2011 London Riots reach their last Act

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2016 by kmflett

2011 London Riots reach their last Act


Sony Warehouse fire 2011

The London riots of August 2011 reached their last act on 20th April when Supreme Court judges ruled in favour of London Mayor Boris Johnson in an action originally brought by a number of insurance firms.

The insurance firms had sought compensation for the 2011 riot to be paid by the Metropolitan Police (whose paymaster the London Mayor is) contending that claims had arisen as a result of ‘damage by riot’ as defined by the 1886 Riot Damages Act.

The particular claim the insurance companies had in mind related to a Sony Warehouse in Enfield which went up in smoke and was destroyed along with valuable stock in the days after the initial riot in Tottenham. It must be said in passing that it doesn’t, and did not at the time, seem entirely clear that the fire was riot related. However it very probably was as the days after the riot in Tottenham saw several fires raised in the area.

That was perhaps an issue in the Supreme Court judgement.

In the original judgement Mr Justice Flaux had found that the damages at the Sony Warehouse had arisen as a result of ‘persons riotously and tumultuously assembled’.The reference to tumultuous by the way is a nod by the judge to the 1661 Tumultuous Petitioning Act. The law believes riots to be tumultuous and it may have a point.

Anyway the original judgement meant that the police had to cough up, except that consequential losses such as those for future rent and profit (in this case of the Sony Warehouse) were not covered.

The insurers appealed this ‘extent of liability’ ruling in the Court of Appeal and won.

The Supreme Court judges (the final court of appeal) over-turned the Appeal decision and decided that the 1886 Act does not cover consequential losses.

In the original hearing Justice Flaux had noted that the insurers claimed that losses were above £60 million and this included £11.4 million for lost rent and profit.

The matter may be of interest in itself- certainly to historians of riots- and also I suspect to others who may have unresolved claims against the Met for the 2011 riots.

The wider interest is in what it tells about how official society and the law sees riots.

The Riot Act which was famously read to a rioting crowd reminding them to disperse (or else) was repealed in 1973, largely because there had been comparatively few riots in recent decades. The election of the Thatcher Government in 1979 quickly changed that, but riot in future and now is dealt with under general criminal law.

That is with the exception, as above, for damages caused by riot, which still come under the 1886 Act. Cars did not exist in 1886 so if you have the misfortune to have your car damaged or destroyed during a riot don’t bother to claim. You are not covered.

Keith Flett is the Editor of A History of Riots (CSP 2015)

The report of 20th April 2016 judgment appeared in the London Evening Standard (Tristan Kirk, Courts Reporter)






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