Leader of the Lib Dem's Councillor Gary Malcom's statement to panel
Dear Darra Singh and Ealing Riots Scrutiny Review Panel members,
To aid the flow of viewpoints from local businesses and members of the public, I submit my statement concerning the Ealing riots so that it can be considered with other evidence by both our local panel and the national Riot and Communities and Victims Panel.
My evidence comes from my personal experience being located within Ealing Common for part of the evening as well as the build-up and the aftermath from a professional capacity (I work on and for an agency that specialises in social media such as Twitter).
The build up to the rioting:
After the Tottenham rioting I was tracking a number of social media networks for users quoting London borough names as well as words that relate to violence. I used this to see whether there were increases in online ‘chatter’ which might indicate the possibility of riots elsewhere. For most borough including Ealing there was an increase before riots (or publicity of rumours) started but it was not deemed significant. Thus tracking open networks such as Twitter is limited. However there is a need to track closed networks (Blackberry Messenger) which explains how much communication was made but was not trackable by the police.
During the rioting in Ealing:
I was sited in Ealing Common, east of Ealing Green. I witnessed a number of youths some riding bikes and some not, aged in the range of 20 through to 30. There was the acrid smell of fires coming from what I saw were small fires such as bins set alight. Some of the group of youths I saw were chatting with each other. Other smaller groups nearby were throwing bottles and small objects towards the Ealing Green area.
At one point to remove myself from the area (I was on my cycle) I rode across a pathway on Ealing Common towards the tube station. I did have a couple of bottles thrown at me but luckily none hit me and I could leave the area to go home safely. In leaving I noticed a group of police and cars stopping buses and people getting into central Ealing. There were very few police apart from those in the central Ealing areas.
When home I was seeking to update media organisations about the situation in Ealing and other boroughs which were suffering from rioters.
Following Twitter I made a number of observations of individuals passing information, some I knew to be incorrect. For example at about 3am I recall reading that a Tesco in Acton was on fire. Given I had heard that the fire services were not able to attend some scenes I cycled to both Tescos in Acton (West Acton and the other on The Vale). Neither was on fire.
Clearly people were intentionally or accidentally passing information without checking whether it was true. This I feel, was not helpful and potentially damaging (if the police follow Twitter to see where problems there are, how can they trust it)? If you did not see it yourself or on the BBC, Sky TV etc. then you should not report it unless you state the context.
Post the rioting in Ealing:
Post the riot there was a lot of activity to try to organise a clean-up. I recall fellow Councillors Bell and Ball making good efforts to promote, online, meeting points so residents could assemble and clean up damaged footways etc.
When I arrived in the morning to Ealing Broadway, a number of senior officers were present and we spoke to see the current situation. The officers concerned had made great efforts to get the contractors and staff to start cleaning up earlier than usual. I must thank those staff as they made the work for members of the public in Ealing and West Ealing a lot quicker. In addition to this I saw Councillors from many parts of Ealing and from all political parties.
From my experiences in Ealing I make what I think are four sensible recommendations that can be followed by the Government, the Police and Ealing Council.
1. To empty bins when there is a risk of a riot as determined by the police which will reduce the chance of fires. After the riot I asked if this could be adopted and so I hope to see this written into the emergency planning procedures as other local authorities I understand emptied their bins when they were rioted this Summer.
2. Closed networks for social networks like Blackberry Messenger need to either be opened up or accessible to the police so they can establish who is planning what.
3. The Met looks to how it prioritises its resources of officers based up on the situation. They appeared to be slow at moving officers TO Ealing when that would have helped. Given they increased officers a day or two later I wonder why this wasn’t actioned earlier to help Ealing and potentially reduce future riotous behaviour across London.
4. To see what actions the Met can undertake to be more active on social media channels whether that be to disseminate information during a crisis or to track what residents are saying.
Councillor Gary Malcolm
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group
What are your recommendations? Discuss on the forum
18th October 2011