Riots grilling as-it-happened
Boris Johnson and senior police figures faced questions from the Commons' home affairs committee over their decisions in response to rioting across the capital. Review our live coverage below.
By Alex Stevenson Follow @alex__stevenson
10:09 – Morning everyone – not an especially pleasant one here in Westminster. But in newsworthy terms it's a glorious bright sunny day. In addition to phone-hacking, which we're also covering live, we've got the first major MP-driven inquiry into last month's terrible rioting. Keith Vaz's home affairs committee is going to grill key figures on the disorder; they're getting under way in just a little over five minutes' time.
10:14 – We're just about to get underway. The batting order is as follows: London mayor Boris Johnson and deputy mayor Kit Malthouse, in just a few minutes; then acting Met commissioner Tim Godwin and assistant commissioner Lynne Owens at 11:00; followed by Sir Hugh 'Outspoken' Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, at 11:30. We'll then see the Independent Police Complaints Commission to get their take on events at 12:00. Although my typing fingers might have fallen off by then. As opposed to my other kind of fingers.
10:20 – As usual, the standard delay keeps us all in suspense…
10:22 – And off we go. Boris is already ruffling his tousled hair with his usual perturbed aplomb, as Vaz begins by showing the mayor a two-minute video from the BBC of the rioting. Interesting, novel approach. It's quite an effective approach, actually, reminding us of how brutal and alarming it all actually was. The first bit is from Birmingham – not Boris' remit, perhaps? – but then a second Beeb report concentrates on London – and that fire at Reeves furniture store in Croydon.
10:25 – And here's Vaz's first question, which is about the question of "whether there is proper leadership of the Met" after the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson. Boris insists that everything is alright. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," he says, apropos of nothing. Ah – he's talking about the drop in crime in London. Vaz responds by paraphrasing Oscar Wilde: "To lose one commissioner looks like misfortune but to lose two looks like carelessness." Of course Boris got rid of Sir Ian Blair soon after coming into office. Boris pays tribute to Sir Paul, and says he "regretted" his departure. A very flourishing start…
10:28 – Boris goes on the offensive, pointing out to Vaz that the committee chair had come up with a decent statement after Sir Paul decided to go. Vaz tries to get Boris to say he would have preferred Sir Paul to stay on until after the Olympics. Boris isn't buying it. "I accepted his analysis," he says, his two hands are clasped in front of him – the mayor seems rather hunched as he leans forward. He's eyeballing Vaz earnestly, but Vaz looks utterly serene. As usual. I'm not sure he has ever lost his temper…
10:30 – A distinct gleam in Boris' eye, there, as Vaz asks him about the selection process for choosing the next permanent commissioner. He's enjoying this, now, as he explains the procedure. It's a "vexed issue", he says. "Her Majesty the Queen will make the appointment." But "in the real world" both Boris Johnson and home secretary Theresa May need to agree "with goodwill and common sense".
10:32 – Nicola Blackwood, who rarely looks impressed, wants to know whether Boris has a "veto power", as reported by the Mail newspaper. Johnson seems to suggest that yes, that's sort of the case. And then, out of nowhere, after a rather odd opening period about procedure, Blackwood turns the session on to gang violence. Boris, initially thrown out of his stride, appears to remember that he's thought up something to say on this particular topic. So off he goes, talking about this as an "opportunity"…
10:34 – … but, oh dear, the home affairs committee are making rather a hash of this. Vaz interrupts – he hadn't quite finished on the next Met commissioner appointment – and gets Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert to ask a question along those lines. So back we go to that old chestnut. Boris repeats his line from before, so Vaz moves on to Labour veteran David Winnick ('veteran' is the Labour equivalent of the Tory 'grandee'). "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," Boris says. Again.
10:36 – Mark Reckless asks: "Would it be better to appoint someone regardless of nationality?" Boris cottons on to this quickly: "This is a Bill Bratton question, isn't it?" He's not particularly keen on it. "There is no shortage of first-class police officers in this country. We've got an exceptional field before us now and I see no need to expand it." That's a slap in the face for David Cameron, whose enthusiasm for appointing the American super cop Bratton knew no bounds. "You need someone with a real feel for the bones and the joints of the British police system," Boris adds. "We have abundant strength and qualifications in our candidates already."
10:40 – Vaz moves the discussion on to the start of the rioting, when Boris was on holiday. It was Kit Malthouse who got the phone call on that Saturday evening, when the violence begain in Tottenham. Malthouse says it's important to "allow the police to do their job" and "not to interfere in any way" in these situations. "We had to leave the Met to deal with it…" Vaz then asks the key question: "When did you find the tactics were wrong and more officers ought to have been deployed?" Malthouse says the number of officers is one issue – but the speed of mobilisation is another issue, too. An unusual tactic: responding to one weakness being raised by mentioning another one. Maybe he's not such an astute politician… "With hindsight," Malthouse begins… Ouch. We've heard that before, in this committee's hearings, ad nauseam during the phone-hacking hearings.
10:42 – Boris steps in to rescue Malthouse, with a lot of very effective politico-blather. Vaz tries to get him to be quiet, but Boris just keeps going. "The issue for this committee is do you agree with the prime minister… that the tactics were not working." Boris: "It is self-evident, Mr Vaz, that there was a difficulty, there was a crisis… which caught everybody unawares. There is no doubt about that." Very much not answering the question, there.
10:43 – "Mr Ellis is going to probe you now. On tactics." Vaz is a master of keeping a straight face. "I was stuck up in the Rocky Mountains with a campervan," Boris explains. "Once I'd established continuous communication – once it was obvious that events were not coming down, I – ah – I came back."
10:45 – Bit of a laugh-out-loud moment there. Michael Ellis, beginning his probing, but he, like all those before him, seem utterly incapable of keeping Boris on the topic of the question being asked. The mayor is now expounding at length on policing in general. He just can't be tied down. Resistance is futile, but Ellis is doing a good job of trying to make it look like he's actually getting Boris to answer the question.
10:47 – We're on to the question of reinforcements, and here Ellis does make progress. He gets Boris to agree that it would be much better for the Met to be more self-reliant and not need so many reinforcements. "Out of these events, good must come," he says optimistically, in what sounds like something Yoda might utter.
10:48 – Steve McCabe, Labour, raises the spectre of police cuts. Boris refers obliquely to the "conversation that's been going on between us and the government" over spending cuts.
10:50 – David Winnick asks Boris when he first heard of the death of Mark Duggan, which triggered the initial rioting in Tottenham. "It did immediately strike me as being a potentially very difficult incident," Boris says. Winnick invites Boris to give a comment on the link between the shooting and the rioting. Boris tries to hide behind the Independent Police Complaints Commission probe into the incident, even though that doesn't really touch on the issue raised in the question. No surprises there.
10:52 – Next, a question about water cannons. Boris says containing the riots without using them was a major achievement. Police aren't lobbying him for water cannons, he says, before getting thoroughly worked up about police asking for support from the public when they try to charge wrongdoers. Thoroughly animated, for a moment there, the London mayor was.
10:54 – Word of the session so far from Boris: "Peregrination." It's used in relation to the research being done looking into the behaviour of gangs in the capital. But what on earth does it mean? I'll find out in a moment. In the meantime, Julian Huppert wants to know what's being done to improve the situation with relation to those pesky youths. Boris wants to see "more black and ethnic minority people recruited to the police". Interesting answer.
10:56 – Ah, of course, it's from the late Middle English peregrinacioun, as Boris would no doubt inform us. Dictionary.com tells us this noun either means 'travel from one place to another, especially on foot' or 'a course of travel; journey'. In the committee room, the mayor has moved on and is now pointing out that just one-fifth of those arrested had any affiliation with a gang whatsoever.
10:59 – James Clappison, another Tory on the committee, asks BJ whether the mayor has a strategy for engaging with gangs. "Absolutely," Boris says. "As Bill Bratton says -" absurd pause, a nod at Vaz, before carrying on. That's laugh-out-loud moment number two. I'm afraid it's completely distracted me from the answer. Although it obviously involves mentors, for Johnson tells Vaz he'd make an excellent mentor. Very, very odd.
11:00 – We're up to the appointed hour for Boris' evidence to come to an end. Not that he's actually going to wrap up just yet; Vaz merely uses this as an opportunity to request quicker questions and answers. And so we continue, with Bridget Phillipson getting Boris to agree with the description of a "feral underclass". He's sounding an awful lot like Ken Clarke, I think. Outside, Big Ben is bonging 11.00.
11:04 – Steve McCabe asks about the Riot Damages Act – how many claims has the mayor received? So far there's been about 100, Boris says, roughly to the value of £9.3 million. That's for those who are uninsured. McCabe wonders whether the Met will be reimbursed by the Treasury for that figure. In short, summing up – Boris hopes so. Key question is: does Boris actually know how this works, procedurally? One thing is certain: his answer is definitely rather complicated…
11:08 – Back to Nicola Blackwood now, who asks a question about the role which social media played in organising the riots. "The loss of civil liberties was not going to be compensated for by a gain in security," Boris says in reply. He's not prepared to interfere. "I think that has been persuasive with the Home Office, and that's where we are." Blackwood is really very good at this. "This is not seen as a clear benefit from the police, and therefore I'm disposed to support it," Boris says, in response to her curt questioning.
11:13 – Vaz, who has been keen to get Malthouse involved a bit more, asks the deputy mayor what the stance is on investigating what went wrong. Very quickly, Mark Reckless gets in a quick question about the MPA's funding of legal fees against Mark Lewis, the lawyer in relation to phone-hacking for the family of murder victim Milly Dowler. Malthouse retreats to legal advice on this issue, and says dismissively: "It was rather a modest amount, about 1,500 quid."
11:15 – "You will not leave that room unless you get the candidate of your choice, is that right?" Vaz asks, finishing. Boris replies: "It is obvious the next commissioner of the Met will serve with the support of both myself and the home secretary and in order to make sure that happens we'll have a good-natured discussion. I'm sure we'll come to a very good conclusion." That wraps up the mayor's evidence; he and Malthouse make a quick exit. And we're just 15 minutes overtime…
11:18 – And we're now on to acting Met commissioner Tim Godwin, who says he would like "hindsight as foresight" in relation to the rioting. "We responded, we mobilised on the Saturday. We increased on the Sunday, increased further on the Monday." He admits being taken by surprise by the number of sites of disorder across the city. On the total cost, the £74 million figure is just for the Met, he says. "One of the issues we have also had to police is Notting Hill carnival, we were concerned in making sure that went well, and additionally we've had the EDL events in east London. All that is adding to the cost." Money, money, money… Vaz wonders whether the total bill continues to go up. Godwin points out there's the small matter of a team of 500 officers going through footage. "Sometimes you realise how thin the blue line is," Godwin muses. That's a decent quote.
11:20 – On Ken Clarke's comments, Godwin says: "I think this is a wake-up call for the criminal justice system, yes. The amount of people that have got previous convictions does pose questions for us. And I think we, the Met, have got to learn from that."
11:22 – Back to the Mark Duggan shooting, following a question from David Winnick. Godwin says the Met deeply regrets the fact there was some confusion over who was supposed to tell the family. They've apologised to the family, he says. "There were some good decisions and additionally there were some misunderstandings," he says, levelly, in relation to the wider policing of Tottenham.
11:25 – Godwin says he was "impressed" by those vehicle-borne tactics – the vans sweeping down streets, routing the rioters. I'm sure he was. This brings Winnick, who's still going, to ask about water cannons. "We do have the capability to use baton rounds, and certainly they were available during the disturbances." But there was no threat to life within the crowd, Godwin says, which is why they weren't used. "I take great pride in the fact that we take up prison beds as opposed to hospital beds." Another neat quote! He should be a politician.
11:27 – Lynne Owens, assistant commissioner, makes her first contribution. She's full of statistics, but says they're not quite there with the full set of figures. She sounds bustling and efficient.
11:29 – Godwin says the Met "scooped up" the gang members quite quickly – they were the easy ones, he explains.
11:30 – Baton rounds – rubber bullets, in short – were quite close to being used, Godwin says. They were handed to police officers trained to use them, Ellis asks? "They were not deployed and they were not authorised for deployment," Owens interrupts, before listing the three stages in which this takes place. She is just ridiculously efficient. Give this police officer a job!
11:32 – Julian Huppert wants to know whether any of the officers involved had tasers. The answer is "no". James Clappison wants to know what Godwin thinks works in tackling gang culture. "Some end up dead, but you get a new cohort coming through. The bit we've yet to work out is how do you stop that new cohort coming through," Godwin says. That sound sensible. The sort of thing someone off The Wire might say, which is of course any right-thinking person's first point of reference when it comes to law and order issues.
11:34 – Steve McCabe presses the hindsight issue again. Godwin retreats to his excuse that they just didn't expect the violence erupt across 22 boroughs. Meanwhile, on Twitter, @roamingroyston has this: "Tim Godwin cancelled his speech @policesupers conference on Monday. Same day next Met comm. is announced. #coincidence?"
11:38 – Interesting question from Nicola Blackwood, who wonders whether a more decisive response in Tottenham would have stopped the violence from spreading elsewhere. "I get the sense that on Sunday night the four other boroughs would have followed, however we'd responded," he says. But the copycat stuff could easily have followed. This is very revealing. "The first one on the Saturday was an outburst of anger that then led to disorder. We then saw images of looting which apparently was being untackled by the police. As a result of that I think that encouraged a few more to look at the opportunity for a smash-and-grab opportunity, which then went into the Monday."
11:39 – There are still 20,000 hours of CCTV footage which the Met has to view, Owens says. There's 500 people working on this. According to maths, that 40 hours per officer.
11:45 – "Do we need to do more? Probably," Godwin concedes, in the final of a long list of questions when he answers himself. He says many young officers hadn't experienced anything like this in their careers before. He says 3,000 Met officers are currently trained in public officer policing, and says it's up to Owens to recommend an increase. "I wouldn't be surprised if she doubled it, which is a hint," Godwin says. Owens smiles to herself, before saying that 2,500 – or up to 3,000 – officers are currently trained in riot policing. No surprise that Godwin went for the higher figure, there. Huppert seizes on the 2,500 figure.
11:49 – Keith Vaz picks up on a couple of points Godwin has made, including one on social media. One option was to shut it down, Godwin had said two weeks ago. "Is this now off the agenda?" Vaz asks. "I'm sure it isn't off the agenda for the Home Office and for this House. For me… the fact it is a useful communication tool for us to get our messages out, on reflection we felt it would have been net negative to turn it off. We are looking at how we can use that in terms of intelligence." My understanding is that Met officers aren't allowed to use Twitter at work, so none of them actually know how to use it… "There's a lot of learning we need to do around social media sites," Godwin says.
11:51 – Vaz suggests Godwin has adopted a "keep calm and carry on" approach. Was no politician involved in telling you to mount a surge on the streets? Yes, Godwin says. He won't let Theresa May take any of the credit for the decision to get more police on the streets. Interesting manoeuvring from him there. "I'm in charge and I'm accountable," Godwin says. "Thank you for coming in – best of luck with your application," Vaz beams, finishing. Godwin, who has reason to be rather pleased with that last bit, can be pleased with himself there.
11:53 – Of course we're approaching lunchtime and the committee is running late, which is why from now on we may actually find ourselves seeing the questions being brought through with a bit more briskness. Next up is Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I'm going to return to this every so often from now, keeping an ear on it and noting anything of real significance – but the blow-by-blow coverage will cease from now. I think the main news line is Boris Johnson's bullishness about the appointment of the next Met commissioner, a decision which will be announced next Monday. Godwin got off rather lightly, perhaps because Vaz obviously admires his candidacy for the Met job.
12:05 – Social media is generally approved of by Sir Hugh, it seems. He's all for the use of these "machines". They're useful for dispelling rumours. "It's one of those ones which we're coming to terms with," he says. Blackwood asks whether social media use is being encouraged by Acpo. "One of the most useful and new events which was the home secretary's initiative was a telephone conference between 43 chiefs." I'm not sure that's entirely covered by social media. "To get 43 chief constables on the phone is a challenge."
12:25 – Sir Hugh's questioning is finished there; "best of luck with your application", once again, from Vaz; and then we're on to the Independent Police Complaints Commission's Deborah Glass. "Why is it taking so long?" Vaz wants to know. "When are you going to decide what your terms of reference are?" Glass replies: "That's not quite the case." Cutting, indeed.
12:33 – "You are not here to have discussions. You are here to answer questions," Vaz says. He wants "straight answers" to questions. Glass has really riled them, as Steve McCabe tries to find out why it's taken so long for the IPCC to interview the officers involved. "There are two broad issues here," Glass begins, explaining a complex difference between witnesses and suspects. "Why would you get a better understanding of lethal force after several months?" McCabe asks. "Can I answer in general terms," Len Jackson interjects. "An answer would be good in any terms," a thoroughly frustrated McCabe replies.
12:36 – There's difference between a member of the public carrying a weapon from a police officer carrying a weapon, Jackson explains. He says the public always want answers a bit quicker than the IPCC can get to them. Nicola Blackwood is next to have a go. "I'm not sure why you wouldn't want to get accounts from all those involved in the incident as quickly as possible," she says. A delay of several months would mean the investigation is "hampered and undermined were it to come to a prosecution". Glass replies: "What we seek to do is to get witness accounts as quickly as possible. If somebody is a witness, we have no power to compel witness evidence, whether it's from the public or the police. That puts us in the same position as a police officer investigating a crime. There are sometimes delays to that process. Police are generally uncooperative in this process."
12:48 – Vaz gives Len Jackson, who's interim chair of the IPCC, a "valedictory" chance for some closing remarks to the committee. Here's what he has to say. When seen in the context of the Mark Duggan investigation, his comments are quite revealing: "Relationships with the families are always difficult. We have critics on both sides of the fence – people who believe we are too close to families, and people who believe we are too close to policing. If we don't sit in the middle… we're not doing our job. That quite often means relationships with both police and communities and families will be tense."
12:52 – And with that this session wraps up; the home affairs committee next meets on Thursday, when home secretary Theresa May will be giving evidence on the riots. It will be interesting to see her comments on a lot of the issues raised today. She may want to correct Boris Johnson's interpretation of the rules governing the appointment of the next Met police commissioner; and even challenge acting commissioner Tim Godwin's claim that the decision to bring in many more police officers on Tuesday was his and his alone, free of political influence. We'll have a news story up before not too long on this – but for now, thanks very much for following our live coverage.