Tim Godwin challenges Kenneth Clarke's description of people involved in last month's riots.
Tim Godwin has challenged the justice secretary’s description of those blamed for England’s riots as a 'feral underclass'.
Britain's most senior police officer has challenged the justice secretary's description of those blamed for England's riots as a "feral underclass".
Tim Godwin, the acting commissioner for the Metropolitan police, said he would not have used Kenneth Clarke's term as he outlined his vision for the future of policing in the wake of the violence to the London assembly.
Writing in the Guardian on Monday, Clarke said the civil unrest over the summer had revealed an urgent need for penal reform to stop reoffending among "a feral underclass, cut off from the mainstream in everything but its materialism".
His comments came as figures revealed that almost 75% of those aged over 18 who were charged with offences committed during the riots had previous convictions.
Godwin – one of four candidates aspiring to be the Met's next commissioner – queried Clarke's choice of description when asked by Brian Coleman, a Conservative member of the London assembly, what he wanted politicians to do as a result of the riots.
He said: "The one thing that has struck me about the comments made by the justice secretary recently in the Guardian article was that he used a term – that I particularly would not use myself – about 'feral underclass'.
"The use of the term 'feral' in terms of youth and inner-city was first used, as I recall, in my service here in about 2000 following the death of Damilola Taylor.
"I think the fact that term is still being used in terms of young people in our inner city … is a great challenge to us as a city."
He added: "It's a term I would not personally use, but I think we do need to understand the level of fear of crime that actually encourages them to join gangs."
Godwin said the revelation that the vast majority of people involved in the summer riots had previous convictions had been a "wake-up call" for the criminal justice system.
He added that there has "got to be a big debate in London in terms of how we empower local communities" and called for "a wholesale change" in the way people first entering the criminal justice system are dealt with.
This should include developing a "cohesive plan", such as increasing local justice, which would see people coming forward from communities to sit as local JPs.
Godwin said: "Robust enforcement is key, but at the same time we need people to volunteer and come forward and work to make those communities better and to reduce the fear of crime – specifically among young people in inner cities."
He also told the assembly that police had not anticipated the scale of trouble that hit the capital across 22 boroughs last month, but said his force would do everything in its power to avoid a repeat of the disorder.
"In terms of the future, we will make sure that we over-egg the pudding in terms of numbers," he added.
Godwin told City Hall on Wednesday that morale at the Met was as strong as it ever had been. He also said next year's operation at the Olympics "will be better as a result of the experience we have had".
His comments came a day after he gave evidence to the home affairs select committee on the riots.
The panel of MPs heard that the rioting will cost the taxpayer more than £133m in policing and compensation for businesses hit by the violence.