Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Thursday, 25 August 2011 16:05 UK

Rioters revel in thrill of seizing Manchester streets

These rioters say they have never felt an excitement like it

Donal MacIntyre
BBC Newsnight, Manchester

While glazier vans move in to repair riot-damaged shopping precincts and the reassuring hum of shoppers and commuters returns to city centres, some of the rioters not yet behind bars are celebrating their destructive victories.

Confident that their balaclavas and scarves will protect them from CCTV evidence and the early knock of a police arrest squad, they are reflecting on the events of four days of anarchy as a life defining moment - "something to tell the grandchildren about".

Every time I go into town I just think how the shops got smashed up in 2011 by all of us, I just laugh about it every time I go back in now
Manchester rioter

With enthusiasm and awe, they commemorate the lootings, attacks on the police and defiance of law and order as treasured memories.

Since the rioting and violent mayhem that enveloped parts of England, the airwaves have been populated by an eclectic mix of opinion formers pronouncing their views on the how and the why of the disorder, but few have heard directly from the rioters themselves.


Newsnight travelled to Manchester to meet some of those who tore shutters from shop windows, smashed up police cars, and brazenly walked past lines of riot police while carrying bags of loot.

"I will remember this," one of them told me. "Every time I go into town I just think how the shops got smashed up in 2011 by all of us, I just laugh about it every time I go back in now."

The three young, masked men I spoke to said they had never felt an excitement like it: "I was buzzing me, just smashing windows and police cars and stuff… a big massive buzz."

Rioters kicking shop window
Manchester's Arndale Centre was targeted by looters

They revealed the seductive thrill that overturning the normal rules of society gave them. For one night only they were in control of the streets in Manchester.

By sheer force of numbers and galvanised by lightning-fast social networks and Blackberry messenger, the rioters completely subverted the normal order of society and enjoyed every minute of it:

"The police were just rushing us, caught us down one street - tried blocking us in from all different sort of areas - there was too many of us," one described.

"We just ran at them and they had to move out of the way. If they didn't move out of the way the police would have been straight out on the floor."

Feeling of invincibility

Cody Lachey, an ex-Army veteran who has worked as a security officer at some of the shops that were looted, knows many of the rioters, and says that power was at the core of the "street insurrection".

Some were out and out thieves, some were angry at cuts, but overall it was an unprecedented challenge to authority
Cody Lachey, Manchester resident and friend of some rioters

"People were brazen. That night it was like everyone was invincible," he explained.

"There was complete lack of respect for authority. Some were out and out thieves, some were angry at cuts. But overall it was an unprecedented challenge to authority."

The scenes were ferocious. Even with over one thousand police officers on duty, parts of Manchester were lost to the rioters for nearly 12 hours.

I asked the looters if poverty was a motivating issue in their disorder.

"It was a main factor, you'll do anything to get more money, other people have money, why can't we?" one answered.

Driving factors

But of those I spoke to all were also keen to explain that they took full responsibility for their actions and were fully aware of right and wrong:

One who was in the middle of the mayhem on Tuesday 9 August 2011 told me: "It was my choice. It was my decision."

Riot police
The rioters Newsnight spoke say they enjoyed challenging the police

All seemed to collectively reject family background as a key driving force in their behaviour.

They claimed too that it was not organised in a targeted gangland sense, but much more loosely, with messages sent out via Blackberry Messaging, Bebo, Facebook and Twitter.

In the shops, though, it was every man for himself:

"I got a TV, enough money, jewellery, clothes and that was it. I decided to join in and get what I want," one explained.

He got a lift home in a car and sold all of his stolen goods that night.

His friend headed home with his looted gear on the bus.

"The bus driver never asked for a fare," he said.

Off camera these young men were well mannered, but clearly used to incursions with the law.

More than anything it seems they saw an opportunity to be in control, to direct events and take charge in a world where poverty and lack of opportunities leave them feeling rudderless and disenfranchised.

Watch Donal MacIntyre's film in which he talks to some of those at the heart of the Manchester riots on Newsnight on Thursday 25 August 2011 at 10.30pm on BBC Two, then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.

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