Vigilantes take to British streets, three already dead

AFP , Wednesday 10 Aug 2011

Similar to the popular neighborhood committees set up during the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, Britons took to the streets to protect their homes, raising serious questions about the role of the police

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Police officers search men as members of the community march to reclaim their streets on Tuesday in Enfield, North London (AP)

Defiant Britons have taken to the streets in their hundreds to defend their communities against rioters -- but some have paid with their lives and police have warned against vigilante-style justice.

From immigrant communities guarding their communities to football supporters chanting "England, England, England" as they patrol their neighbourhood, many groups have taken matters into their own hands after four nights of looting.

Hundreds of Sikhs, some dressed in traditional outfits, gathered outside their gurdwara, or temple, in Southall, west London, late Tuesday after earlier rumours circulated that it was next on the looters' hitlist.

The group organised motorcycle patrols and monitored the train station for potential troublemakers, according to an AFP reporter.

Around 200 locals in Enfield, the north London borough at the heart of previous attacks, strode through the area to "protect their streets", an AFP correspondent said.

Amateur video footage released Wednesday showed a group of around 100 men running down an Enfield street chanting "England, England, England".

The group earlier became involved in an altercation with a youth carrying a hockey stick, but the situation was resolved after a majority of the mob called for calm.

A similar number of football fans congregated in the southeast suburb of Eltham, also rumoured to be a likely hot spot.

"This is a white working class area and we are here to protect our community," one man told the Guardian newspaper.

"We are here to help the police. My mum is terrified after what she saw on the television in the last three days and we decided that it's not going to happen here," he added.

Meanwhile, mainly Turkish shopkeepers in the north London districts of Hackney and Kentish Town sat outside their shops into the early hours, many with makeshift weapons by their side.

In the affluent south London district of Clapham -- nicknamed "Nappy Valley" as it is home to large numbers of middle-class young parents -- residents reportedly manned a barricade across a main road to keep out rioters on Monday night.

But the move towards street-style justice has had tragic results.

In the central English city of Birmingham, three men from the South Asian community were hit by a car and killed on Wednesday night while defending local shops from rioters after a car was torched nearby.

Police launched a murder investigation and arrested a man.

Tariq Jahan, whose 21-year-old Haroon Jahan was one of those killed, said: "All the street were out and basically he was looking out for the whole community."

But he urged locals not to take revenge and called for the law to be allowed to take its course.

"Tensions are already high in the area. It's already bad enough what we are seeing on the streets now without other people taking the law into their own hands," he said.

In the suburban west London suburb of Ealing a man was critically injured on Monday night after rioters beat him up when he confronted them.

The need for vigilante groups on British streets has also raised serious questions about the police and government's ability to handle the situation.

But a senior officer with London's Metropolitan Police, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Kavanagh, warned that the vigilantes were hampering the policing operation.

"What I don't need is these so-called vigilantes, who appeared to have been drinking too much and taking policing resources away from what they should have been doing -- which is preventing the looting," he told Sky News.

"These are small pockets of people. They're frustrated, they're angry, and that's totally understandable... But the support that we need is to allow those officers to prevent looting and prevent crime."

"Ironically, when you see those images with no police available, the police are now having to go and do (deal with) the vigilantes as well as the other problems that they've got. That needs to stop."

Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday the "fightback" had begun and hailed the community spirit shown by many communities, saying: "We have seen the worst of Britain but I also believe we have seen some of the best of Britain."

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