RIOT-HIT residents and businesses in Bristol will be offered help to get back on their feet, the Prime Minister has confirmed.
David Cameron pledged a package of support for homeowners and businesses who have seen their properties destroyed in the carnage, including £30 million of support on top of compensation due under the Riots Damages Act.
He was speaking as MPs returned to Westminster for an emergency session on the looting and violence that has spread across English cities from London.
Bristol’s MPs joined the debate, with Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams (Bristol West) saying badly-behaved footballers and celebrities were also to blame for setting a bad example.
Charlotte Leslie, Conservative MP for Bristol North West, said communities were “screaming” for tougher punishment for yobs.
And Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy said the “last thing” police needed was a costly elected commissioner.
She referred to a letter she had received on the eve of the debate from Peter Heffer, chairman of Avon and Somerset Police Authority, calling for a change in the Government’s planned police reforms.
In the letter, also sent to the Evening Post, Dr Heffer said he had “real concerns” about the disruption to policing, and feared the resignation of top officers as part of the shake-up.
Mr Cameron said he was not surprised that police authorities had not “done a good job of calling the police and police chiefs to account.”
Mr Williams said as well as criticising the rioters, an equally strong message had to be sent to those at the other end of the social scale. He said: “Whether they are bankers, TV celebrities or footballers, they have to get the message that their way of life has to set a good example.”
Meanwhile, the Government published details of the measures announced by Mr Cameron to help the recovery operation and prevent further trouble. They included giving the police power to order people to remove face masks “where there is reasonable suspicion that they are related to criminal activity”.
He also said water cannons were on standby and could be used at 24 hours’ notice, and said steps were being considered to ban those suspected of planning criminal acts from using social media. A new task force will look at how to tackle gang-related crime.
However, during three hours of answering MPs’ questions, he repeatedly fended off Labour demands to rethink planned cuts to police budgets, insisting they would not affect officer numbers on the streets.
Anyone who had suffered damage or loss had the right to seek compensation under the Riots Damages Act, Mr Cameron said, and the time limit for claims was extended from 14 to 42 days. The worst-hit buildings would also be exempt from council tax.
Support for councils will be in place, as well as a £10m support fund and a £20m ‘high street support scheme,’ he added.
He told MPs: “This is a time for our country to pull together.
“To the law abiding people who play by the rules, and who are the overwhelming majority in our country, I say: the fightback has begun, we will protect you, if you’ve had your livelihood and property damaged, we will compensate you. We are on your side.
“And to the lawless minority, the criminals who have taken what they can get, I say this: We will track you down, we will find you, we will charge you, we will punish you. You will pay for what you have done.”