David Cameron insisted today that police and politicians had worked together to tackle the ugly riots that swept across England.
The Prime Minister spoke out after senior police officers, angered by criticism from politicians, stressed that it was their decision to change tactics and increase officer numbers that restored calm to the streets.
Speaking on a visit to a fire station in riot-hit Salford, Mr Cameron said: “Clearly there was a need for more on the street, there was a need to change tactics.
“And I think it’s right that police took those decisions and changed those tactics, and increased the number of police officers.
“Where I think the Government and the police worked well together was through the Cobra emergency planning committee.
“What I think that does is it helps the police by showing that there was political backing for the changes they wanted to make.”
Scotland Yard faced criticism over its initial handing of the rioting, which broke out in Tottenham, north London, on Saturday, and spread across the capital over the next two nights.
Mr Cameron told the Commons yesterday that “far too few” officers were deployed when the trouble first started and said police initially treated the violence “too much as a public order issue” rather than as criminality.
In an apparent dig at senior figures, including the Prime Minister and Home Secretary Theresa May, who were on holiday when the trouble erupted, Metropolitan Police Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin earlier said criticism of the policing operation was being made by people “who weren’t there”.
Asked whether he was receiving the full backing of the Home Secretary, Mr Godwin said he was receiving support “from a lot of quarters”.
He told reporters: “We were able to nip this in the bud after a few days. I think the issue around the numbers, the issue around the tactics – they are all police decisions and they are all made by my police commanders and myself.”
Referring to political intervention, Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said: “Let’s be very clear on one thing – a vital distinction between police and politics remains.
“The police service will make the tactical decisions and quite rightly and robustly we should and must be held to account. If not the system fails.”
Mr Cameron insisted today that he had not questioned the bravery of the police officers who faced down the rioters.
“They were brave on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. They are brave every day of every year when they put their lives on the line for us. I have huge respect for our police,” he said.
“But clearly we needed to act this week to get control of the streets, to get them back for the law-abiding. The police did that, they did change their tactics, they did increase police numbers, that was the right thing to do.
“And through Cobra they had the political support of the Government, the Prime Minister and the whole of Parliament to get on and do that.”
Speaking after a meeting with officers at Canning Circus Police Station in Nottingham, which was pelted with firebombs by a group on Tuesday night, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Mr Cameron's comments were simply a reflection of what police have already said.
He told reporters: “The police themselves have acknowledged – as the prime minister described in his statement yesterday in the House of Commons – of course they were taken by surprise, of course events moved very, very fast and of course lessons should be learned, and that is something we should all do together.
“I have seen police officers, senior police officers, the Prime Minister, myself and the Home Secretary working effectively together in Cobra and in meetings in Whitehall over the last seven days.”
Mr Clegg also said that police were entirely correct to say they were operationally independent and it was not the role of politicians to interfere.
“They are operationally in charge. That is what British policing is about and it’s what it always will be about,” he said.
Police remained out in force in the capital and other riot-hit cities overnight but there were no major incidents reported.
In London alone, 1,103 people have been arrested and 654 suspects charged. Hundreds more arrests have been made by other forces, including West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Nottinghamshire police.
Officers and politicians held another day of talks after the death toll from the violent disorder that swept across England rose to five.
Police arrested a 22-year-old man on suspicion of murder after 68-year-old Richard Bowes died in hospital after being attacked by rioters as he attempted to stamp out a fire.
Mr Bowes, who was left in a coma when he was set upon by a mob in Ealing, west London, during Monday’s disorder, died late last night.
His death follows those of three friends who were run down by a car as they attempted to protect their community from looters in Birmingham, and the murder of a 26-year-old father of four who was shot during disorder in Croydon.