'Like a Water Pistol to Put Out an Inferno' - Policing Of Ealing's Riots

Too few officers able to cope as police deployed to other parts of London

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Ealing's Police Commander Andy Rowell broke down as he told a specially convened Council meeting how he didn't have enough officers to cope during Monday night's riot.

Superintendent Rowell said that in the earlier part of the day he had been instructed to send 37 Constables, 5 Sergeants and 2 Inspectors out of the borough to help tackle the violence that had broken out elsewhere in London.

'' It was around 6.30pm and at that time Ealing was very quiet you wouldn't have realised what was going to happen.''

However as numbers began to swell and it became obvious trouble was brewing he requested additional resources, but none were immediately forthcoming.

At the height of the disturbances, with around 200-300 rioters causing mass destruction, he was left with just 41 police officers to deploy who came under attack for several hours.

Commander Rowell's voice faltered then broke down as he re-told how his officers - with no specialist equipment - put their lives at risk.

''We tried to establish a cordon but there were just a handful of police who came under fire from bricks and bottles - their bravery was just incredible.''

He said his strategy was the best he could do given the circumstances. 

'' Had I had all the resources I could have deployed them in a different way using tactics like containment, sweeps and charges - but you can only be forceful if your resources allow you to be.''

Additional officers were finally deployed to the area around midnight and by 2am he said police had the situation ' firmly back under control.'

Superintendent Rowell paid tribute to all the emergency services who had to cope with the unprecedented night of criminality. His speech led to an impromtu round of applause in the packed Council Chamber.

Emotions were running high in the room and a variety of guests and Councillors told of their personal and horrific experiences of the night.

A resident from Madeley Road in W5 spoke of how she had her door kicked in by masked gangs of youths who then made off the with family bikes. She said others were trying to pour petrol through the windows.

'' I remember everything as if it were in slow motion - it was sheer terror, there was glass smashing, I saw masked gangs coming down the road and I was hoping they weren't going to torch my home.''

The woman said she was completely terrorised and now doesn't feel secure in her own home.

Former Council Leader Jason Stacey described the policing of the night as ' trying to put out an inferno with a water-pistol'  and said the key question that needed to be answered was why had Ealing's officers been deployed elsewhere? How had the intelligence gone so wrong?

From figures presented it appears that most of the rioters came from outside Ealing - 209 offences were recorded - 103 people have so far been arrested, 62 of whom live outside the borough.

A minutes silence was held at the beginning of the meeting following the death of Richard Mannington Bowes who was attacked when he intervened during the trouble of Spring Bridge Road and prayers were said.

Tributes were paid to many workers involved in tackling the immediate clean-up operation and Councillors each thanked Leader Julian Bell, who worked relentlessly through the night and the days following.

Councillor Bell said he had witnessed the police in action - 'a very thin blue line' who he said had 'put their lives on the line for local residents'.

He said there would be an inquiry but was keen to avoid any knee jerk reactions and added that it was now time to look forward:

'' One massive silver lining from this whole dreadful situation is the fact that it has brought a sense of community togetherness and I want to thank the people of Ealing who have shown great resillience - I am very proud to say that I'm leader of this great borough.''

As he summed up the evening's speeches an exhausted and overwhelmed Councillor Bell also broke down in tears and was given a standing ovation by - for once - a seemingly united Council.



16th August 2011