The Riots – In Their Own Words Episode 2: The police provide an eye-opening insight into last year’s riots

by Matt D

In my review of last week’s episode of The Riots: In Their Own Words I was critical over the decision to use actors to play the rioters and those who were interviewing them as it detracted from the overall impact of the piece. Thankfully in this week’s episode we hear from people who were actually on the front line as the programme focuses on the police’s efforts to curb the riots and how they were criticised in the media for their lack of a quick response. Though generally the rioters treated the police as a single entity here we learn that volunteer officers and travel police were some of those drafted in to pump up the numbers.

We start by hearing from Superintendent Roger Gomm, who talks of seeing some rather disturbing pictures of the events going on on Tottenham High Road following the increasingly violent protests about the death of Mark Duggan. Obviously Duggan’s death was touched on last week by those who knew him but here it is only briefly mentioned, by a WPC who was trying to establish the motives for the looting, and I feel that we could’ve heard more about how the incident that allegedly started everything going was dealt with. Andre Ramsay was one of the officers who really wanted and describes his experience in great detail including how he was terrified when seeing the silhouettes of the rioters for the first time. He went onto tell how frightened he was when the petrol bombs started flying before the rioters started to throw anything they could find including tables, chairs and frying pans. As Ramsay started to feel fatigued he called his base to try and see if they could relieve his unit but he discovered that there were no men left so he had to carry on eventually standing down after eight hours before going back to the station covered in dust and tired feeling that he hadn’t done enough.

As I previously mentioned there were criticisms launched at the police one of these being that they didn’t get on top of the rioters in time and in this documentary we learnt that that was because they didn’t have enough people monitoring the intelligence. As we saw in last week’s rioters programme they were being told of the plans via social media but as Twitter and BBM weren’t checked on a regular basis the police were behind the messages that were being sent. WPC Allana Harris had previously never been to Brixton and tells of how there was insufficient riot gear for her team to carry out their tasks. She recalls narrowly missing being hit in the head by a brick as well as when she had conversation with one of those who was arrested who claimed that he’d stolen a flat screen TV because of Duggan’s death something she was utterly baffled by.

Special Constable Mike Lewis, an unpaid volunteer, was sent off to Hackney on his first ever day on the job and when his unit were asked to start using their batons he didn’t have a clue how to use it. As we saw via CCTV footage rival gangs were joining together to rise up against the police using weapons such as Stanley knives strapped to pieces of wood while one officers recalls looking in the back of the car to see a boot full of baseball bats. Over in Croydon an insufficient number of police meant that the transport officers had to lend a hand with Paul Crouch sent out without any riot gear and recalls being completely outnumbered. As the crisis deepened we heard from officers in Hackney who broke into apartment blocks to rescue civilians as they believe that their houses would soon be set on fire. Eventually after days of riots in London the police finally got on top of things and were able to make over 300 arrests.

What I thought this episode did better than last week’s was to give a true representation of how the riots broke out all over the company mentioning how young the looters were in Liverpool before switching to Manchester where we heard from members of the Greater Manchester Police. Similar to those in London these officers were outnumbered and once again the police feared for their lives. Over in Salford meanwhile we saw the image of a policeman using his baton to beat down a rioter footage that was universally criticised however as Ian Hansen of the GMP mentions they were told to use reasonable force and practice robust policing even though none of them really knew what this meant. Towards the end of this episode we also heard the officers fight back against the government who were quick to criticise their efforts with their general rebuttal being that until they’ve actually experienced what they went through it is not their place to past judgment.

I think seeing the riots through the eyes of the officers was a lot more interesting than last week’s rioters programme as there we met a lot of selfish people who would do it all again. Here we meet a bunch of sympathetic characters, a lot of them quite young all with families at home, who just had to do their job fighting against a large group of people most of whom were simply looting. From what was said it seemed that a lack of manpower and rioting equipment coupled with an inability to monitor social media were the main reasons why it took so long to curb the London riots. The only thing that was really missing for me was more of an insight into the thoughts on the Mark Duggan killing however seeing as that investigation is ongoing there may be legal issues stopping the officers from talking about it. I learnt much more about the riots hearing about them first-hand than I did hearing from actors and I have to say I have much more sympathy for the police than I did before so all in all I feel that this was a well-made and successfully put-together piece of documentary film-making.

What did you think to this episode of The Riots: In Their Own Words? Did you prefer it to last week? Leave Your Comments Below.