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Don’t blame teens for riots, says Haverstock Secondary School head

Principal from school closest to disorder speaks out

Published: September 15, 2011

THE headteacher of the school closest to the scene of rioting in Chalk Farm has insisted that  teenagers should not take all the blame for the disorder.

John Dowd, head of Haverstock Secondary School at the bottom of Haverstock Hill, told Monday’s full meeting of Camden Council: “The information we had at the school was that less than 25 per cent of those involved were under the age of 19 – so a significant majority were not young people. They were adults.”

Mr Dowd was among speakers at a special meeting before all the borough’s councillors in the council chamber aimed at bringing the community together to talk about the causes of the riots and what Camden’s response should be. It followed a series of debates at “community summits”.

Shops were looted and police attacked during seven hours of disorder on August 8.

But Mr Dowd warned against rushing to respond to the trouble with instant policies.

“There are clearly deep-rooted issues over the way people feel that need to be addressed,” he said.

“As a headteacher at a school right in the heart of where the riots took place, I’ve got experience where there are  very positive relations between the school, young people and the police.

“It won’t be solved by stop and search. Stop and search has a particular remit within the range of policing methods. While that is an issue and certainly I have sympathy with the young people who are frequently stopped, there is a lot of proactive work we should be looking to develop. Schools have an opportunity to be a focus for community cohesion.”

Although several teenagers and young adults from King’s Cross attended the meeting – including one boy who showed a “fan” of stop and search tickets from the public gallery – Mr Dowd said there could be more interest in debate among youths if they were held in schools.

Eleanor Botwright, who runs the Castlehaven Community Centre in Camden Town, said: “It’s not a crime to be a teenager. We need to get back close to them and teach them some kind of aspiration, something in their life they have got to aim for. That isn’t reduced services.

“They watch on the media bankers getting away with millions, MPs involved in political corruption and people with no other skill than being able to sing or kick a football making a fortune – while they’ve got no hope.”

She added: “We need to look at other ways to make teenagers feel they are part of society.”

Councillors have already expressed concern that too much of the riots debate has been based on an assumption  it was carried out by teenagers.

They were warned at the meeting to avoid terms such as “feral” in describing Camden’s youth and repeatedly reminded that the maj­ority of school age teenagers were at home on the night of the riots.

The council will now hold a “youth summit” at the Town Hall in response to the riots on September 24.


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