An academic from Birmingham has told how he mingled with rioters who brought chaos to the city’s streets in a bid to achieve a better understanding of the disorder.
Former Birmingham City University PhD student James Treadwell donned a hooded top and a scarf to blend in with the crowds which looted stores in the city centre and beyond in August.
He told a study of the causes of the riots that the young people involved felt they had nothing to lose and the trouble had nothing to do with ethnicity or poverty.
Mr Treadwell, from Druids Heath, is now a lecturer in criminology at the University of Leicester.
He said: “I saw what was happening so I put on a hooded top and a scarf and put 40 cigarettes in my back pocket.
“I wanted to go out and ask them why they were doing this.
“As far as I could tell it was nothing at all to do with race or the loss of Education Maintenance Allowance.
“David Cameron said fragments of society were sick but people can achieve anything they want. The reality for many of these young people is very different. They realised this was their outlet to consumerism. They know they cannot hack phones or fiddle expenses, but they can put a window through.”
The event at which Mr Treadwell spoke, Understanding the English Riots, brought together students, staff and academics at BCU’s campus in Perry Barr.
It was standing room only at Tuesday’s three-hour lecture, which was led by the university’s professor of criminology, Prof David Wilson. Speakers discussed welfare dependance, social exclusion, spending cuts, lack of fathers, racism, consumerism and opportunism.
There were also contributions from BCU PhD student Martin Glynn, who travelled to Baltimore in the US last year to study the impact of fatherlessness on anti-social behaviour.
He said every region had witnessed a cross section of race, class, age and gender but added that there had been an over-emphasis in the media on young black men.
Mr Glynn has been speaking to young people, parents and youth workers across Birmingham since the riots.
He added that academics and research centres should meet people in the community to discuss the unrest.
Mr Glynn said: “The social structure that governs the lives of young people needs to be examined and questioned.
“I have talked to many young people who cite losing their EMA, the impending student fees increase, and the erosion of employment opportunities, as creating a tipping point that required an outlet.”
BCU’s new visiting professor and investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre also spoke about his experiences in Manchester.
He showed a film he made for the BBC’s Newsnight programme two weeks after the riots.
He said: “Technology had a big part to play in the disturbances.
“It allowed total strangers to act in concert with each other like never before.”
There was also an insight into the disorder in London from Hackney-based youth worker Emeka Egbuona and head of psychology at BCU, Prof Craig Jackson.