David Cameron said his government had started a “fightback” against rioters, with water cannons on standby and courts sitting through the night, as unrest, quelled in London by a surge of police, spread across England.
The prime minister said contingency plans were now in place to have water cannons available at 24 hours’ notice. Police in mainland Britain have never used the vehicles for riot control before. Police have already been authorized to use rubber bullets to control Britain’s worst rioting since the 1980s.
London’s Metropolitan Police put 16,000 officers on duty overnight, up from 6,000 the previous evening. That had calmed the situation in the capital after three nights of unrest, Cameron said, even as looting and arson spread to Manchester, northern England’s biggest city.
“We needed a fightback, and a fightback has begun,” Cameron told reporters outside his Downing Street office today. “We will do whatever is necessary to restore order on our streets.”
A total of 770 people have been arrested in London and hundreds more in provincial cities since Aug. 6, when the unrest began in the suburb of Tottenham, after a local black man, Mark Duggan, was shot and killed by police who stopped his car intending to make an arrest.
The unrest has led shops and offices to close early, forced the cancellation of soccer games and raised security concerns a year before London stages the 2012 Olympic Games, as the deepest budget cuts since World War II cost more than 30,000 police jobs across the country.
The prime minister said the scenes of looting and arson this week showed parts of society were “sick,” presenting police and politicians with a new challenge. “It’s as much a moral problem as a political one,” he said.
The prime minister, who when in opposition said some young thugs needed “more love,” told reporters today he wanted “stronger penalties” for wrongdoers, with people convicted of violent disorder jailed. He said that he wouldn’t let “phony concerns about human rights” stop the publication of pictures of suspects.
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