- - Sunday, August 28, 2011

LONDON — Shop owners who protected their businesses from looters during the deadly riots that rocked Britain this month are complaining that police guarded posh stores in central London and left them to fend for themselves.

Turkish shopkeepers and families in the north London borough of Hackney armed themselves with sticks and chased looters away from their properties.

In the Southall neighborhood in west London, members of the Sikh community protected their temple with swords and hockey sticks.

One cafe owner in the Hackney area said he got no help from police.

“The police shut the police station before we closed,” said Hussein Eroglu. “I asked police what we could do and they said they couldn’t say anything. I asked them what if anything happens. They said it’s your choice, you can protect your business.”

He noted that business owners pay special taxes to fund government services such as the police.

“We are paying business rates, but they didn’t protect our business,” he said.

Another Hackney cafe manager, Bektas Murat, said some business owners closed early and waited at a nearby traffic intersection to protect their neighborhood from roaming rioters.

“There were a lot of people scared about their shops,” he said. “People believed the police didn’t try to stop the rioters because they were always late, [coming] after the rioters attacked the shops. People tried to stop them themselves.”

One member of Parliament from London is calling for an inquiry into the police response to four days of rioting, looting and burning in the British capital that began Aug. 6. The mayhem soon spread to other English cities.

“Some of my constituents lost their homes and have raised concerns about why they didn’t see a quicker [police] response,” said David Lammy, who represents the north London borough of Tottenham, where the initial riots broke out.

“Many independent shop owners had their shops damaged seriously. First people burned a car and then another car and then it was a bus.”

Mr. Lammy said London’s Metropolitan Police made “serious mistakes.”

The riots broke out after the fatal shooting of a 29-year-old resident of the borough, Mark Duggan, who was suspected of having links to criminal gangs, according to local news reports.

He was shot by an officer with the police’s special firearms command unit, known as CO19, which provides support to Britain’s mostly unarmed police force.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which investigates serious allegations of misconduct against the police in England and Wales, launched an investigation into the shooting.

Police officials said they prevented riot attacks at major shopping areas in central London such as Oxford Street and at the site of the 2012 Summer Olympics in east London.

Assistant Police Commissioner Lynne Owens defended the police response. She said authorities had never seen such levels of disorder in so many sites in London.

She said 22 of London’s 32 boroughs “saw serious disorder.”

“The number of [emergency] calls increased by 400 percent in a 24-hour period. … The fire brigade received over 1,700 reports of fires burning.

“Our main objective throughout remained to protect life and to prevent injury,” she added.

“The police officers on the ground had to take difficult decisions between providing continued protection to the public and fire brigade crews and going in and arresting offenders. This was an unprecedented situation, unparalleled over recent years in the demand it placed on [police] resources.”

Police have arrested nearly 2,000 people since the riots began.

Parvinder Singh Garcha, general secretary of the Sri Guru Singh Sahba Temple in Southall, said 150 to 200 volunteers protected the temple and the surrounding community on Aug. 8 after hearing reports about potential trouble in the area.

“Our place of worship is like our house,” he said.

However, he added, police there generally work quite closely with the residents of the borough.

“They are also part of our community,” he said. “It was an extraordinary situation, and we felt it was quite appropriate that other measures needed to be considered and that we needed to work together.”

Three of the London boroughs where looting occurred - Hackney, Haringey and Lewisham - are among the top 10 areas in the country where jobs are the scarcest, according to Britain’s Trades Union Congress, which has 58 affiliated unions representing 6.2 million workers.

Peter Shirlow, an analyst of violence and public disorder at Northern Ireland’s Queen’s University Belfast, said police had to establish a perimeter to try to contain the rioters.

“It’s not an uncommon feature, as rioting in the city center shows they have really lost control,” he said. “They can’t have riots in Oxford Street.”

“What happened is that they lacked bodies on the ground,” he added.

“One of the things that happened this time is vigilantism, which gives a sign of the police not doing their jobs. Wherever vigilante groups appear, it draws police away from the rioting as they themselves can be a risk to the community. I understand why people do it, but it’s quite irresponsible.”

He said that after the first night of rioting, people saw a lack of authority and that the police looked “weak and ineffective.”

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