Riot Bill “over £25 million.”

The Chief Constable of the West Midlands has been talking about August’s disturbances.

Riots 2011The full cost to the region of August’s riots is likely to run into tens of millions of pounds, and it’s now claimed that some £7.2 million of this will be paid out by the West Midlands Police Authority. This figure was revealed on Thursday at a public meeting of the authority, which drew around 100 observers.

West Midlands Police Chief Constable Chris Sims explained that the amount was made up of £2 million in the direct cost of policing the disturbances and around £5.2 million in damage costs for which police will be liable under the 1886 Riot (Damages) Act, which one authority member criticised for being outdated.

Wolverhampton councillor Bob Jones stated that “Every pound spent is a pound less than can be spent on policing the region. It is unfair that the biggest police forces have to pay the heaviest bills for manpower then have to pay the most to reimburse insurance companies because of this legislation, which is in urgent need of repeal.” The total bill in police manpower, compensation and lost trade is likely to be in excess of £25 million.

The meeting heard that police enquiries into the disturbances are continuing and comprise three strands:

Operation View, which covers the overall picture of rioting in the area, has so far seen 168 of the 644 arrested being charged and around 250 cases almost ready for charges to be bought, with more arrests imminent.

Operation Pointer, covering the incident which left three Asian men killed on Dudley Road, has led to eight people being charged with murder and another one on related charges, with five others currently on bail.

Operation Barton, set up to investigate incidents during which shots were fired near the Barton’s Arms in Newtown during the rioting, has seen five men charged and another five on bail.

83 officers are still working on what Mr Sims described as “the biggest policing operation in the area since the pub bombings”.

The chief constable added that the investigation has seen an “unprecedented” amount of co-operation between police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts, which has enabled investigations to move ahead smoothly. He added that the work will continue until such time as it is unlikely further arrests can be made. The force continue to sift through hundreds of hours of CCTV footage and have called on the public to help identify suspects.

It was revealed that preliminary reports indicate little evidence that the riots were the result of gang activity, particularly the looting which took place in Birmingham city centre, with intelligence suggesting just 3% of those charged with offences arising from the riots had gang connections, compared to a national figure of 13%. However, as part of the wider work catered out by local police, efforts to combat gang culture in the area are being stepped up, with resources diverted from elsewhere in an attempt to deal with the problem.

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter was also seen as a two-edged sword during the riots, with the chief inspector talking of how it helped the force inform the public of on-going developments, but also warning of the dangers which occurred: “We had a mass of uncontrolled, unverified information quickly being made public. We recently played out an alternative scenario based on what was said on social media and every building in Birmingham was set on fire, with every business trashed. How do you interpret fact from fiction when so much is being said? How do you pick out the 5% of truth from the 95% of falsehood and respond accordingly?”   

He also repeated that the riots came with no warning, “Crime in the period to August was falling. Things are always happening in the West Midlands, but these events came out of a clear blue sky and had no link to socio-economic problems” – a  response to Birmingham councillor Ernie Hendricks, who suggested that high unemployment, poverty and a “long hot summer” should have given a  warning that tensions in the city were rising. However, the chief constable did say that officers had been alert to potential problems following the previous weekend’s disturbances in London, “We had 800 officers mobilised at 11am on Monday. They were all operational by five pm. With hindsight we could have mobilised more officers but we didn’t expect disorder on such a scale.”

Mr Sims also rebuffed claims that police stood by while shops and businesses were being looted, saying “The situation was occurring at an unprecedented scale and speed. Officers moved quickly from the traditional response of holding and gaining territory to a more dynamic approach of arresting offenders. We made 200 arrests on the first night of the disturbances – that’s not standing back and doing nothing.” He also stated that the force could have withstood a much longer period of disturbance without being unable to effectively maintain public order throughout the region, a situation that the chief constable said would not alter in the future, despite cuts in funding which he claimed were putting disproportionate pressure on big city forces.

The Chief Constable’s final report on the riots is due early next year.