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Britain must be braced for widespread riots this summer, a government adviser says, warning poorer people and areas will be hit harder by the coronavirus fallout.
Police and the government are being urged to prepare now for the risk of “serious public disorder” on the scale of the 2011 riots – particularly if curbs on freedoms have to be reimposed.
Professor Clifford Stott predicted a tinderbox from a combination of inequality, anger at the police, enforcement of restrictions becoming “pretty impossible” and lingering anger over the Dominic Cummings affair.
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Trouble would escalate if “localised lockdowns” brought tougher rules for people living in poorer areas than in affluent neighbourhoods, the member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said.
“If the police don’t invest in building positive police-community relations now, there is a potential for serious and large public disorder to emerge this summer,” Prof Stott warned.
“I think in the worst-case scenario it’s not inconceivable that we could have disorder on a scale equivalent to August 2011.
“There are important issues about inequality that could, if not dealt with properly, feed into a situation in the future over the summer months where confrontations develop.”
Prof Stott described the idea of local lockdowns as “very, very problematic”, days after mayors in the northwest – the region where they are thought most likely – called them unenforceable.
And he warned enforcing existing restrictions was already “pretty impossible now to a large extent”, after the Black Lives Matter protests were allowed to go ahead despite a supposed ban on marches.
Warning the police would feel pressure to crack down on gatherings on housing estates, the scientific adviser said: “I think that could create a circumstance when lots of young men feel it’s unfair about what’s happening to them.
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“And where the police try to enforce that unfairness, it could create a breakdown in social cohesion, lead to a sense of unfairness in policing. We know that those factors are often drivers for social conflict.”
And, on Mr Johnson’s aide’s lockdown-breach, he added: “The loss of trust and confidence that has been brought about by the Cummings affair has not assisted in maintaining that adherence, I think that’s quite clear.”
In August 2011, riots swept England – and five people died – in protests sparked by the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan in north London.
In the following days, the disturbances spread to Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry, Derby, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton.
Calling on the authorities to be ready, Prof Stott told the PA news agency: “What we need to do is to make sure we start addressing the underlying causes now so that the conditions that led to the 2011 riots are not in place should we get a precipitating incident.
“Put simply, the most effective thing that the police can do is put bobbies on the beat.”