A culture of greedy consumerism was to blame for the summer’s riots, fuelled by police inaction that allowed it to flourish, an official report has found.
A desire to “have what we want when we want” and “expecting something for nothing” drove the looters on to the streets in August, a review set up by the Government said. It claimed consumerism and peer status through owning top brands had become a “new religion”.
Looters were able to raid thousands of shops and businesses because a failure by police to tackle the first disturbances encouraged others to go on the rampage.
The public felt “abandoned” by the police while a lack of action and apparent inability to contain the disturbances meant others were willing to “test reactions” elsewhere, the Riots Communities and Victims Panel found.
The report also concluded:
:: Up to 15,000 people were involved in the riots
:: The final bill will be more than £500 million
:: Another half a billion pounds will be lost because of a fall in tourism
:: Nine in ten rioters had previously been arrested, cautioned or convicted
:: Many victims face long delays in compensation payouts
:: Police and authorities in London need to be better prepared in case the riots repeat during next year’s Olympics.
The panel said there was no one single motivating factor for the summer rioting and looting.
But it said that stealing luxury items became the “rioters’ main objectives”.
“Increasingly we live in a society where conspicuous consumption and self worth have become intrinsically interlinked. Some would argue consumerism is the ‘new religion’,” it said.
“In the Panel’s conversations with communities and young people, the desire to own goods which give the owner high status (such as branded trainers and digital gadgets) was seen as an important factor behind the riots.
“In addition, the idea of ‘saving up’ for something has been replaced by the idea that we should have what we want when we want.”
It said certain stores, such as Footlocker and JD Sports as well mobile and electrical goods were repeatedly targeted.
In one store, rioters were “queuing” to get their chosen items.
Profiles of the rioters, drawn up by the panel, ranged from organised criminals to “late night shoppers”.
Panel member Heather Rabbatts said: “These were not riots that were political, these were particularly characterised by opportunistic looting and very much targeted at brands.”
The early response by the police to the first riots in Tottenham, north London, was also blamed for the riots spreading.
The vast majority of people interviewed believed the “sole trigger” for disturbances in their areas was the perception that the police “could not contain” the scale of rioting.
“Lack of confidence in the police response to the initial riots encouraged people to test reactions in other areas,” the panel’s interim report said.
“Rioters believed they would be able to loot and damage without being challenged by the police.
“In the hardest-hit areas, they were correct.”
The report also criticised the compensation system for those affected and called for an overhaul of the 1886 Riot Damages Act.
It warned half of small claims and nine in ten large claims are likely to be still outstanding by next March.
Some insurance companies were criticised for only paying out in certain circumstances although the Association of British Insurers (ABI) insisted insurers “pulled out all the stops” to help policy holders.
The report warned that the riots could be repeated if the problems that drove them are not urgently addressed.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “The riots which took place in our towns and cities in August were shocking acts of criminality which ruined businesses, brought destruction to our streets and made people feel unsafe in their own homes.
“The interim report states that ‘there was no single cause of the riots and there is no single solution’.
“Our response to the riots has been and continues to be wide-ranging.”