Socialist Worker

2011 rioters were rising up against injustice

Five years after the summer riots, Alistair Farrow takes aim at claims that they were just ‘mindless’

Issue No. 2515

The riots in 2011 spread to Hackney, east London

The riots in 2011 spread to Hackney, east London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The riots that swept Britain after police killed Mark Duggan in north London in 2011 were an uprising against poverty, injustice and police racism.

Rioting took place in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Nottingham, towns in Kent and elsewhere.

Former prime minister David Cameron described the riots as “criminality pure and simple”. David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, described them as “mindless”.

But many rioters targeted police stations first and foremost. Six percent of all crimes recorded during the riots were directed at police targets, according to the Home Office.

One Black Lives Matter activist from Liverpool described the riot he observed to Socialist Worker. He said, “It was not primarily about people destroying property—although there were elements of that.

“This was about people wanting to hurt the police after years of violence.”

There was a vast gulf between the ways rioters were treated compared to how the police officer who killed Mark Duggan was treated. This reinforced the justified anger people felt towards the police and judicial system.

The cop who shot Mark, officer V53, was released without charge despite giving testimony at Mark’s inquest that was clearly contradictory.

He claimed to have never taken his eyes off Mark, yet the gun he claimed to have seen in Mark’s hand simply “disappeared”.


Compared to this, the scale of the state’s response to the riots was staggering. Within six months of the riots taking place 1,804 rioters had been brought before courts.

The police and state had got a kicking—now they were taking revenge. Unprecedented steps were taken to rush through as many cases as possible.

Magistrates’ courts sat through the night to hear cases. Many were passed to Crown Courts which had the ability to pass harsher sentences.

Of these 1,804 defendants, just 327 were found not guilty or told that no further action would be taken against them.

Many people had pleaded guilty because they expected they would receive lighter sentences.

One 17 year old with no prior contact with the police was handed an 18-month custodial sentence for taking two bottles of wine and a T-shirt. The custodial sentences handed down amounted to more than 1,200 years in total.

One of the rioters in London said, “Everything the police have done to us, did to us, was in our heads.

“That’s what gave everyone their adrenaline to want to fight the police. It was because of the way they treated us.”

Five years after Mark Duggan's death - cops still have questions to answer

Police killed Mark Duggan in Tottenham, north London, five years ago on this Thursday.

But Mark’s family are still fighting for justice from the police and the supposedly neutral IPCC watchdog.

They both have serious questions to answer about their conduct, on the day and before and after the shooting.

On 4 August Mark was in the passenger seat of a minicab, which the police stopped on Ferry Lane in Tottenham.

Earlier that day, the cab had driven to an address in Leyton, east London, where Kevin Hutchinson-Foster had given Mark a shoebox. Police claim that this shoebox contained a handgun.

The DNA of Hutchinson-Foster and another man, Peter Osadbey, was found on the gun after testing. Mark’s wasn’t.

Hutchinson-Foster attacked Osadbey with the gun on 29 July. When questioned, he said that the gun was not in the shoebox he handed to Mark.

The officer who shot Mark in the arm and chest, codenamed V53, claimed that Mark had a gun in his hand. He told the inquest into Mark’s death that this was the reason he shot him.

However, no independent witnesses reported seeing a gun and the jury at the inquest concluded that Mark was not holding a gun when shot.

Witness B said Mark was holding a Blackberry phone.

The gun, which police claimed Mark was holding, was found on grass over four metres from where he was shot.


The IPCC report concluded that “the most plausible explanation” for the gun’s location is that Mark threw it there. But V53 said the gun “just disappeared” and no other officer saw the gun travelling through the air.

Footage captures a sequence of events that puts doubt on the police account. It shows officer Q63 ducking by the door of the car—out of view for 12 seconds—near where the shoebox was found.

He emerges and talks to officer V59, and officer R31 who then disappears from view and goes to the grassed area.

Shortly afterwards V59 gives newly arrived armed response officers instruction. They then go to the grass where the gun was marked to have been found.

But this was 34 seconds before officer Z51, who officially located the gun, reported its location.

The IPCC said there was “nothing suspicious” that both R31 and Z51 found the gun.

But its report admitted that there was no trace of Mark on the gun, and Mark was right handed and had sustained a heavy wound on his right biceps.

So how did the gun get there?

There are also questions about the police conduct in the days leading up to the killing.

Officers for Operation Trident, the Metropolitan Police’s firearms squad, knew of the alleged plan to hand over a gun the day before the event.

Why did they not intervene beforehand? Mark’s family need answers—but neither the Met nor the IPCC are willing to give them.

Tottenham Remembers - 3pm, Sat 6 August, Willan Road, Broadwater Farm, London N17

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