London riots: Rash language and greater police powers risk stoking violence, says Holloway expert

A psychologist at a Holloway university has attacked rash language used to label rioters – saying it could feed into further violence.

Dr Christopher Cocking, a crowd psychologist at London Metropolitan University, in Holloway Road, blasted the use of tags such as “mindless thugs” and “feral rats” to describe looters.

He said these descriptions risk alienating “the very people who need to re-connect with society” if disorder is to be prevented in the future.

He also called for more understanding of the social causes of the chaos.

He said: “Thirty years of research by psychologists into a variety of public order situations have found that riots always happen in a social context.

“To an outside observer, trashing and looting shops may seem like ‘mindless’ behaviours, but to young unemployed people, taking goods that they can not normally afford may seem like quite meaningful behaviour.

“Even behaviours such as trashing local charity shops may seem acceptable to those who feel no sense of connection with their local community.”

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The academic also warned giving police greater powers to crack down on rioters risks stoking up more trouble, saying: “Demands to give the police greater powers and/or weaponry to deal with the disorder merely reflect a misunderstanding of the issues involved in public order policing.

“Such tactics only tend to be effective in dispersing large static crowds, and would be largely ineffective against small groups of looters. Evidence from Northern Ireland has shown that such tactics usually escalate public order situations and make further confrontations likely.”