By John C. Dyer, UK Correspondent
What David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Milliband, Secretary Theresa May, Secretary Kenneth Clarke, BBC, Channel 4 News, Sky News, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Sun, and all Humpty Dumpty’s horses and all of his men failed to tell you about the London Riots of 2011.
Between 6 to 10 August, 2011 several UK cities convulsed in riot, looting and arson. In the aftermath everyone had a theory why. What no one had were the facts of who the rioters were and why they rioted at this moment in history.
Theories theories theories
Historian David Starkey, joined PM David Cameron in blaming “gang culture.” Cameron added, not budget cuts or social protest. Former PM Tony Blair blamed alienated youth. The Financial Times blamed financial deprivation. London mayor candidate Ken Livingston blamed government cuts. David Lammy, MP for the first hit Tottenham blamed unemployment. Home Secretary Theresa May blamed criminal opportunism. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke blamed a “feral underclass” of repeat offenders, products of a broken prison system. The media faithfully reported all the theories.
But no one reported the facts. The facts appeared unnecessary to the dialogue. The Prime Minister launched an initiative headed by Minister Ian Duncan Smith to tackle gang culture. Cameron sought the expertise of a top US anti gang cop and even reportedly considered appointing the American to the Met’s (Scotland Yard) top job. Ian Duncan Smith called it a “pivotal moment” in Cameron’s tenure as Prime Minister.
But some facts did become known. On 6 September the Met revealed some information (but only some) about 1700 or so of the arrestees. Over 80% had records. Most were adults. The Met revealed little else, but Secretary Clarke, discussing the data, commented that there was little direct evidence of gang connections.
Eventually London appointed Bernard Hogan-Howe its top cop to lead the inquiry. Hogan-Howe promised to “lead a service that criminals will fear.” In the meantime, much of the buzz has died down. I see little evidence of Ian Duncan Smith’s “pivotal moment” or, for that matter, media interest in further clarifying the facts. The issue hardly came up during the Prime Minister’s address to the Conservative Conference last week.
But the unanswered questions remain. Who were the rioters? Why did they riot in August, 2011 (as opposed to May, or August 2010)? Why this moment in history? Again, opinions prevail, but based on precious little direct evidence from the profiles of the rioters themselves.
I have asked these questions from the beginning. Early on I concluded pundits had concocted an awful lot of theory out of very little publicly known information. I was concerned by the similarity in method and appearance of a number of the rioters to the anarchists who turned to violence during otherwise peaceful demonstrations in London the preceding year. I concluded I was not going to get the facts from the sources on whom I would normally rely. So I asked Scotland Yard a number of questions in a Freedom of Information Request on August 18.
Questions for Scotland Yard
Of the 2,700 plus already arrested:
How many are known or admitted members of gangs?
How many had prior arrests?
How many were also arrested in conjunction with either the pension demonstrations or the tuition fee demonstrations?
How many lived within the community they looted?
How many are charged with inciting, organizing, or leading the rioters?
How many of these are known to be connected to a gang?
How many of these are known to be connected with anarchist groups?
How many of these have prior arrests during the Pension and Tuition Fee protests?
How many are under 18?
How many are employed?
How many are white?
How many actually come from single parent households?
How many were living with parents at the time of their arrest?
On 10 October 2011 an answer finally arrived. Scotland Yard refused to answer, citing a clause in the Freedom of Information Act which provides an escape valve where it would cost more than £450 to answer. Scotland Yard estimated it would take more than 18 hours to sift through the information contained in its records in order to answer my questions.
The refusal actually provides in-of-itself some useful information. If anyone, whether Minister, Member of Parliament or member of the press had asked for and received this information Scotland Yard could not have refused to provide the information to me on the grounds cited. Without such information there could not have been evidentiary support for, or confirmation of, the multiple theories, including the Prime Minister’s theory of “gang culture” or the Home Secretary’s theory of “opportunistic criminality.” Moreover, had the Press sought this same information, I have not - after a search of Google - been able to find much of the data I requested reported on any channel or in any newspaper.
Let’s Not Let the Facts Get in the Way of the Theories
And in fact, Scotland Yard reports only two other FOI requests which in September asked a fraction of the questions I asked for arrests as of 31 August. The last release of information was the official report, released 6 September, again on arrests as of 31 August. At this time arrests were less than 1800 and the information requested did not include a number of the categories I requested. There has been no request reported by Scotland Yard that reports data any more recent than 6 September despite a host of subsequent arrests.
So, what have David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Milliband, Secretary Theresa May, Secretary Kenneth Clarke, BBC, Channel 4 News, Sky News, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Sun, and all Humpty Dumpty’s horses and all of his men failed to tell you about the London Riots of 2011?
The full facts by which you can judge the theories for yourself.
The seemingly near complete irrelevancy of the facts to the public discussions of the 2011 London Riots has been stunning but entirely a surprise. Sky News has adopted the format of reading the minimal facts in a release or news wire report then turning the program over to the opinions of others who work for the Murdoch stable. At least one former reporter testifying before the Leveson Committee testified that story lines at the Star were set in advance by editors and reporters sent out to assemble supporting facts.
Even Channel 4 has relegated its useful “Fact Check” to its website with only brief references during its main news hour.
FACT a shy wallflower in the Entertainment Age
I suppose “Talk Radio” demonstrates that the sound of one’s voice is infinitely more interesting than the facts. In the Entertainment Age, it seems, Fact is a shy wallflower, sitting alone and forlorn in a darkened corner of the dance floor. The boys (the press, pundits, politicians and public) eagerly gather around vivacious Spin, that platinum blonde with the botox lips, the Invisoline smile of reconstructed pearl whites, and a silicon enhanced bosom. Perhaps the endless blah blah is deemed preferable to the grinding reality that is on a day-to-day basis insider politics.
This displacement of fact with entertaining spin no doubt is not “the” singular cause of the decline and fall of Western Civilization, but it may be the dead canary in the cage at the mouth of a very deep, dark mine shaft. The good news is, like Dorothy encountering the Wizard, all we need to do is roll back the curtain. The question remains, however, who dares to do so.