Tottenham riots: A suburb in flames | Editorial

There is every indication, as unemployment climbs and cuts are made, that the sense of alienation will burgeon

A man called Jermaine Thomas, looking out from his balcony at the smouldering ruins of the Allied Carpets store on Sunday afternoon, said what needs to be said about the weekend's dire events in Tottenham. "Whatever happened last week," he told a reporter from the Haringey Independent, "there's still no need for this." What exactly happened last week is still far from established. The official accounts say a man called Mark Duggan was the passenger in a minicab stopped by police as they tried to arrest him. There was an apparent exchange of fire, and he died. That Mr Duggan fired first, or even at all, is widely disbelieved in the area. This is hardly surprising, given the number of cases where the earliest accounts have proved to be unreliable, or, as in the case of Ian Tomlinson, to be fabrications.

But whatever happened on Thursday, there was no possible justification for the burning and looting on Saturday night – nor for the disturbances in Enfield on Sunday. What developed on Thursday afternoon had begun with a calm and reasonable protest by the dead man's family and friends. There was no hint at this point of any echo of the scenes at Broadwater Farm 26 years before which ended in the brutal murder of PC Keith Blakelock. On any assessment before 6.15pm on Thursday, this was a far more settled and peaceful sector of London. Twenty years on, in 2005, there had been satisfied claims that this had become a low-crime area. Much hard work, replanning, and well-targeted spending of public money had gone to bring that about. Yet a sense of alienation persists. Haringey, although it contains such prosperous parts as Highgate and Muswell Hill, remains among the five most deprived boroughs in London. There is every indication, as unemployment climbs – the latest figures show claims for jobseeker's allowance up 10% up in a year – and as cuts are made in youth clubs and other services, that the sense of alienation will burgeon. Crime figures have been climbing again.

But just as Jermaine Thomas said, none of that should have led to what happened early on Sunday morning: buildings and buses on fire, residents terrified, goods being joyously swept out of ravaged shops. Some of this, as the MP David Lammy suggested, may have been due to the early morning arrival of opportunists from out of the borough, alerted on social networks, but it's far too optimistic to assume that Tottenham's own population was universally off the streets. It will need much careful management, and a sturdy resolve on the part of all sides involved not to moor themselves to hasty simplistic conclusions, to ensure that what was enacted in the turbulent streets of north London over the weekend is not going to spread.


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