- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2011

LONDON — Police in London said Friday they have charged almost 600 people with violence, disorder and looting over deadly riots in Britain’s capital, as the city’s mayor said Londoners wanted to see “significant sentences” handed out to the guilty.

Across the country, more than 1,700 people have been arrested. Courts in London, Birmingham and Manchester stayed open through a second night to deal with hundreds of alleged offenders.

Hundreds of stores were looted, buildings were set ablaze and several people died amid the mayhem that broke out Saturday in London and spread over four nights across England.

Victims include three men in Birmingham run down by a car as they defended their neighborhood. Police are questioning three suspects on suspicion of murder.

And detectives opened a murder inquiry after a 68-year-old a man found in a London street after confronting rioters died of his injuries late Thursday. A 22-year-old man was arrested Friday on suspicion of murder.

Police stand guard Aug. 11, 2011, as they block access to the high street in Tottenham, north London. (Associated Press)
Police stand guard Aug. 11, 2011, as they block access to the ... more >

Police, meanwhile, hit back against claims they were too soft in their initial response to the disorder.

Prime Minister David Cameron said officers had been overwhelmed at first, outmaneuvered by mobile gangs of rioters. He said “far too few police were deployed onto the streets. And the tactics they were using weren’t working.”

That changed Tuesday, when 16,000 officers were out on London’s streets — almost three times the number of the night before. Cameron said the extra officers will remain on patrol through the weekend.

Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, acknowledged that police had faced “an unprecedented situation, unique circumstances” — but said it was police themselves, rather than “political interference,” that got the situation under control.

“The more robust policing tactics you saw were not a function of political interference,” he told the BBC. “They were a function of the numbers being available to allow the chief constables to change their tactics.”

Cameron vowed “swift justice” for perpetrators, and courts were struggling to cope with a flood of defendants.

The alleged looters and vandals included an 11-year-old boy, a teenage ballerina, a university English student from a prosperous commuter town and Natasha Reid, a 24-year-old university graduate who admitted stealing a TV from a looted electronics store. Her lawyer said she had turned herself in because she could not sleep for guilt. A judge told her she would probably go to jail when she is sentenced later.

Another was Chelsea Ives, an 18-year-old chosen as a volunteer ambassador for next year’s Olympic Games. She is accused of burglary, violent disorder and throwing bricks at a police car during riots in north London on Sunday.

Newspapers reported that Ives was charged after her parents saw her rioting on TV and turned her in. She was ordered detained until a court appearance on Wednesday.

Mayor Boris Johnson said it was fitting that “significant sentences” were being handed down.

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