UK government created conditions that led to Cardiff riots, says Mark Drakeford

UK government created conditions that led to Cardiff riots, says Mark Drakeford –

The Welsh first minister has accused the UK government of creating the poor social conditions that formed the backdrop to the Cardiff riots by systematically eroding community life, public services and citizens’ incomes.

Mark Drakeford, who represents the Ely area where the riots broke out on Monday night after the deaths of two teenage boys, said public services and people’s standards of living had declined there during 13 years of Conservative rule.

The first minister was a youth justice worker in Ely when the bread riots took place in 1991, and he said there were parallels between the two events. “It’s 13 years of the erosion, the systematic erosion, of the things that sustain community life,” he said. “You fray social fabric at your peril, and we see what happened on Monday.”

Drakeford, who was meeting community leaders in Ely on Friday, said he accepted that the Labour-led Welsh government and Cardiff council had questions to answer about how they were supporting the area. He hinted he believed the police may have made mistakes in their handling of the riots.

The disturbance followed the deaths of Kyrees Sullivan, 16, and Harvey Evans, 15, after the electric bike they were on was followed by a police van. Vehicles were set on fire and 15 police officers were injured, 12 of them needing hospital treatment.

On Friday night around a thousand people gathered for a vigil at the spot where the teenagers died. Mourners holding blue balloons and white T-shirts congregated around the floral tributes and messages, with dozens of blue and orange flares being lit.

Hundreds of blue balloons filled the sky in tribute to the teenagers and some fireworks were set off. Several people were in tears as the balloons were released and a moment of silence was held before the crowd broke out in applause.

Family members in attendance revealed that the electric bike ridden by the two teenagers was an early 16th birthday present.

Harvey’s aunt, Hayley Murphy, told the BBC that he had loved e-bikes and scooters, and the present had been bought for his birthday next month.

“His dad used to take him off road biking up the mountains every week since he was three years old,” she said.

Initially the South Wales police and crime commissioner, Alun Michael, said the riot on Monday had been started by false rumours that there had been a police chase.

It was only after the Guardian and other media organisations found CCTV footage showing the boys being followed that the police admitted this had happened, but they have still refused to apologise. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is investigating South Wales police’s actions.

Floral tributes left to Kyrees Sullivan and Harvey Evans in the Ely area of Cardiff.
Floral tributes left to Kyrees Sullivan and Harvey Evans in the Ely area of Cardiff. Photograph: Rod Minchin/PA

Drakeford told the Guardian that what had happened was “deeply, deeply distressing”. “First of all, and foremost, of course, for those young men who lost their lives and for their families, and their friends. It’s hard to imagine what they will be experiencing.

“But also I feel desperately sad for that wider community of Ely, which is full of absolutely decent hardworking people, who ask nothing more than to go about their lives peacefully. And for them the reputational damage that is done to the area by these sorts of events, it’s just a huge weight on their shoulders.”

He added, however, that the rioters needed to be accountable. “There are people whose own behaviours were absolutely indefensible,” he said. “They must be held accountable for it and there may have been some service failures on the night – we will learn about that when the independent investigation is concluded.”

Asked if his government should have been doing more for Ely, he said: “I think all layers of government and all aspects of government are right to look at themselves in the mirror and ask exactly that question. So we will certainly be doing that as a Welsh government.”

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