LONDON // Britain's prime minister mentioned a potential role for the army and a drive against gangs among tough proposals unveiled yesterday as parliament met in emergency session following four nights of rioting on England's streets.
After heavy policing and drenching rain had prevented further trouble overnight on Wednesday, David Cameron told MPs that the world had looked on "appalled" at the looting, arson and violence in English cities.
"We will not allow a culture of fear to exist on our streets," Mr Cameron said. "We will not let a violent few beat us."
He said that the police and intelligence services were looking at ways to stop social media and such services as BlackBerry Messenger being used to organise trouble.
He also said the government would look at new powers for the police, including setting curfews and giving them the authority to remove face masks and hoods from anyone suspected of criminality.
And, as police across the country embarked yesterday on raids at dozens of homes of suspected looters, Mr Cameron revealed that, while he did not want to put soldiers on the streets, ministers were looking at whether the army could take on some police tasks to free up more front line officers. "Nothing should be off the table. Every contingency is being looked at," he said.
"We need to show the world, which has looked on frankly appalled, that the perpetrators of the violence we have seen on our streets are not in any way representative of our country - nor of our young people. We need to show them that we will address our broken society, we will restore a sense of stronger sense of morality and responsibility. And a year away from the Olympics, we need to show them the Britain that doesn't destroy, but that builds; that doesn't give up but stands up; that doesn't look back, but always forwards."
More than 1,300 people, including about 900 in London, have now been arrested, mainly in connection with looting, and courts in the capital, Manchester and Birmingham sat throughout the night dealing with offenders.
However, Stephen Kavanagh, the deputy commissioner of London's police force, admitted yesterday that some of his officers who had been on the streets had voiced disappointment at the sentences, including fines, handed out so far.
Mr Cameron told MPs that tougher sentences were being looked at, adding that there was evidence of inner-city gangs being involved in the organisation of the trouble.
Mr Cameron told lawmakers that he would look to cities like Boston for inspiration, and mentioned former Los Angeles and New York police chief Bill Bratton as a person who could help offer advice.
He said he wanted to look at cities including Boston and Glasgow that had fought gangs "by engaging the police, the voluntary sector and local government". The prime minister added: "I want this to be a national priority."
Mr Cameron singled out for praise Tariq Jahan, who appealed for calm after his son and two friends were run down and killed by a black driver from Birmingham.
The three victims, including two brothers, were among a group of young men guarding shops from looters on Tuesday night in a mainly Muslim area of a city where tensions have historically been high between neighbouring Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities.
There was a heavy police presence in Birmingham again last night, including officers dispatched from police forces in Scotland, and almost 16,000 police - five times the normal number - in London.
One victim of the riots is the Spurs-Everton football match, due to be played on Saturday at Tottenham, where rioting first broke out last weekend and where arsonists destroyed shops and homes on Tottenham High Road, which has remained closed since.
Although all other English Premier League games are expected to go ahead on the opening weekend of the new season, a Tottenham Hotspur Football Club spokesman said its game was being postponed because of "safety concerns relating to the infrastructure of the High Road and access to the stadium caused by last Saturday's riots".
Meanwhile, more than 90,000 people have signed an online petition on a government website calling for anyone convicted of taking part in the riots to lose any state benefits, such as unemployment handouts, they receive. If more than 100,000 sign - and so many tried to do so yesterday that the "e-petition" website crashed - the proposition could end up being debated in parliament.
The Association of British Insurers said that it expected its member companies would face claims for more than £200 million (Dh1.1bn) from businesses and homes that had been damaged or looted.
It was also announced that MPs on the House of Commons home affairs committee had unanimously voted to undertake an inquiry into the causes of this week's disturbances.