GANGS WERE NOT major players in the riots that hit cities across Britain last August – but most of those who took part were among the country’s most deprived, new figures show.
Some 13 per cent of those arrested over rioting offences were identified as gang members, according to official figures, with the number as high as 19 per cent in London and far less elsewhere. Police forces do not believe these people were the driving force behind the disturbances, the Guardian reports.
However, 64 per cent of the rioters came from Britain’s poorest districts. Some 42 per cent were eligible for free school meals – a traditional index of poverty in the UK – while two-thirds had special educational needs, according to the Independent.
The report from senior civil servants appears to fly in the face of the Conservative government’s emphasis on tackling gangs in the wake of the disturbances. After widespread damage and looting in several major cities, UK prime minister David Cameron insisted that gang-related crime was at the heart of the problem rather than social deprivation.
The statistics showed that most of the rioters were under the age of 20 — with 26 percent aged 10-17 and 27 percent 18-20. The data also indicated that three-quarters of all those who appeared in court because of the unrest had a previous conviction or caution.
Separate figures based on government statistics regarding school systems showed that 36 percent of young people who appeared in court regarding the riots had been suspended during the 2009-2010 school year. Absence rates also were higher for those charged than the general school population, along with lower grades.
Separately, the Metropolitan Police force acknowledged that it did not have enough officers available on the first night of the August riots and that reinforcements took too long to arrive.
Police were criticised for responding too slowly, particularly in London, but eventually deployed huge numbers of officers at riot zones to quell the mayhem.
- Additional reporting from AP