London riots murder - teen charged

2011-08-16 19:42
London - A 16-year-old boy was ordered Tuesday to stand trial for the murder of a retiree attacked when he confronted rioters in London, as British judges and prosecutors used tough punishment and name-and-shame tactics against hundreds of alleged participants in the mayhem.

The government said police would get better training and stronger powers to deal with a new and unpredictable era of street disturbances.

"We will make sure police have the powers they need," said Home Secretary Theresa May - including, she suggested, the power to impose blanket curfews in troubled areas.

A teenager, who has not been named because of his age, appeared in court on Tuesday accused of killing 68-year-old Richard Bowes, who was found lying in a street during violence in Ealing, west London, on August 8.

CCTV footage captured Bowes being punched and falling to the pavement after he tried to stamp out a fire set by rioters. He died of head injuries three days later.

The suspect, dressed in a black shirt and with his arms crossed, was charged with murder, violent disorder and the burglary of a bookmaker, a supermarket, a video store and a restaurant.

He did not enter a plea and was ordered detained as he awaits trial at the Central Criminal Court.

The boy's 31-year-old mother has been charged with obstructing the police investigation. She also was denied bail.

Swift justice

Police have arrested more than 3 000 people over riots that erupted August 6 in north London and flared for four nights across the capital and other English cities.

And about 1 400 have been charged with riot-related offences. More than 1 200 have appeared in court - often in chaotic, round-the clock-sessions dispensing justice that is swifter, and harsher, than usual.

Although a public opinion favours stern punishment for rioters, a few cases have made headlines and sparked debate. A London man received six months in jail for stealing a case of water worth £3.50 from a looted supermarket.

A Manchester mother of two who did not take part in the riots was sentenced to five months for wearing a pair of looted shorts her room-mate had brought home.

Most of the convicted suspects have been sent for sentencing to higher courts which have the power to impose longer terms of imprisonment. Two-thirds of the accused have not been granted bail. The usual rate for the magistrates' courts hearing their cases is 10%.

Although Prime Minister David Cameron said last week that those who participated in the riots should go to prison, the government denied trying to influence the judiciary.

The courts service said "sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary", though it acknowledged that magistrates in London were being told by their legal advisers "to consider whether their powers of punishment are sufficient in dealing with some cases arising from the recent disorder".

May, the home secretary, said she had pressed prosecutors to lift anonymity from under-age defendants convicted of riot-related offences. Defendants under 18 are customarily offered anonymity by law, even if they are convicted.

New instructions

Five people died during the unrest, including three men hit by a car in Birmingham, central England as they protected local shops from looters. Two men and a teenage boy have been charged with murdering Haroon Jahan, 20, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31.

Several suspects have also been questioned about the death of a man who was shot in the head during rioting in south London.

The Association of British Insurers has estimated the cost from wrecked and stolen property at £200m but expects the total to rise.

Police were criticised for responding too slowly, particularly in London, but eventually deployed huge numbers of officers at riot zones to quell the mayhem.

May said Britain had entered a "faster moving and more unpredictable" era of public order policing, and promised forces would get new instructions about training riot officers and responding to trouble, as well as new powers.

"Under existing laws, there is no power to impose a general curfew in a particular area," May said, adding that a change to that policy would be considered.

Civil liberties groups condemned the idea. Isabella Sankey, director of policy for the rights group Liberty, said curfews would be of little use during riots.

"Someone who thinks it is fine to commit violence, theft and criminal damage is hardly going to take notice of a police request to kindly leave the area," she said.

New powers

The government has already floated a raft of new powers, including allowing police to order anyone suspected of being a thug to remove their mask or hood, evicting troublemakers from subsidised housing and temporarily disabling cell phone instant messaging services.

Cameron has said he will consult former Los Angeles, New York and Boston Police Chief William Bratton on gang-fighting techniques.

Many senior police officers feel stung by the decision to look to the US, and by government criticism of their handling of the riots, and oppose plans to slash police budgets as part of sweeping austerity measures.

May acknowledged the government would cut funding to the police by 20% over four years, but said that pay freezes and eliminating red tape meant the real-terms reduction would be much lower.

And she said there would be no effect on front-line officers.

"What matters is not the total number of officers employed but the total number of officers deployed," May said.

Opposition politicians and liberal commentators have pointed to racial tensions, poverty and the government's austerity measures as underlying factors in the riots.

Cameron, however, has blamed a "slow moral collapse" that took in poor parenting, gang-related crime and a widespread failure by Britain's leaders to address deep-rooted social problems.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Tuesday that the government would set up an independent panel - though not a full public inquiry - to hear from victims and investigate the causes of the riots.

Clegg said it would be "a grass roots process where people in the communities affected and the victims who have been so damaged and hurt can give their views about what needs to happen to ensure it doesn't happen again".

Read more on:    theresa may  |  nick clegg

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