Guardian project finds more to riots than criminality

The Guardian will next week publish the results of a unique research project funded by the Open Society and Joseph Rowntree foundations looking into the causes of this summer’s English riots.

Reading the Riots has been a collaboration between The Guardian and the London School of Economics and involved interviewing hundreds of rioters in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Salford, Manchester and Nottingham.

Guardian special projects editor Paul Lewis has been leading the investigation and has been focused full-time on riot coverage since he went out on to the streets of Tottenham on 6 August to cover the unrest which followed the shooting of Mark Duggan.

Fellow Guardian staffer James Ball came up with the idea of approaching a university to carry out research on the causes of the riots after reading about a similar project carried out in the wake of the Detroit riots of 1967. Guardian journalist Matthew Taylor has also been working full-time on the project.

The Guardian and the LSE recruited 30 researchers who spent October interviewing rioters around the country. Some were found via court reports, though many of those who have been spoken to were not arrested and were found via local contacts. The Guardian also obtained special permission from the Ministry of Justice to interview prisoners.

In addition to the six-part series of reports which is set to run next week, The Guardian and LSE are hosting a “Reading the Riots” conference on 14 December when a more comprehensive report is set to be published.

Lewis told Press Gazette: “This was the biggest bout of social unrest in a generation – with five people dead and more than 4,000 arrested but there has been no government inquiry.”

He added: “It has been a real privilege to work on a project that breaks new ground in the sense that it’s received external funding from foundations who think that what we are doing is important and in that it was a collaboration with a university.”

While The Guardian does not want to reveal the results of its findings ahead of publication next week, Lewis said: “We did find that there was more to the story than just mindless criminality. That may be part of the picture but the full picture is far more complex and it’s good for us to be in a position where we can tackle that complexity.”

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