Cameron: Riot-hit UK must reverse 'moral collapse'
LONDON (AP) — Britain must confront a culture of laziness, irresponsibility and selfishness which fueled four days of riots that left five dead, thousands facing criminal charges and hundreds of millions of pounds (dollars) of damage, Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged Monday.
As rival political leaders staked out their response to England's unrest, Cameron pledged to deliver a raft of new policies by October aimed at reversing the "slow-motion moral collapse" which he blames for fostering the disorder.
"This has been a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face," Cameron told an audience at a youth center in Witney, his Parliamentary district in southern England.
"Just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated."
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said Monday that he was already examining whether those involved in the riots should have their welfare payments cut, while London mayor Boris Johnson said young people convicted over the disorder would lose their right to use public transport for free.
Cameron pledged to end a culture of timidity in discussing family breakdown or poor parenting, or in criticizing those who fail to set a good example to their children or community.
"We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong," Cameron said. "We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said, about everything from marriage to welfare to common courtesy."
In a rival speech, main opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband criticized Cameron's response as overly simplistic, and demanded that lawmakers focus on delivering better opportunities for disaffected young people.
"The usual politicians' instinct — announce a raft of new legislation, appoint a new adviser, wheel out your old prejudices and shallow answers — will not meet the public's demand," said Miliband.
He spoke at his former high school in Camden, north London, half a block from the scene of intense rioting Aug. 8, when shops were trashed and police came under attack.
"Are issues like education and skills, youth services, youth unemployment important for diverting people away from gangs, criminality, the wrong path? Yes, they matter," Miliband said.
The differing approaches to Britain's most serious riots in a generation are likely to dominate the country's annual political conventions, which begin next month. Miliband has called for a full public inquiry into the roots of the riots, while Cameron insists his government is able to adequately examine the issue.
Cameron insists that racial tensions, poverty and the government's austerity program — much of which is yet to bite — were not the primary motivations for the riots across London and other major cities.
Instead, Cameron pointed to gang-related crime, and a widespread failure from Britain's leaders to address deep rooted social issues — including through the country's generous welfare system.
"Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged — sometimes even incentivized — by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally demoralized," Cameron said.
He pledged that the government would intervene to help 120,000 of the country's most troubled families before the 2015 national election.
Standing before a backdrop of graffiti, Cameron said Britain's damaged society had for too long been one which "incites laziness, that excuses bad behavior, that erodes self-discipline, that discourages hard work."
Both he and Miliband agreed that, following recklessness by bankers, the lawmakers' expense check scandal, and media phone hacking saga, all sectors of society had a share of the blame.
"Moral decline and bad behavior is not limited to a few of the poorest parts of our society. In the highest offices, the plushest boardrooms, the most influential jobs, we need to think about the example we are setting," Cameron said.
Young people who watched Cameron make his speech appeared unimpressed with his plans.
"He should stop blaming it on everyone else, he should stop living in la-la land," said 17-year-old Jake Parkinson. "If he was doing his job right, this wouldn't be happening."
As police continued to hunt those involved in last week's riots, detectives said they had uncovered a cache of weapons and hidden loot buried in flower beds in Camden. Knives, a hammer, metal bars and two cash registers from a looted cycle store were found after officers combed the area with metal detectors.
A-33-year-old man, Gordon Edward Thompson, was remanded into custody at Croydon Magistrates Court charged with setting fire to a department store that had been in business since 1867 and run by five generations of the same family.
Cameron spoke with the store owner Maurice Reeves, and said Monday he had described "a hundred years of hard work, burned to the ground in a few hours."
In Birmingham, where hundreds of Asian, black and white locals held a peace rally on Sunday, two men and a teenage boy appeared in court Monday charged with murdering three Pakistani men run over and killed during last week's riots.
Haroon Jahan, 20, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, died Wednesday after a car struck them at high speed as they guarded shops in west Birmingham, 120 miles (190 kilometers) northwest of London.
The attack raised fears of gang warfare between the area's South Asian and Caribbean gangs because residents identified the car-borne assailants as black. But public appeals for no retaliation, particularly from one victim's father, Tariq Jahan, have helped keep passions at bay.
England's gang-fueled rioting began in London Aug. 6 and spread to several other English cities. Police were criticized for responding too slowly, particularly in London, but eventually deployed huge numbers of officers at riot zones to quell the mayhem.
The Association of British Insurers has estimated the cost from wrecked and stolen property at 200 million pounds ($326 million) but expects the total to rise.
Police were on Monday questioning two men over the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old man during riots in Croydon, south London. Officers were also interviewing a 16-year-old boy arrested Sunday night on suspicion of fatally beating a 68-year-old man who had tried to put out a fire set by rioters in Ealing, west London.
Across the country, about 1,400 people have been charged so far with riot-related offenses and thousands have been arrested. Several courts opened Sunday for the first time in modern history to try to reduce the backlog of cases.
London's police said in the capital alone, a total of 1,593 people had been arrested and 926 charged with offenses.
Jill Lawless contributed to this report.