'Police prevarication sparked the UK's Tottenham riots'

After the police shot a man dead in London last week, they showed disregard for the feelings of his family, which led to some of the worst rioting in the city in over a decade, says community activist Stafford Scott

Stafford Scott
8 August 2011

This is a transcript of an interview Sky News conducted with Stafford Scott, a community activist based in Tottenham, London, on Saturday 7 August after some of the worst riots in the capital in over a decade. The unrest began after armed police shot dead a 29-year-old man named Mark Duggan on Thursday evening. Here, Scott sets the context and explains the factors he believes caused the disturbances, which led to buildings being burnt down, shops looted, and several police and members of the public hospitalised.

First of all, I'm an active member of the [Tottenham] community, and the reason I believe it [the riots] happened is because the police have paid due disregard for the feelings of the family of the young man who was killed on Thursday evening.

Up until now, they haven't helped them or advised them. They haven't met with any family liaison advisors at all. And we were absolutely disgusted by that. So we decided that we needed to come to Tottenham Police Station, because they may not be aware that a murder has been committed. We know that if they were aware of a murder being committed, the process, their legislation, their guidelines, says they have to set up and send out an FLO [Family Laison Officer]. And because they didn't we came to the station.

We came to the station to have a peaceful demonstration. And it was largely peaceful. And what we explained to the police was that we wanted someone senior from the police service to come and explain to us what was happening.

They kept on prevaricating. The most senior person they gave us was a chief inspector. And we said that that person was not senior enough. We wanted a senior ranking officer of superintendent or above. Eventually they sent for a superintendent but by then it was too late. We told them: don't prevaricate. We wanted to hear what was happening so we could explain to the community what was taking place. [...]

Had they dealt with us early in the day, we would have removed ourselves from this area. We would have gone back to Broadwater Farm [housing estate]. I specifically told a chief inspector that we didn't want to be out here [on the streets] when nightfall came. We wanted to take it back to the farm. And I warned him, that if he kept on prevaricating, and forced us to stay until night time -- because we were intent on staying until a senior officer came -- then it would have to be on the police's heads what happened.

Most people who tell you it's not the same as [the Tottenham riots in] 1985 were not here in 1985. It's absolutely the same as 1985. 1985 was sparked by the death of a black woman, and the police trying to cover up that death, the police trying to suggest that she died because of her weight ... today they are trying to cover up Mark's killing as well.

We do not believe that Mark was bad enough or mad enough to come out of a car and want to shoot armed police officers. Our evidence, our information is telling us, that the gun that was found here was actually found in a sock... meaning that it wasn't prepared for action. So we can't believe that anyone would think that they were going to shoot at somebody through the sock. It's absolutely crazy.

Let me be absolutely clear: this is the borough where we've seen the death of  Cynthia Jarrett, Joy Gardner and Roger Sylvester. Roger Sylvester's inquest took about four years to be held, so we know that nothing happens quickly. But by god: don't our parents deserve the same as any parents? No matter what people say about what Mark was, when you [the media] talk about the army on the TV, or a death that's happened in Afghanistan, you always say: "we're not going to name the person until their parents have been informed."

In this case here, their parents are reading about everything in the newspapers... they're seeing it all on the media. Nobody from officialdom has gone to them and said, "your dad, your child was killed on Ferry Lane". Nobody has done that.

What happened yesterday was a combustion, it was an outburst... because people saw that we'd been here for four hours. Women were leading the demonstration. When the women said, "look, four hours, our kids are tired, we're going home". When the guys saw the women leave, that's when they said, "well, we've been here for four hours and nothing's happened, nothing's changed, they haven't come to speak to us". And then when they saw some police cars, which for some reason were just parked up and unmanned, it was like a red flag to a bull, and they just had a go.

I think that a) if the police had been more responsive to the community, we would have gone and it wouldn't have happened, and b) if the police had been more responsive at the first onset of violence it may not have happened.

But people need to realise a lot of things are being said. "It's not the same as '85"? In this community, for these kids, everything is the same as '85. If you look at all the stats, they're all the same as '85. How often they get stopped and searched has actually gone up. Unemployment of young people has actually gone up since '85. Getting kicked out of school is the same, or similarly higher since '85. Nothing has improved for the livelihoods of young black people, who happened to find themselves growing up on estates like Broadwater Farm.

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