Police need the resources to tackle firework hooligans - Sue Webber
There are many contributory factors to the breakdown of respect for community which a small minority seem to enjoy, and I meet so many wonderful young people that it would obviously be wrong to paint a whole generation with the same brush.
But the events of Bonfire Night demonstrated once again that there is a hardcore determined not just to challenge authority but who positively revel in making ordinary people feel uncomfortable in their own homes. Every weekend, the roar of off-road bikes reverberating around West Edinburgh signals that streets in some communities are unsafe.
The riot in Niddrie was only the most visible and shocking flashpoint, but outbreaks of anti-social behaviour across the city meant police and fire service resources were stretched to breaking point.
Leading up to Bonfire Night, there were reports of incidents in Southhouse and Sighthill, when fire crews were forced to call in police for protection while they extinguished blazes, and on November 5 itself there was also trouble in Gracemount.
Dispersal zones right across the city are a good idea if there are enough officers to impose them, but the police couldn’t be everywhere and even though they were well publicised, the evidence clearly shows the zones didn’t prove much of a deterrent.
In fact, the worst trouble took place at the same location as the unveiling of the police operation ─ Operation Crackle ─ by the SNP’s justice secretary Angela Constance and Labour councillor Lezley Cameron a week earlier, which strongly suggests the disturbance was not only well organised but designed to embarrass the authorities.
The adults apparently responsible for orchestrating the gangs of children to bombard the police with fireworks and petrol bombs must have thought it was Operation Cackle, but it was no joke for the officers injured in the attacks.
Trouble was not confined to the dispersal zones, and in Currie, local people who successfully prevented a large fire from being set near the railway, using wood stolen from the nearby Pentland Men’s Shed, had fireworks aimed at them, as well as being pelted with abuse.
Guy Fawkes night is now a firm fixture in the anti-social behaviour calendar and as those hell-bent on causing problems know police hands are full, it’s an ideal opportunity to commit other crimes, like the attempted theft of a trailer from the Currie scout hall.
Dealing with the abuse of fireworks themselves should be a priority, because heavy-duty rockets are easily available at the click of a mouse on the internet. A simple search for firework rockets led me immediately to a site selling a pack of 12 huge shells, for which you need a safe radius of 25 metres, for £225, reduced from £450. Buy now to save for next year’s insurrection…
A retired officer, Ian Moffat told me how much time he spent dealing with anti-social firework use and a ban on these devices is a prerequisite. November 5 is, as Ian said, an excuse to create mayhem, but giving the police the resources to deal with it will have benefits for us all, all year round.
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP