This morning, London was basking in the after-glow of the Olympic Games, but almost a year ago, the only thing illuminating the city were the flames which raged following some of the worst rioting this country has ever seen. What a difference a year makes.
Tonight the Beeb tell the story of the London riots (the disturbances in other cities are largely uncovered) through the words of rioters themselves. The people whose testimony is presented have apparently been promised anonymity in return for their participation and as such actors present their stories.
From teachers to drug-dealing gang members, the spectrum of those involved in the riots is quite surprising, yet most of the participants admit that when they arrived at the scene, they found an intoxicating mob mentality almost impossible to resist. Although the fact that they decided to make their way there at all made their involvement almost made inevitable. This programme tries hard to understand why the riots escalated with such disastrous circumstances, but for all the explanations thrown about in the aftermath (from social deprivation to a generation of feral youth) the idea that youngsters got carried away by the idea of getting something for nothing is over-powering.
This doesn’t excuse the unimaginable damage they wreaked on their own communities, yet it demonstrates the sheer power of peer pressure and the way people can get swept along in crowds.
Yet for every person who seems to have genuine remorse, we meet one who we can only describe as a feckless criminal, who simply saw the riots as an opportunity to cause carnage and steal merchandise. Many show no remorse for their actions, one admits to robbing other rioters (there’s clearly no honour among thieves) and a few are even more sinister. The story presented by the actor above (and we should highlight, he is an actor) is particularly vicious and hearing him recall how he saw a police officer get ‘bricked’ in the face and then joined others kicking him in the head is sickening. He later goes on to explain how he doesn’t regret his actions and would happily “join any battle against the police”.
His views might be extreme, but there’s no denying that an undercurrent of ill-feeling for the law can be detected in many of the people will hear from. Many forget that the whole thing started after the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham and we hear a mother tell of how she lay down in the road when the police refused to answer their questions on that fateful Saturday. With hindsight, the Met underestimated the tinder-box they were sitting on that fateful Saturday. They and several communities in London paid for it.
The mini-series concludes next Monday with the police telling their side of the story.