LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron declared Monday that Britain faces a battle to find its moral compass following four days of riots that left five people dead, thousands facing charges for violence and theft, and at least 200 million pounds ($350 million) in property losses.
Cameron said senior ministers of his 2-year-old coalition government would spend the next few weeks formulating new policies designed to reverse what he described as a country being dragged down by many citizens’ laziness, irresponsibility and selfishness. He said “the responsible majority” was demanding that the government build “a stronger society.”
“This has been a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face,” Cameron said in his prepared remarks for a planned Monday morning speech. “Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations?”
He issued his call hours after several hundred residents of Birmingham, England’s second-largest city, rallied for peace and racial unity in memory of three Pakistani men run over and killed during last week’s riots there. Asian, black and white locals joined hand in hand with police officers during the ceremony.
Birmingham police also charged a third suspect with the murders of Haroon Jahan, 20, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31.
The three men died Wednesday after a car struck them at high speed as they stood guard outside a row of South Asian-owned shops in west Birmingham, 120 miles (190 kilometres) 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 to keep passions at bay.
Police said Adam King, 23, would be arraigned Monday at Birmingham Magistrates Court on three counts of murder. Two others — 26-year-old Joshua Donald and a 17-year-old whose name was withheld because of his age — were arraigned Sunday on the same charges.
Speaking at Sunday’s rally in a public park near the scene of the killings, Jahan told the crowd “that the three boys did not die in vain. They died for this community.” He and several other speakers stood beneath a banner that read “One City, One Voice for Peace.”
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 property and stolen property at 200 million pounds, based on submissions so far from insurance brokers, but expects the total to keep rising.
Police are still questioning two men over the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old man during riots in Croydon, south London. And police said Sunday night they arrested a 16-year-old boy 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.
Britain’s Justice Ministry says more than 1,200 people have been charged so far with riot-related offences. Several courts heard cases Sunday for the first time in modern history to try to reduce the backlog of cases. Two judges also worked full time Sunday in authorizing search warrants for police raiding homes of suspected rioters in a hunt to reclaim stolen goods.
Many of the rioters and looters in Sunday’s court sessions begged for leniency, claiming they didn’t really know what they were doing. Few received it.
“I know what I’ve done is stupid. I regret it so much and I will pay anything,” said Raymond Graham, a 30-year-old Croydon resident, who admits handling two stolen televisions and shuttling looted electronics in his car. He was refused bail.
Graham, who has five previous convictions including for drug dealing, said he wanted to sell the TVs to pay off debts. “My son’s 23 days old and I care for my grandmother. I will do anything. Please, please,” he testified.