Watching the news tonight and I listened to the mum of 13-year-old boy justifying why her son went to the riots with a hammer strapped to his leg.
He wasn’t rioting, but he was there. The hammer was for his own protection. She was lamenting the injustice of it all.
Police worry about some children who are out of control
Would you let your son out with a hammer strapped to his leg? Would you even let him out with friends where he felt the need to carry a weapon?
I just don’t get that at all.
I don’t have the answers when it comes to preventing riots. More intelligent minds than mine will look for reasons for the unrest.
I do feel very uncomfortable when politicians talk about our society being broken, families being without responsibility, gang culture is rife and we have to stop it. All of these reasons may be true – but let’s see in time just who was rioting. It just feels too easy to blame those on low income, from poor backgrounds, social housing, living on benefits, no jobs.
Lots of people in our country have poor starts, bad parenting, terrible experiences – and they’ve used that positively for the greater good.
What I can say, as a mum, that my teenage children would not be out with a hammer strapped to his/her leg. At age 13, they would not be out roaming around with friends, especially if I knew that there was trouble.
While peer pressure is a powerful thing – it is not more powerful than having good parents. If I had to sit down with my child all day to prevent them doing wrong, then I would do it.
I’m no perfect mum but there are some basic things that I can control. I can control whether or not my child has a mobile phone, access to the internet, access to money.
These are all privileges which are removed in my home if rules are broken. These are punishments that older children really get – oh, the horror of having no access to a computer, or even worse, a mobile phone.
And I’m unmoved by protests – I grew up without any of those things and I survived!
Of course, I know as a journalist that’s it’s easy to pick those alleged rioters who are very young – when many more may have gone through the courts who are over 18, might be in work, or, in one case, received looted items but were not part of the actual riots.
Equally I know that police officers often show concern about the behaviour of certain children. It takes just a few individuals in a town who come from extremely troubled backgrounds to cause huge amounts of anti-social behaviour.
Here in Swindon, I’ve been told of so-called ‘feral’ children whose parents aren’t concerned about their whereabouts, their safety, their criminality. They often sleep rough, and move around the town. Their movements can often be tracked by the amount of low level crime that is being carried out.
If that’s true, and I’ve no reason to doubt it, how can you connect or engage with young people who have been abandoned so badly by their parents. Their boundaries are simply not the same as ours. What a sad,sad situation.
Have you ever looked into the eyes of a child with no hope? I have – and it will stop you in your tracks. There’s no answer to it, there are no platitudes that they will hear or respond to.
For parents of those children, they should be brought to book, they should face up to their dereliction. I’m not saying the children who commit crimes should not be punished – but they should also know that those who let them down, must also face justice.
Riots - have you seen mob mentality up close and personal?
I’m listening to Question Time talking about riots as I’m writing this.
Here in Swindon, for three evenings in a row there has been rumour and counter-rumour about trouble in the town centre. To my knowledge, nothing’s happened.
Shops closed early, the police officer numbers were out in force. There was just a feeling of fear, of flames being fanned. Even my kids picked up on it. It’s been ridiculous, it almost feels like we are tempting fate by creating fear of something that’s just not there – thankfully.
Clearly other places have had terrible scenes and there has been much loss. My heart goes out to the families of the three men killed for trying to defend their street in the Manchester area.
But who or what can we blame? Is there anyone to blame? Is it our social ills?
And now there’s something else to blame now – social media.
I’ve just listened to someone say that the speed of social media made the police’s jobs impossible. What? Social media is for everyone and is used by millions, including police officers. Social media is simply a tool that anyone can use and the police need to get to grips with it along with everyone else.
Let’s get real here.
People were behind this trouble – not the police, not social media, not the business people and individuals who were under threat, or who had businesses wrecked.
Individuals decided to break the law and others piled in and took opportunities to thieve and be destructive. The same happened with the student demonstrations. The same happened in the demos in the 1980s etc, etc.
A young black man died – was shot by police. We don’t know the circumstances for sure. But what part of the riots will make his family feel better? What part of the riots will cure the problems in which he may have been involved?
The police have come in for considerable flack and that will continue. I know many police officers and not one of them is incompetent, or ridiculous, or violent or lacking in dedication to my knowledge. All of them are men or women with families and the same hopes and fears as all of us.
Even with the best clothing, shields, helmets, truncheons etc facing a screaming mob is absolutely terrifying. This is something I do know about – because it’s happened to me.
Years ago, in a small Somerset town, I was out with the police as a newspaper journalist when we attended a disturbance outside a pub where there had been lots of trouble.
When we arrived, there were a group of about 50 people, many had been drinking heavily, and they were wound up. When the police arrived, I was told to stay in the car. The noise was so loud, bottles were thrown at the car. Believe me, I didn’t need to be told twice.
Some of these people I’d been to school with – I saw the mob mentality in action, some knew me and it made no difference. At one point a group grabbed the car and started rocking it up and down with me in the back. I’ve rarely been so terrified.
The whole thing probably only lasted moments, but it was all in slow motion – I can’t remember how we got out of it. I suppose they were dispersed.
I’ve often been told that individuals are reasonable but mobs are without reason – and I think that must be part of it. That night, in a sleepy backwater town, I saw the mob in action very briefly.
And it’s that memory that stays with me when I see what’s happened. I don’t know the answers but I do know what it feels like to face violence without reason.
I cannot help but write about the phone-hacking scandal which continues to rumble on – it’s there in the background for most people but for journalists it’s still the main topic of conversation.
As I’ve intimated previously that’s because we’re feeling that we’re all being tarred with the same brush as the few who either broke the law, or who got others to do it for them, in pursuit of a big story and the subsequent big bucks.
Some have raised eyebrows that an editor cannot know what his/her journalists are doing? But it’s possible, especially if you are not asking too many questions and your budget is so big that
Journalists can tell good stories without breaking the law
invoices adding up to £100k don’t register.
For most of us in the regional world of journalism that doesn’t happen. Money is so tight that such a spend would stick out like a sore thumb.
Another issue that’s worthy of consideration is the suggestion that police officers in the Met (and possibly elsewhere) may have taken money from journalists.
It’s amazing how many people think that journalists carry around a chequebook from their employer to wave around at potential interviewees.
Such a practice may be common place for national journalists but I’ve not come across it in local settings or even national television.
The only things I’ve ever paid for are as follows: travelling expenses, child care costs, loss of earnings which can be proved, payment of a telephone bill for a low income family where we needed regular contact over number of months, occasional donation to charity for use of facilities, occasional location fees for businesses.
When working on an antiques programme a few years ago I used to pay cash to traders/stall holders to use their space for a period of filming if it was going to disrupt business for more than ten minutes.
I’ve been asked for money many, many times by possible interviewees and have said no. As journalists we’re not allowed to pay anyone with criminal convictions, and I’d never dream of giving cash to a police officer. I may be naive, even after 20 years, but I’ve always been suspicious of anyone who’s first thought is to ask for money.
There are still many, many good people out there who tell their personal stories in order to spread the word, heighten public awareness alongside my need to make a good tv programme. Indeed, people will often take days off work just to take part in filming and never ask for a penny.
Tomorrow I’m filming with a family where the father suffers from severe OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Mum is taking a day off work to be with us (something we did not request). This is a sign of how important this family feels it is to highlight the issues around this mental disorder.
However this phone-hacking saga develops in the next days and weeks – remember this, there are good people around with relevant stories to tell and share.