Halloween and Guy Fawkes anarchy stretches the emaciated blue line to breaking point
BBC Online: Leeds disorder on Bonfire Night
Whisper it softly and doubtless Home Secretary Amber Rudd and many police chiefs will do precisely that, the UK has just emerged from its most violent, anarchic period since the 2011 riots.
Whilst the occasional incident caught the attention of the national media, the sheer scale of the violence, vandalism and anti-social behaviour was ignored which, in actual fact, began on the weekend before Halloween itself; it was the start of a nine day period that appropriately resembled a zombie apocalypse across the country. Police referred to operations to counter violence as ‘Autumn Nights.’
Plymouth Herald journalist Carl Eve set the scene for what was to become a torrid time for police when he went out on patrol with Plymouth officers on ‘Halloween Saturday’, and the vivid yet sympathetic picture he painted was not a pretty one although doubtless replicated across the UK.
Sunday saw an attempted repeat of last year’s ride-out in the East London/Essex with reports of up to 300 lawless riders. In Romford pedestrians were sprayed with fire extinguishers, a police vehicle damaged while four arrests were made. In Essex another 11 arrests were made as the riders caused havoc across the county with reckless driving.
Merseyside was rocked two days later by what has become known as ‘Mischief Night.’ Gangs of youths across the force area went on the rampage as if the Halloween period gave them a licence to break the law. Bus windows, reportedly with passengers in adjacent seats, were smashed, cars overturned and damaged with numerous inevitable fireworks thrown as gangs roamed across the area.
It wasn’t just Merseyside that suffered from a frightening level of disorder. The town of Winsford in neighbouring Cheshire also had a torrid time on ‘Mischief Night’ while Cleveland police, with 200 extra officers on duty, dealt with a tidal wave of incidents across Teeside.
In Leicester on Halloween, police had more than 1,000 Halloween related incidents reported to them across the county. The relatively small South Yorkshire force in a six-hour period on November 4th had to attempt to deal with 583 incidents, mainly as a result of youth disorder.
Disorder and chaos stretched across the UK from the weekend before Halloween until 6th November. During this period other towns and villages in the most unlikely of locations saw their inhabitants wake up to find their vehicles vandalised as mayhem continued through Halloween right up until Guy Fawkes. Yately, in Hampshire, was but one example with a local paper reporting fifty vehicle crimes, some of which appear to have been committed by individuals armed with knives.
Police and firefighters attacked
One consistent aspect of ‘Autumn Nights’ was the frequency of attacks on police officers. Social media was full of such reports, in the main from officers who were targeted. Fireworks were thrown and rockets fired at officers on foot patrol or in their vehicles.
National papers did briefly sit up and take notice when police body worn camera’s in Merton, London saw a rocket narrowly miss smashing into the face of an officer. Police had been called to disorder in a local park.
In Camberwell, police reported on Twitter that they were ‘swarmed’ by 20 firework throwing youths. A passer-by who witnessed the incident praised the officer’s response. In Poplar officers came under attack by a gang of 40 youths; the horror of this sustained firework attack was captured on social media.
Police vehicles across the country suffered damage from fireworks and bricks and it wasn’t just the police who were targets. Firefighters too came under attack throughout the country as they responded to fires sometimes deliberately set. The Manchester Fire Service had an especially torrid time with frequent reports of attacks on firefighters.
In Exeter, Cardiff and Newport gangs of youths went on the rampage while Leeds saw firefighters attacked and riot police dealing with mobs of youths and burning barricades in the Hyde Park and Harehills areas.
BBC: Firefighters and police at Leeds disorder
In Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester police were attempting to deal with numerous outbreaks of disorder caused by gangs of youths when a police van containing just two officers was attacked by a 60-strong mob. Fireworks were thrown, the vehicles windows smashed and two officers were injured.
Serious disorder in Edinburgh
It was north of the border in Edinburgh where some of the most serious disorder took place. A Police Scotland Federation official stated that scenes were similar to those witnessed during the London riots with burnt out vehicles littering the streets.
A female officer struck by a firework was ‘seriously burnt’ while the Scottish Sun reported that senior officers refused to deploy officers in full riot gear causing anger amongst the ‘rank and file.’
A car burns on the streets of Edinburgh
Whilst the sheer volume of incidents are too great to be chronicled here, some defy belief. In Birmingham, a firework pushed through a letterbox resulted in the death of a man after his house caught fire while his girlfriend broke both her legs escaping. Two fireworks attached to a cat in Derbyshire resulted in a slow, agonising death for the unfortunate animal while in Broxbourne two girls were burnt when a firework was thrown into their car.
The police had some notable successes. Pre-emptive arrests in the West Midlands, Notting Hill Carnival style, prevented a ‘ride-out’ which caused chaos last year. Officers, perhaps fearing trouble, policed many ‘official’ organised displays which generally passed off without any incidents of hooliganism’ whilst amidst the chaos arrests were still made.
These incidents perhaps will be easily dismissed by Home Office officials as a seasonal blip but they are much more than that when set against a rising tide of stabbings, shootings, moped crime, acid attacks and other violent criminality including a massive terror threat. No-one in government, the establishment or the police hierarchy will admit it but something is going badly wrong in UK society at present.
Despite this, the finest police force in the world is rapidly being pushed back against a wall that is being dismantled by a government whose hostility to police, despite the occasional meaningless platitude, will baffle future historians.
Meanwhile, large sections of the populace will have witnessed and indeed been victims of this tidal wave of lawlessness that has just swept the UK. They will now be feeling much less secure and with good reason. Officers on the front line who performed courageously over this ‘Autumn Nights’ period know only too well that a repeat of the 2011 riots will see their already weakened thin blue line overwhelmed.
(Metropolitan Police 1978 to 2011)