This time last week, we were all waking up to the fact that in so many of our streets and communities there had been almost unimaginable scenes of looting and destruction. Since then I’ve been out to visit many, many people in those different communities and there are a lot of things that stand out.
Obviously the deeply, deeply unsettling feeling that many people have, that in so many cases a comparatively small number of people were able to wreak so much damage and spread so much fear in our communities.
But there was something else and it’s this: that whilst there were a minority of people who indulged in wrongdoing, who did the wrong thing, the vast majority of people were doing the right thing. And more than that they were doing heroic things.
Like the manager of the cafe in Manchester that I visited that had been trashed, but she’d cleared up and she was serving customers the next morning, who told me that there were more people out on the streets of Manchester clearing up the debris and the destruction than there were looters in the first place.
Or the police in Nottingham, who I visited, who within almost hours had restored the police station that had been fire bombed back to working condition to serve the community.
The manager of a Post Office in Nottingham who despite all the problems of last week still said he felt safer in his home and his business now than he did two three years ago, because of the excellent work of the Neighbourhood Police Team.
The young people in Sheffield who I met last Friday, who mobilised from Monday night onwards and used social media, used Twitter, used Facebook, hit the phones to persuade the young people of Sheffield not to copy what was going on elsewhere and they succeeded.
I think those kind of things should just tell us that it is really important at a time like this that we shouldn’t allow hope and optimism to be suffocated by fear and pessimism. And, of course, we’re learning more as well as the cases go through the courts.
Some of our early assumptions are having to be challenged. The early assumption that it was all about youngsters, it was all about teenagers. Actually only about 21% who are now in court were under eighteen.
If you saw some of the photographs of women rioting and looting in the majority of some of our biggest newspapers last week, you’d have the impression there was a problem of a disproportionate number of women involved in the disturbances.
Yet the latest figures of those caught up with the disturbances and now in court suggest that 90% or more of those were, indeed, men.
So we need to learn more to do more. The more we learn the more we can do. That’s why I can confirm today that the Cabinet Office will be tendering for a contract to do research in to the communities affected, to find out more about what happened, who did what and why they did it.
And I can also confirm that we will be setting up an independent Communities and Victims Panel, chaired by someone who is independent but widely regarded as having authority and knowledge of what’s going on and the dilemmas faced in the communities affected.
It won’t be a public inquiry, it won’t be established under the Inquiries Act but it will serve as a way in which victims and communities can have their voice heard.
I want it to work quickly, to report to us in six to nine months and, crucially, to report to all three leaders of the main parties because whilst everyone wants and expects politicians to debate what happened they also want us to work together to sort things out.
But if we really are going to avoid the scenes that we saw last week we need to do something bigger still. We need to ensure that the treadmill, this dismal cycle of repeat crime is stopped. 60% or more of the adults now in the courts because of last week’s disturbances already had an offence, were already known to the Police.
That tells you something, that we have thousands upon thousands of victims who are needlessly harmed and hurt in this country because we have failed as a country to stop the cycle of repeat crime.
And that’s why I can announce today as well that in every single one of the communities effected there will be Community Payback schemes, Riot Payback schemes where you will see people in visible orange clothing making up for the damage done, repairing and improving the neighbourhoods effected. And if you’ve got ideas about what they should do, get on to the website of the local probation trust.
I also want them to face their victims. I want them to face people like the woman I met on Monday last week in Tottenham who said to me that she was still wearing the clothes, all she owned, was still wearing the clothes she was wearing when she ran out of her flat before it was burnt down.
The offender who did that, who set fire to that building, should have to face her and understand that there are human consequences, to explain why he or she did what they did and to apologise. That’s why I can also confirm today that there will be additional money provided to ensure that victims, if they want, can face and confront their offenders too.
But last year when we came to power, when the Coalition Government came to power, we said we were going to pioneer a rehabilitation revolution to stop this downward spiral of repeat crime. So in addition to what I’ve announced today we’re going to do something bigger still. From March 2012 every offender who leaves prison won’t just be allowed to drift back to their old life, won’t just be able to drift in to a life of worklessness and yet more repeat crime only to turn up in the same prison having been sentenced again for an even more serious offence, no.
They will be met at the prison gates by providers in the work programme who will make sure that those offenders as they leave prison will be put through a tough process so that they find work and they stay on the straight and narrow. Because if we want to stop for good the outbreak of, of crime, of looting, of criminality that we saw last week then we need to get real and get tough on repeat crime and that is what these measures will do.