The presence of 16,000 police officers in London deterred looting, but violence spread in provincial towns across England, with tragic consequences. Riots in Birmingham left three men dead after a car ran them over; police are treating the incident as a murder. There was
also disorder in Salford, Manchester, Gloucester, West Bromwich and Nottingham. Each separate incident was characterised by the same pattern of events: looting, muggings, arson and confrontation
with the police. Once again, the Molotov Cocktail was a favoured weapon, and one assumes that the deprived rioters stole the expensive fuel required to make them.
Considerable criminal damage has been suffered by councils and local businesses, and the Association of British Insurers estimates the bill at £100 million and rising, which the law
abiding majority will have to pay in rising premiums and price hikes. Public anger is palpable. As Maurice Mcloed wrote yesterday, the police have been criticised for their pacific response to the initial riots in London. But
last night is being described as a limited success for the blues and twos, despite the tragedies that were suffered in some places and the seemingly low number of arrests. According to eyewitness reports on rolling news channels late last night,
officers in provincial towns took a robust approach that contained violence to a greater extent than has been seen in London, although obviously the national situation remains delicate.
Violence was quelled in the capital itself thanks to the enormous police presence on the streets. It was a welcome change from previous evenings, but the strategy is unsustainable. I spoke to a Met
policeman this morning who said that he been on shift for 21 hours and would be replaced by an officer redeployed from another force. Special constables have already been drafted in and all leave
has been cancelled. Put simply, the police do not have sufficient manpower to confront long-term mass disorder, especially if riots continue to spread. The Met’s deputy commissioner, Stephen
Kavanagh, told the told the Today programme earlier that “if anyone thinks the police will solve this alone,
they’re mistaken.” To my mind, that sounds like a tacit call for the armed forces to be used in some capacity.