today hearing evidence on the wave of violence and theft from witnesses including Mayor of London Boris Johnson and senior Met officers such as Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin.

Boris Johnson told MPs Mr Clarke was “on the right lines this morning when he talked about problems in the justice system”.

He said: “Seventy-five per cent of those arrested do have criminal records. We need to ask as a society what is happening to these people (after they have been jailed). How are we changing their lives so they don’t come out again and go back to gangs?”

Boris Johnson also told the committee London dealt with the riots well, if compared with other similar situations, such as the Paris riots in 2005.

“They had riots in Paris which had a state of emergency for three months, 200 public buildings were destroyed, 7,000 cars,” he said.

“We were able to contain very serious disturbances in London with the use of robust common sensical policing in a traditional British way.”

But he said that society needed to support putting convicted rioters “behind bars”.

“What they [police] are saying to me and what is only reasonable is if society supported them when they catch people, when they apprehend people, when they charge them, when they have abundant evidence to convict, if society supported them to make sure those people go behind bars and pay their dues to society. That at the moment is not happening.”

During his evidence, the Mayor of London also said that the new Met Commissioner – a male candidate – will be announced on Monday.