Observations On the Contrary

Reading the riot acts

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7935 (Published 07 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7935
  1. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor, BMJ
  1. tdelamothe{at}bmj.com

Have we learnt all that we should have done about the August riots?

The furniture store ablaze in Croydon. The burnt-out shell of the Carpetright building in Tottenham. As you read this, picture editors are rounding up these photographs for their end of year spreads. But, four months on, do we have a clue what the riots were about?

At the time, we were counselled against interpretation. The riots weren’t about race: white people were involved. They weren’t about poverty: not all the rioters were poor. It was simple criminality, and the answer was exemplary custodial sentences, which the judiciary obligingly handed out, in double quick time.

Once the last cell door has slammed shut on the last rioter, the formal proceedings will be over. There are no results of a public inquiry to look forward to, because the government has refused to hold one (unlike, say, Lord Scarman’s inquiry into the Brixton riots of 1981). Into this vacuum has stepped the small Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, London.

The Tricycle has shot to prominence through its verbatim plays. These dramatise the transcripts of inquiries such as those into the death of David Kelly and the shootings of Bloody Sunday. Without transcripts to dramatise this time around, the Tricycle commissioned a play from Gillian Slovo, which she based on interviews with a wide range of players. The …

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