Jon Shute, Centre for Criminology & Criminal Justice, School of Law
Memories, like attention-spans, can be short, and it already seems a long time since the community of Pendleton in Salford, and Manchester City centre erupted into full-scale public disorder in August 2011. It is also difficult to recall the radically different nature of those riot sites only a few kilometres apart; the former associated with strong and longstanding anti-police sentiments; the latter being much more consumer goods focussed. Nearly 400 people were arrested, and 300 charged with riot-related offences; and the bill for policing, property damage and loss ran into millions of pounds. A disproportionate number of poor and (in the City centre) minority ethnic youth were arrested and given an unusually high proportion of unusually long prison sentences. A significant number of first time offenders were also dealt with harshly. The riots therefore raised a serious set of issues relating to legal and material inequality, and on the urban landscape in austerity-era Britain.
In this context, a proposal was submitted and accepted by cities@manchester to develop a major research proposal to investigate the consequences of the Greater Manchester (GM) riots. Bringing together colleagues from criminology, politics, psychology and environment, the project funded the employment of a Research Associate to research and develop innovative methodologies for the bid, and to liaise with research partners in GM Probation Trust and Manchester City Council. Over the course of 2012, we contributed to the literature on the riots (see Lightowlers & Shute in issue 106 of Radical Statistics), and made a range of local contacts including Dan Silver of the Social Action & Research Foundation (SARF), in Salford. In order to produce a richer, deeper level of qualitative data than available in the very limited published work on the GM disturbances we carried out several narrative interviews with convicted rioters, and worked with the Council to develop strategies for accessing this hard to reach population. The data arising from this work, together with more in-depth quantitative statistics is being written up as a major mixed methods piece for the British Journal of Criminology. An ESRC Research Grant proposal is also close to submission and will investigate the individual, community and systemic level consequences of the riots, hopefully starting in late 2013. This will explore, among other things, the possibly counterproductive effects of harsh sentencing, and will attempt to construct a comparison ‘snowball’ sample of people involved in the riots but not arrested and sentenced. In this way, we hope to move on from a media-driven agenda of quick-response research and simplistic causal reasoning to a fuller understanding of the lived experience and long-term trajectories of those involved in – and affected by – the disturbances.