Home Secretary, Theresa May has announced a national review of how police use stop and search powers in response to the findings of the Guardian/LSE report on the August riots.
Speaking at the Reading the Riots conference on Wednesday, the home secretary announced she had asked the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to review the use of stop and search by forces across the country.
The Reading the Riots research found that anger at the police was a major fuel for the London riots, with 86 per cent of rioters citing policing as an important or very important factor in causing the disturbances.
â€œUsed inappropriately, stop and search can pose a huge challenge to public trust and confidence in policing. Given the findings of Reading the Riots, an assessment of good and bad practice is very timely.â€
Mrs May said police were right to stop and search those caught in the riots as often as they did, but said use of the controversial tactic should be proportionate.
“Should we worry that the rioters were eight times more likely than the average Londoner to be stopped and searched, when the research found young rioters were 22 times more likely than their peers to have been convicted of a crime?” she asked.
“I strongly believe that stop and search should be used proportionately, without prejudice, and with the support of local communities Â… and I have asked the Association of Chief Police Officers to look at best practice on stop and search.”
Mrs May rejected rioters’ assertions that the unrest was linked to alienation from the police or the government, dismissing concerns raised in the research report as “excuses”.
“What the LSE/Guardian report tells me more than anything is that the rioters still have not accepted responsibility for their actions,” she said. “They are still blaming others â€“ the police, the government, society. They are still making excuses, but I don’t accept those excuses.”
Mrs May blamed the looting and unrest on the desire for “instant gratification”.
“The riots weren’t about protests, unemployment, cuts,” she said. “The riots were not about the future, about tomorrow. They were about today. They were about now. They were about instant gratification.”
However, her criticisms were rejected by Ed Miliband. Addressing the conference, the Labour leader paid tribute to the research and said that when people did not like research findings they often “attacked the researchers”.
“Some people, and I gather the home secretary did this this morning, give the easy answer: it is criminality pure and simple and it only needs a criminal justice system response Â… I have never been convinced the answers are as simple as that Â… that [it] is one simplistic answer is one we should reject.”
Instead Miliband called for a “more comprehensive and more complex response” to the riots based around “greater opportunities and values”.
“I reject the arguments of those who say opportunity doesn’t matter Â… and I reject as well the arguments of those who say values don’t matter.”
Mr Miliband said poverty, poor education and a lack of hope and opportunity for many of those who rioted had been a major factor in the disturbances.
He also pledged to make youth service provision â€“ which has been severely hit by government cuts â€“ statutory. “Services that [councils] aren’t legally obliged to do can be cut,” said Mr Miliband. “I think there’s a strong case for making youth services statutory. Youth services are a place where local institutions get nurtured.”
The home secretary said aspects of the study’s methodology concerned her, saying the research was disproportionately weighted towards London, focused too heavily on rioters and underplayed the role of criminality.
Mrs May added that she felt London’s gangs had played a significant role in August’s riots, despite evidence from the Guardian/LSE study and official sources that the role of gangs in the disturbances was minimal.
“I believe the fact that one in five rioters in London were gang members is significant,” she said.
“If we are honest with ourselves, we need to accept that not enough has been done over the years to deal with this problem that we all knew existed and that we knew was not being addressed. This government is committed to dealing with it.”
A spokesperson for the Riots Communities and Victims Panel said: “We are very pleased that the home secretary has asked the Association of Chief Police Officers to review best practice on stop and search, which was a recommendation in our interim report.
“We spoke to communities about stop and search on our visits to 17 areas affected by the August riots, and three areas that were not.
“We discovered that if stop and search is not conducted correctly and with courtesy there is a risk that widespread support for it in communities will be eroded.
“This was not an issue simply raised by rioters. Individuals, young and old and from all backgrounds, told us it must be addressed to improve relationships between the public and the police.”
Tim Newburn, the head of social policy for the LSE and lead academic on Reading the Riots, welcomed Mrs May’s announcement of an Acpo review into stop and search. “The review of stop and search announced by the home secretary is hugely significant. Used inappropriately, stop and search can pose a huge challenge to public trust and confidence in policing. Given the findings of Reading the Riots, an assessment of good and bad practice is very timely.”
Mr Newburn also praised Mr Miliband’s proposal for youth services. “The Guardian/LSE research has highlighted the dangers of failing to engage with our most marginalised young people,” he said. “Putting youth services on a statutory footing would be a good first step in bringing many young people back into the mainstream.”
The conference was held to discuss the findings of the first phase of a joint Guardian/LSE project investigating the causes and consequences of the England riots.
Researchers interviewed 270 people who took part in the unrest in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham, Manchester and Salford. In total the study collected more than 1.3m words of first-person accounts, giving an insight into what drove people to participate in England’s most serious bout of civil unrest in a generation.
Rioters revealed that a complex mix of grievances brought them on to the streets but analysts appointed by the LSE identified distrust and antipathy towards the police as a key driving force.
Alongside Mr Miliband and Mrs May, the conference was due to hear from many of the project’s researchers and panel debates featuring Louise Casey, the director general of the government’s troubled families unit, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, and Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of the Kids Company charity.
May To Review Stop And Search