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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

The Last Round party on the circle line ends in mayhem

02 June, 2008
On the eve of a ban on drinking on London's public transport, police demonstrate that they're working within a system that can't handle public disorder effectively.
A party which was largely organised through social networking sites attracted thousands of people on Saturday night to the circle line on London's underground network to drink alcohol prior to a ban coming into force at midnight. The result was a large scale version of what happens in virtually every town in Britain on a Friday and Saturday night and was an inevitability. Britain is no stranger to public order problems and the sad array of fly-on-the-wall documentaries which follow the police on their duties around Britain show it in its true light. The police officers are smart, professional looking and equipped to the hilt with enough tackle to deal with almost any incident you could wish to throw at them. What they can't deal with however, are obnoxious, anti-social trouble makers who know exactly how far they can go without crossing the line and risking arrest.

On Saturday night, a number of trains were damaged resulting in them being withdrawn from service, a police vehicle was damaged, there were assaults on rail transport staff and police, widespread public disorder and violence and at least 6 underground railway stations were closed. To achieve that level of mayhem, there must have been hundreds of people committing arrestable offences so its somewhat surprising that the number of people actually put under lock and key was just 17.

When viewed as a response team as part of the emergency services, the British police are arguably the best in the world and will deal with any incident swiftly, effectively and with unprecedented levels of professionalism but when it comes to dealing with public order, they fall significantly behind other nations and it's a question of tolerance. Britain operates a system of rigid boundaries set by such statutes as the Police and Criminal Evidence act which gives hooligans and drunks a lot of leeway in terms of what they can do. Some countries operate at the other extreme with policies of zero tolerance which result in fear of the police and a lack of public freedom. Britain doesn't need either of these systems, it needs something which maintains public freedom and democracy but also offers public protection from aggressive and anti-social behaviour. That's not too much to ask, is it?

The party mayhem on London's tube at the weekend was an extremely serious incident which should be a call for action to come up with new ways of dealing with public order. However, to achieve anything meaningful requires a consolidated and co-operative approach which is an uphill struggle when instead of welcoming the alcohol ban on the network controlled by the people he represents, one Union leader made typically idiotic remarks such as holding the Mayor of London responsible for Saturday's incident. The current Mayor has only recently come to power and hopefully, he'll demonstrate the same kind of stamina and resistance to such idiocy as his predecessor so that London's council can make a real impact on public order in the capital.
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