Cardiff riots: what caused the violence in Ely last night?

Last night, riots broke out in Cardiff. It’s estimated that over 100 people gathered in the Ely area of the city, where cars were set alight and fireworks launched at police.

According to South Wales Police, two teenage boys tragically died in a crash in the area before the fighting broke out and before officers arrived, although the connection between the crash and the ensuing rioting remains unclear.

Here’s everything we know so far about the disorder in Cardiff last night.

Police officers say they faced “large-scale disorder” which began around 6pm near Snowden Road in Ely last night, after officers were called to the scene of a road traffic incident where two teenage boys had died. Several vehicles were set alight or smashed, property was damaged, and at least 12 officers were injured. Rubbish and wheelie bins were also set alight by rioters – many of whom were young people, with some wearing masks.

One member of the public was also attacked by rioters who thought he was an undercover officer, according to one of the senior officers at the scene. Eyewitnesses claim they saw a man shoved to the ground and kicked as he shouted: “I’m not a fed”.

Some of the disorder was livestreamed on YouTube and posted on social media, showing rioters throwing fireworks and other missiles at police officers. On Twitter, John Urquhartfounder of the UK Harmony Party and a witness to last night’s events, offered their own insights. “Lack of trust in policing and overemphasis on force by the police has made this more intense than it needed to be,” they tweeted, adding that they saw one officer “assaulting a teenager” by shoving them. “Community tensions with police here are complex, to understate enormously.”

Police, including mounted officers on horseback, were also seen outside Ely police station in the early hours of Tuesday morning, following suggestions that the station could be targeted by rioters.

Shortly before 3am on Tuesday, rioters moved down Highmead Road, followed by armoured police officers attempting to disperse them.

Rumours began circulating on social media which claimed that the two boys killed in the crash were being chased by police. South Wales Police have denied this, and stated that the collision had already occurred by the time officers arrived.

Alun Michael, South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, told BBC’s Radio 4 Today: “My understanding is that there was a road traffic accident involving two teenagers on an off-road bike or scooter and sadly they died. That’s an incident obviously that is being investigated in its own right.” According to Michael, the crash then sparked the ensuing disorder “for reasons that aren’t clear”.

“It would appear that there were rumours, and those rumours became rife, of a police chase, which wasn’t the case,” he said. “And I think it illustrates the speed with which rumours can run around with the activity that goes on on social media nowadays, and that events can get out of hand.”

Urquhart explained to WalesOnline that they believe a lack of communication from the police to the local community led to the disruption. “They did not communicate with the crowd, there was no attempt to communicate with the crowd and they showed nothing but disdain for the community and acted like we didn’t deserve to know what happened on our own doorstep,” they said. Speaking on Radio 5 Live, Urquhart added that in their view, the people who sparked the violence are “responsible for their own actions but the executive responsibilities were with the police”. They continued: “They were charged with protecting the public and I’m sorry, but they completely failed.”

Speaking to Dazed, Urquhart explains that “historic segregation” has led to a lot of local mistrust of state services, which they say “have often been violent to [working-class] communities that got segregated into these areas around the city in the 1970s and earlier.” To this day Ely remains one of the most deprived areas in Wales. Urquhart adds that while this deprivation is likely down to a lack of funding for proper public services, “people blame the community […] in truth, these people work far too hard at life to clean up their own community given preexisting obligations, just like almost everyone else.

“Because the area is grotty, the clothes are cheaper, the dress sense is different, the culture is more mingled and different to some other areas too, and the language a little altered as well, people often get a very incorrect impression of places like Ely and this deepens alienation, they continue. “So when the police come here, they are surly and expect trouble. And when the police arrive, the locals expect trouble from them.”

Council workers have been cleaning up the debris on Snowden Road. One burnt-out car is yet to be cleared away from the area.

South Wales Police have confirmed that arrests have been made, but did not reveal exactly how many people they had arrested. Assistant chief constable Mark Travis said: “First and foremost our thoughts are with families of the two boys who have died following the collision in Ely and with those affected by the disorder which followed.” He continued: “Our focus now is to fully investigate the circumstances of the collision and the appalling scenes that followed […] We shall be maintaining an enhanced police presence throughout the week and into the weekend.”

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