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‘We will not rest until we have caught everyone who took part’
Friday, 10 August 2012
TODAY marks a year since the riots swept across South London, leaving a trail of looted businesses, fires and damage costing millions of pounds.
The city’s police force struggled to contain the mobs, unprepared for the number of people who took the opportunity to steal from smashed up shops.
In the 12 months that followed, police sifted through thousands of hours of CCTV footage, arrested thousands of people and seen hundreds go to jail.
Operation Withern was launched by police to investigate the riots and is still in place, with officers continuing to hunt down those responsible.
Detective Sergeant Mark Gilchrist, one of the senior officers in the team’s southern hub said there is still a lot of work to be done.
He said: “We have had a great deal of success in bringing people to justice but the team is determined we won’t rest until we have caught all those who took part in the riots last year.
“Anyone who thinks they have got away with it should reconsider.
“I would say to anyone who was involved, we will get you so look at your conscience and hand yourself in.
“We said last year that it would take between 12 and 18 months to catch everyone.
“We are on course to do that but there is still a huge amount of work to do and we want to do it properly. So if it takes longer, so be it.
“We are also still recovering stolen property.”
The team moved from police stations across South-east London to work at a central hub in Marlowe House in Sidcup at the beginning of the year, and deals with incidents that took place in Lewisham, Southwark, Greenwich and Bromley.
DS Gilchrist says: “Having the team in one place has been very helpful. We’ve found a lot of the people involved didn’t respect borough boundaries and went from place to place over the course of a few hours.
“Multiple offending was common and we’ve found that single charges are the exception rather than the rule.
“Some we caught don’t even live in London.
“We’ve been as far north as Leeds and as far south as Southampton to catch those responsible.
“It was an unprecedented situation. One of the youngest was an 11-year-old boy and the oldest was in his 60s.
“A lot of people did just get caught up in it and many instances were opportunistic, but we do need to deal with those who took part robustly. “It was not acceptable behaviour.”
Since the riots, officers have looked at more than 50,000 hours of CCTV footage from South London alone and believe they have at least another 10,000 hours to view.
Across South-east London, there have been more than 1,000 arrests and 600 people have been charged.
The rioters have been sent to prison for a total of more than 250 years for offences ranging from burglary or incidents of violent disorder to handling stolen goods.
DS Gilchrist says CCTV was a crucial weapon in enabling police to identify the rioters.
Footage has been gathered from a variety of sources, including the British Transport Police, street CCTV and even from peoples’ smartphones and video footage posted on websites such as YouTube.
He said: “CCTV was an important tool and we had a great response from it, but we are also grateful to the public for all the information they have given us, including all the texts and calling Crimestoppers with names and addresses. It shows how appalled people were.”
DS Gilchrist said police already have pictures of 346 suspects and another 100 were released last week. He said: “These people are identifiable.
“The sad fact is though, there were many more people involved than we have CCTV images of.”
Anyone with information should call the Operation Withern team on 020 7230 4242 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
All content © of South London Press unless stated otherwise.
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