Richard Willis's Blog

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Lessons Must be Learned from this Week’s Violence

Everyone I know has been shocked and disgusted by the recent violence in towns and cities across the UK. The violence that has been accompanied by looting and burning is fortunately a very rare event in this country. Perhaps that is why the police have so often seemed so ill equipped to deal with it. I work in west London and I have many friends who live in Ealing, Croydon, and other London boroughs which have been affected by the disgusting behaviour of a minority. They have been personally affected by recent events.

I was horrified to see scenes of police in full riot gear standing by while shops were smashed up and looted. The cries of members of the public who expected to see the Police arrive when they called and have had to cower in their properties with no Police protection should never be allowed to happen again. The Met Police have over 33,000 officers and over 4,000 Specials and yet they had no more than 6,000 on the streets of London on Tuesday night when the worst violence broke out. Individual officers did their best but the heirarchy failed in their duty to the public. For years now the Met Police top brass have been hide-bound by their desire to follow politically correct agendas and not annoy their Labour political masters. They have had their spirits broken by successive reports and attacks on their methods. At the same time incidents such as the bungled shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes showed elements out of control.

The Police need radical reform and elected Police commissioners are a good start. However, this is not the time to be slashing Police budgets. There are undoubtedly efficiencies to be had and bureaucracy to be swept away but as David Cameron said today “the first duty of any Government is to keep its people secure”. Cuts in Police and Defence budgets hamper that ability andsend out all the wrong messages.

In my opinion it is wrong to aportion some of the blame on social networking sites. Undoubtedly modern technology was used by some of the rioters but suggestions that this should be curtailed is wrong. The Police need to be sharper on monitoring such activity and it is noteworthy that after the riots Twitter, Facebook etc were all used to mobilise decent members of the community to aid the clear up operation. Every tool can be used for good or ill but it doesn’t make the tool itself evil or good.

It is vital now that lessons are learned and that as many as possible of the criminals responsible for the looting and rioting are brought to justice as swiftly as possible. Children under the age of criminal responsibility should have their parents held accountable, and those old enough should have to serve some community sentence to repair their community in addition to any prison sentence they may receive.

David Cameron has performed very well since his return from holiday. He has sounded tough but sensible, in sharp contrast to some on the left who have been keen to blame “cuts”, “deprivation” and “boredom”. He now needs to reconsider whether cutting the forces of law, order and security is a sensible thing for a Government to be doing. The Police hierarchy also need to examine closely the tactics they use and the number of officers actually on the streets tackling and deterring crime.

The horror of the last week is also an opportunity to take a hard look at our society and the lack of respect for figures of authority by too many young people. Teachers, parents and adults in general have too often felt that the state has undermined any attempts to impose discipline and teach respect for authority. We need fewer excuses and less justification for bad behaviour. Youngsters who riot, loot and burn need to know that they will be caught and that breaking the law has serious consequences.

Out of these disgusting scenes can come some good but it will take cool heads and courageous leaders at all levels. I am optimistic that the longer term consequences of this week’s riots can be positive if the opportunity is seized.


August 11, 2011 - Posted by | National


  1. Too right. I was caught up in the London troubles and saw some scenes I would rather forget. The police were nowhere to be seen. But that cannot excuse what the scumbags did who trashed their neighbourhoods.

    Comment by Doodlebug | August 12, 2011 | Reply

  2. Our society has a major problem. It didn’t start last Saturday, its been growing for many years.
    There is little or nothing available to punish those that step out of line , at home , at school, in any part of society. Those that wish to can do as they please without fear of hurtful punishment. Prisons are seen to be easy, community service and ASBOs are seen as a let off and a joke.
    There needs to be a justice system that works , one that can and does reform those who are currently happy to commit crime safe in the knowlege that the punishment won’t hurt.
    One change that could be made would be to allow the courts to sentence a feral youngster to a form of national service for a period of perhaps a couple of years , not just for this weeks rioters , but for any suitable person. Some of these youngsters simply need rules and discipline.
    Another change would be to adopt the sort of system that I would call ‘deterent sentencing’ whereby an offender would receive a 2 part sentence , the first part to be served and the second part suspended for maybe 5 years. In this way the offender will know in advance what sentence they will receive for their next conviction (and that there will be no early release to look forward to).
    The suspended part is increased for each subsequent conviction so that even the daftest criminal will be able to see that there is no point to carrying on offending.
    Thirdly ( and importantly ) proper help has to be provided for those offenders that are addicted,illiterate or mentally ill to address those problems in order to give them a chance to change . Fail to do this and little will change .
    Mr Cameron has a golden opportunity now to fix our ‘broken society’. Has he got the foresight, and possibly the balls, to do it ? Lets hope for everyone’s sake that he is up to the task.

    Comment by Howard Thomas | August 12, 2011 | Reply

  3. I don’t think longer prison sentences are the answer. If putting people in prison was the answer, we would have the second lowest crime rates in the world after the USA, because our prison population is the second highest. Also, when people commit an offence, they don’t think, “well I will be happy to risk a 4 week sentence, but if it was 6 months, I wouldn’t do it.”

    The answer is that when people commit a crime, they need to be caught and punished. Most of the time they are not, so they think quite reasonably that they can get away with it, because they do. There needs to be a link in peoples’ minds that if they commit an offence, they get punished for it. The rioters should have had their collars felt by the police at the time they were doing the rioting. They did not.

    Comment by Jonathan | August 12, 2011 | Reply

  4. Jonathan is quite right. All the criminological evidence points to the fact that it is the prospect of being caught, not the length of sentence, that creates a deterrent effect. Incidentally, this is also true of the death penalty.

    Comment by Jonny | August 14, 2011 | Reply

  5. Short sentences in easy prisons / community punishments/ ASBOs …………..all these hold no fear for many of those that commit crime. Deterrent is the answer that works, and make no mistake , that is what is happening right now. Getting 6 months for nicking 3 bottles of water , lets be honest, that is not normal. The theory quite clearly at the moment is that if you take part in a riot and get caught , then it is going to hurt, thus detering people from doing such things.
    Deterrent is what works , but as I stated above , the underlying causes of offending with certain people and providing help to overcome addictions etc is vital if they are to be encouraged to change their ways.

    Comment by Howard Thomas | August 16, 2011 | Reply

  6. If deterrant works so well, why are there so many murders in the USA when they face the death penalty?
    Jonathan has a good point here.

    Richard criticised the ‘left’ for blaming cuts yet he agrees that cuts to the police send out the wrong message. I suspect he is not suddenly a lefty. These lables often lose their meaning, Labour stopped being left under Blair, if you mean Labour just say so.

    Comment by Adrian Windisch | August 17, 2011 | Reply

  7. Adrian………….think about what is happening right now…………….and forget the USA , we live in the UK!
    Right now the courts are handing out ‘harsh’ sentences for what would normally be considered ‘minor’ crimes in terms of what was stolen. The reason they are doing this is quite clearly to deter others from doing the same in a riot situation.
    This is called a deterent……………the courts are using this right now because they know it will work !
    I rest my case !

    Comment by Howard Thomas | August 20, 2011 | Reply

  8. And those knee-jerk sentences, Howard, are being changed by the Court of Appeal. I believe you meant to say that they THINK these sentences will work. More senior judges are taking a different view:

    “Of course, the entire point of mandatory minimum sentencing is crime reduction. To these laws’ supporters, their narrower applicability than expected or their adverse impact on the justice system matter little as long as the laws serve the greater good of preventing serious crime. But it is difficult to prove a deterrent effect, and it is hard to know definitely whether any observed drops in the crime rate were caused by strict laws, strong economies, age-crime curves, or some other factors that have been said to influence crime. Furthermore, what we do know about the general deterrent effect of legislation is that it works best on people who have something to lose if they are punished; the rational choice is to be deterred, unless one is so poor or emotionally disturbed as to have nothing to lose by breaking the law. We also know that rational criminals are deterred more by the likelihood that they will be caught at all than by the severity of possible punishment. Finally, the deterrent effect of severe mandatory minimum laws is predicted to be weak because the people against whom they apply—recidivists, drug users and dealers, violent felons—are the type of offenders whose criminality defines their lifestyles and choices. Thinking about possible punishments deters few of them from the much more powerful daily rhythms of a way of life (von Hirsch and Ashworth).”

    Read more: Sentencing: Mandatory and Mandatory Minimum Sentences – Effects Of Mandatory Minima On Crime – Drug, Laws, Offenders, Incapacitative, Deterrent, and Rate

    Comment by Jonny | August 22, 2011 | Reply

  9. Jonny………..The bottom line is that the sentence has to hurt , that is the deterrent. If it doesn’t hurt the offender will not be deterred from repeating the offence.
    While I very much appreciate the need to address the problems of the offender (as I stated above) the fact remains that if there is no proper deterrent the offender will often continue to offend.
    These reports are all very well , but what I say is backed up by conversations I have had with young lads who have experienced prison. They are in no way frightened of returning…… they are well aware that the system is soft. Also I overheard a conversation between two young lads where one was telling the other that he was going to have to ‘retire’ shortly……….the reason he gave was that he would be 16 soon and therefore the courts would be able to lock him up!
    Never underestimate the ability of a criminal to work out whether the crime they are about to commit is worth the risk !
    Another point on the rehabilitation of offenders is that some convictions are never ‘spent’ .
    I know someone who 30 years ago was involved in a very serious crime , when he was a teenager. He has lost job after job (even now when he is late forties) when CRB checks come back . Now this particular man never did go on to comit further offences………….prison worked !…………….however the temptation must be there when his sentence includes preventing him from holding down jobs for the rest of his life. The exception to this must alwys be sex offenders however, who cannot be ‘cured’.
    Those who are guenuinely ‘bad’ should be locked away for ever lengthening sentences , if only to protect the public.

    Comment by Howard Thomas | August 24, 2011 | Reply

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