BURNLEY’S top policeman has reflected on a decade of change and the challenges ahead 10 years after the town was blighted by major disturbances.
It was June 23rd, 2001, when riots erupted in the Duke Bar area of Burnley thrusting the town into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Chief Supt Clive Tattum spoke to the Express on the 10th anniversary of the disturbances and, while declaring that the chance of future disorder on that scale was slim, he did accept there were major challenges ahead, particularly considering the worsening economic situation the country finds itself in.
The senior officer was working in the Major Crime Unit at police headquarters in 2001, but his many years experience of working in Pennine Division means he is well-placed to comment on the unique circumstances that brought Burnley to the boil that awful summer.
Intense public scrutiny and research in the years following the disturbances found they were largely fuelled by criminal behaviour, which racist elements from both communities exploited to aggravate the situation.
Chief Supt Tattum said: “Whether it’s 10 years or 20 years since, the issue for me is whether improvements have been made subsequently and I think they have.
“When something of such magnitude happens we have to ask why, we have to learn and we have to improve. I mean society as a whole – the police, our partners and the community – and I think we have improved.
“There have been a plethora of initiatives enacted in the town which has seen cohesion groups set up and, from our perspective, a lot more neighbourhood policing.
“Partnership working was probably in its infancy then and mistakes were made. As police, we reacted to what we were faced with. Everything starts and ends in the neighbourhood. If that neighbourhood policing was in place then we might not have seen disturbances on such a scale.
“We have also since set up a hate crime unit which has won awards and we have a really good monitoring system for community tensions.”
While everyone in the town will agree that relations between the white and Asian communities have improved since 2001, the Burnley Express has reported several incidents of racist attacks in recent times. So does the senior officer feel that such disturbances could flare up in the future?
“I would hope not but we must not be complacent. The socio-economic situation in Burnley is again less than positive in terms of jobs and opportunities for young people. It is up to all agencies to engage with young people.
“As for racist incidents, there have been some and criminality will always be around, it would be unrealistic to expect to eradicate it completely. But the vast majority of people here are decent law-abiding citizens. There will always be a small, rogue element that can create a distorted view of the town.
“I think we’ve matured a lot as a society in terms of what is acceptable behaviour. There definitely is more integration between white and Asian people in Burnley – you can see it with your own eyes. There is still some prejudice, but it is unrecognisable from 10 years ago.”
Chief Supt Tattum said: “Looking to the future, I think it’s very unlikely we will see anything of the like again but we have to be aware that we are working in an ever constricting fiscal environment. There has been talk of police stations closing and that is the reality. However, there’s some fantastic work being done in the town and some fantastic people. There’s a resoluteness of people who live here to make it a better place and I think that has been achieved in the last 10 years.”