A police force left residents “in danger, at risk and unprotected” for a “protracted period” during a riot in which cars were set on fire and bricks were hurled at houses, leaving people fearing for their lives, an independent review has concluded.
The chief constable of South Wales police, Jeremy Vaughan, apologised that his force had failed to act quickly enough during the disturbance in Swansea and accepted residents had been “tormented” by the rioters.
The independent review of the Mayhill disturbance, which happened in May 2021, highlighted that scores of officers were in the area but stood by, rather than tackling the rioters. It also said that one officer in charge that night twice asked for extra police to be scrambled from other areas as backup but was refused.
It highlighted one example of a vulnerable person whose life was feared to be in danger. Officers with shields were deployed but withdrew for their own safety, leaving the person and others like him “lost”, the report said.
It concluded: “Significant failings are evident. Currently available evidence strongly suggests failings in command structures and decisions, operational decisions and tactics, and communications.”
There were 46 arrests over the disturbance and the charging decisions by the Crown Prosecution Service on 37 people allegedly involved are expected imminently.
Vaughan said: “I want to apologise to all those who have been affected by this incident and particularly those local residents who were tormented by those responsible. We failed to take action quickly enough on the night and for that I am truly sorry.”
The review, undertaken by a former senior police officer, an ex-council chief executive and a barrister, said the impact of Covid lockdowns may have been one of the catalysts for the disturbance.
It said: “The adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent lockdowns have been identified throughout our engagements: these include impact upon the public and communities, disproportionate impact on children and young people, on policing, on the council’s work and engagements and upon partnership working between agencies.”
But it added: “However, no one has suggested to us that Covid was the sole or primary cause of the events.”
It calls for investment in the area – one of the most deprived in Wales – such as safe spaces, community activity and youth engagement, adding: “Identifying, supporting, and nurturing community capacity to generate positive action in sport, community events, social activity, youth engagement, etc. is a significant challenge, but an essential one.”
But the role of the police is the main focus of the report. “There was a protracted period during which the residents of Waun Wen Road [the centre of the violence] were in danger, at risk and unprotected by the police,” it said.
“Some of the views shared with us include the following: ‘The police let us down’; ‘They failed to protect us’; ‘They weren’t there for us when we needed them’; and ‘We don’t understand why they didn’t do anything.’”
The report says that up to 60 officers were on the streets, including some equipped with Tasers and with dogs, and that residents could not understand why they did not intervene. It said: “We have been unable to identify a clear command structure either properly identified or working in practice.”
The panel expressed concern over why a request for reinforcements under the force’s Operation Scorpion plan was twice refused. “There appear to have been breakdowns in communications that night,” the report said.
Examining the buildup, the panel said police had told it a vehicle had been obtained in advance, with a view to using it in the trouble. There was also a car chase involving the police shortly beforehand.
Swansea council said it was investing in the area, such as improving facilities for young people. “We will be further boosting our youth services and facilities in this area as part of our ongoing investment in our young people,” a spokesperson said.