UK police: Cops protected Olympics sites in riots

LONDON (AP) — British police revealed Tuesday they sent officers to protect major shopping centers and the 2012 Olympics sites after intercepting phone and social network messages saying they were targets for rioters.

Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens of London’s Metropolitan Police told a committee of lawmakers police sent extra officers to London’s Oxford Circus, two malls and the Olympic Park on Aug. 8 after seeing messages on Twitter and the BlackBerry devices of people who had been arrested for rioting.

Owens said “through Twitter and BBM there was intelligence that the Olympic site, Westfields (shopping malls) and Oxford Street were going to be targeted.”

“We were able to secure all those places and indeed there was no damage at any of them,” she said, according to London’s Evening Standard newspaper.

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London Mayor Boris Johnson visits a Police CCTV Investigation Unit in London Monday, that is gathering evidence of the London riots.

Police and politicians claim young criminals used Twitter and Blackberry’s simple and largely cost-free messaging service to coordinate looting sprees during the riots.

The government has said it will debate whether cell phone services could be disrupted or blackouts imposed on social networks during riots — proposals that have already been fiercely opposed by civil libertarians.

The acting chief of London’s police force, Tim Godwin, told Parliament’s home affairs committee that police had considered seeking approval to switch off such services, but decided against it. He said the legality of such action was “very questionable,” and social networks were a useful intelligence asset.

Police have arrested more than 3,000 people over riots that erupted Aug. 6 in north London and flared for four nights across the capital and other English cities.

A 16-year-old boy was ordered Tuesday to stand trial for the murder of a retiree attacked when he confronted rioters in London, as judges and prosecutors used tough punishment and name-and-shame tactics against hundreds of alleged participants in the mayhem.

The government said police would get better training and stronger powers to deal with a new and unpredictable era of street disturbances.

“We will make sure police have the powers they need,” said Home Secretary Theresa May — including, she suggested, the power to impose blanket curfews in troubled areas.

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