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Who should be held accountable for social unrest?

The recent riots in cities across the UK were both harrowing to watch and, at the same time, 'must-see' television. It was a series of events I found shocking and fascinating in equal measure.

On the face of it, when the disturbances started, it appeared that the police presence was thin on the ground. People were going about the business of looting shops as though they were out for a Saturday shopping spree - the only difference was that it occurred after nightfall.

The sight of a 150-year-old family business burning to the ground in Croydon while the owners - two brothers - were interviewed, was without doubt a dreadful outpouring of raw emotion. One brother told the interviewer that he had been alerted to the fact that the alarms had gone off in the shop; and on driving past the store, presumably to park and find out why his shop had been broken into, he saw two people leaving and calmly walking away. Seconds later the store was engulfed in fire. It was not only the end of an era but also the end to local people's livelihoods. The helicopter that hovered over the store seemed to be the only 'vehicle' for miles around.

Had I not known that the scenes rolling out across the nation's televisions were live, I could quite easily have believed they were from a film. However, the aftermath to all of this is just as harrowing. Lives have been blown apart, not only for the people who carried out the looting but also for their families. One brave mother saw her daughter on the news coming out of a shop after a looting frenzy. She then informed the police, resulting in her daughter's arrest and ultimate prosecution.

It would be very easy to criticise in circumstances such as this. The news reporters were discussing people who were 'outside of society', in some way making them observers of their environment as opposed to participants in their surroundings. The awful irony of this situation is that many were not 'outsiders' but teachers, graduates, trainee lawyers and an Olympic ambassador whose mum had seen her on the television. It was argued that children should be under the control of parents, with parents themselves saying that this has been made almost impossible in recent years with their powers being taken away piece by piece. However, the mother of this young girl was as distraught over her daughter's situation as anyone would be in similar circumstances. She did not appear to be a mother who cared little for her daughter. It is clear that her daughter must have achieved something in her young life to be given the status of Olympic Ambassador, and this may have been due, in part, to her parents' input into her life. So the question remains, what makes anybody - but especially a young woman with potential and achievements under her belt - join in with mass looting?

The events in London, Manchester, Bristol and Gloucester will have repercussions for many years to come. We find ourselves now in a situation where courts are running 24 hours a day, seven days a week trying to sort out people who have been arrested and charged with crimes, from pubic order offences to murder and everything in between. Unfortunately, I fear that the organisers of such massive criminal activity will never be brought to justice; but it is certain that the society in which we all live has changed forever.