Prime minister condemns students who tried to ransack Conservative HQ and criticises policing of riot
David Cameron vowed today that he would not turn back on trebling tuition fees and condemned the students who tried to ransack Conservative headquarters yesterday, saying the full force of the law should be used to prosecute violent protesters.
In a round of interviews in Seoul, where he is attending the G20 summit, Cameron said: "We won't go back. Look, even if we wanted to, we shouldn't go back to the idea that university is free."
He also urged the police to learn lessons from yesterday's riot, saying there were 30,000 police officers in London yet only a thin blue line of extremely brave police officers was available to "to hold back a bunch of people intent on violence and destruction".
He also insisted he had a mandate to push through the reforms to higher education, saying: "I think the will of the public was expressed at the time of the election when they rejected debt and deficit and putting off these difficult decisions under Labour, and they chose a new approach and we've got to be true to that and stick to that".
He said he was very glad the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, had called for an inquiry into the policing of the event, saying: "I think we need to learn the lessons rapidly." He said there had not been remotely enough police officers, adding that there may have been failures of intelligence.
"I think the police themselves have said that the problem here was about the planning, was about the intelligence, was about the resourcing of that particular operation."
But he added: "I am quite convinced that the reductions in police spending that we're making can actually be done without losing the visibility and the activity of the police officers on our streets."
The Metropolitan police said 51 people were arrested as a result of yesterday's disorder. A spokesman said it was not known if anyone had been charged or how many remained in custody at police stations across central London. A City of Westminster magistrate's court spokesman told the Press Association news agency that no one was listed to appear today to face charges linked to the violence.
Cameron disclosed he had been on the phone from Seoul to Conservative HQ in Millbank yesterday to check staff were safe.
He said: "I thought it was extremely serious. I could see a line – a thin blue line – of extremely brave police officers trying to hold back a bunch of people who were intent on violence and destruction."
He also denied that the violence represented a return to the kinds of riots seen in the 80s under Margaret Thatcher.
Asked if he feared the British social fabric was under threat, he said: "There have been protests – both peaceful protests and sometimes protests that have turned quite nasty – under all governments so I don't see it like that.
"Look, people who assault police officers or who smash windows or who break property they are breaking the law and, yes, those people I hope that they will be prosecuted. They should be."
He added: "Lawbreaking is not acceptable and I hope that the full force of the law will be used."