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You may have heard the news that most rioters were convicted criminals. According to a ministry of justice report released today 73% of those who have appeared in court over the riots had previous cautions or convictions. This certainly appears to be good news for those who wish to partray last months disorder is merely an intensified outbreak of criminality disconnected from any deeper social issues. “Why weren’t they in prison?” is the blunt question being asked by the Telegraph. Certainly these stats would appear to bolster the view that August’s events were the work of a very specific criminal underclass, rather than a broader outburst of anger.
But how much does this report really tell us about those who were rioting? The key thing is that these stats relate only to those who have been charged and appeared in court. Are this group representative of all rioters. When it comes to their criminal records, their is good reason to think otherwise. The police, remember were able to arrest relatively few people when the riots were actually taking place. They didn’t catch many people red handed. And while they have published pictures of suspects have been published, it seems plausible that not that relatively few people would have come forward to help the cops in their enquiries given the state of police community relations.
As such the police are likely to have relied very heavily on what or who was already known to them. It is, after all, far easier to match up a CCTV image with existing police records, than to wait for a friend or neighbour of the person pictured to come forward and denounce them. In other words rioters who already had criminal records were far more likely to be charged, than rioters who didn’t. Given that only a minority of rioters hve so far been charged – 3000, out of an estimated 30,000 who the police say were involved in criminal activity – the picture could be very skewed indeed.
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