Lord (Tariq) Ahmad is a Conservative Peer in House of Lords and former Vice Chairman (Cities) of the Conservative Party and also a Director of Sucden Financial, a commodities trading firm in the City of London.
The scenes witnessed across London last night were unprecedented. Carnage and mayhem ruled the roost as many brave police officers battled against the odds to bring some semblance of peace to the anarchic situation on the streets of our capital city.
Like many, I watched with disbelief at the scale and speed at which the riots spread. Initial concerns fast escalated into deep anxiety and for some, absolute devastation as they saw their homes and livelihoods being destroyed in front of them.
One particular area which suffered a night of horror was the London Road in Croydon. This is my old patch, Croydon North, a strong Labour seat which I fought back in 2005 for the Conservatives. At that time it was what it is today, a seat of diverse demographics, suffering from major pockets of deprivation, yet with real community spirit enhanced by the number of small businesses in the area. Campaigning in the area over three years it was clear that the number one priority for many residents and businesses was the need for more police officers and effective policing. Last night proved that this priority remains a desperate need for the area.
As these riots erupted, I received a telephone call from one resident of London Road, Croydon, who captured the sheer horror and helplessness of the thousands of victims of last night's violence. She described to me her desperate plight of having her husband stuck in Morden unable to get home, whilst she was almost imprisoned in her flat with one daughter, as she directed another daughter on her way home to Croydon, to the safety of a friend's house in Purley. Yet her plight demonstrated that we as a country and as a capital were ill prepared to cope with the violence that engulfed our streets.
As rioters, vandals and arsonists attacked premises at will, media images and victims’ experiences testify, the police were inadequate in numbers and restrained in their actions to be able to deal with what confronted them. More worryingly, when the police were overwhelmed with the scale of the riot, there was little evidence of contingency planning. The lady who had called me sought to remain calm and resilient. But the growing anxiety and fear in her voice was clear. She described the destruction of the motorcycle showroom below her flat, as gangs of youth flooded her neighbourhood destroying the sanctity of the community. She related how these gangs, with the police cordon static and a fair distance away, operated in a very systematic and almost clinical way. They began by smashing shop fronts with the next line of criminals seeking to add to the vandalism by torching the same premise. Then under plumes of smoke as cover, the ransacking of property and businesses began. She then described how within minutes the appearance of what seemed like light plumes of smoke turned into a raging fire engulfing shops. Above these blazing shop fronts were homes. Homes which were caught by the flames as families, young children and the elderly spilled out into the streets. She saw friends and neighbours caught up amongst the marauding gangs and still there was no intervention. Fire crews helpless to act without the security of police support – yet that same police force was already stretched seeking to prioritise their priorities.
The police did eventually move forward but for many, including the resident who had called me, it was all too little, too late. As the culprits watched with glee, she saw her livelihood and that of her family burn away as their own launderette caught fire and was soon yet another sad reminder of the anarchy on the streets of London.
What is clear, despite all this violence, and despite these vandals and criminals that cause such damage and destruction – there is a spirit that prevails and we have millions of decent people up and down our country who respect the law, who contribute to their community and society and ultimately, show reverence towards human life. These thugs and criminals do not. We need to throw the full force of the law at them. Moreover, our laws need to be toughened to deal with criminals, who at present commit these acts such as those on London road in full sight of the police and then display an arrogance by simply standing back and watching home and businesses burn. This is not the Britain we want, or desire.
One of the reasons I am Conservative is because of the essence of respect we find in our philosophy towards families, people, property, possessions, and the rule of law. We support the police and believe in decisive and firm action against criminals. That is what is required now. The tactics deployed, together with the resources and lack of contingency planning demonstrates that we need to not only support and play tribute to the bravery of our police; we also need to equip them with what they need to prevent a recurrence of such crimes. It is time to put the law abiding citizen first. More armored vehicles to disperse crowds and also, water canons, which are now far advanced from their early crude designs, need to be introduced. We as a nation are major manufacturers yet do not deploy these at home. It is time to use such tactical deterrents to stop these hardened criminals and thugs and restore order to our streets.