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Welsh police face backlash over deadly crash that sparked riots

Camera footage has disproven police claims that they were not involved in a tragic accident that killed two teenagers.

(CN) — Police in Wales are facing damning accusations of misleading the public Wednesday, amid the ongoing fallout from widespread rioting in the capital city of Cardiff earlier this week.

Rioting began in the suburb of Ely following the deaths of two teenage boys in a road traffic incident on Monday, with locals accusing police of having been in pursuit of the boys when they crashed. Police initially insisted they had not pursued the boys and had no presence in the immediate area at the time of the accident, dismissing the concerns of rioters as “misinformation.”

However, CCTV footage released Wednesday appears to show that police had been in pursuit of the boys, who were riding an electric bicycle, just prior to the incident. Kyrees Sullivan, 16, and Harvey Evans, 15, tragically lost their lives after a collision due to currently unknown circumstances just half a mile away from where the CCTV footage was captured.

Tension immediately developed in the aftermath of the accident between gathering local residents and an increasingly heavy police presence. Later that evening the tension spilled over into some of the worst rioting seen in Wales for decades, with cars set ablaze, explosive projectiles thrown and street battles for more than nine hours between mounted police and around 150 local youths.

Up to 11 police officers were hospitalized, according to South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael, who blamed the “large scale disorder” on false rumors being spread on social media about police involvement in the deaths.

The following day, Michael told the BBC that “there were also unfounded rumors of a police chase which was not the case and it just shows how, particularly with things going around on social media which may have very little connection with the truth, things can escalate very rapidly.”

But the newly released CCTV footage has sparked fresh anger in Cardiff over the police denials, and forced Michael to change his previous statement.

Now accepting police may have been in pursuit of the boys, Michael told the BBC on Wednesday, “I was assured there was not a police chase; there was not police chasing the individuals at the time of the accident. That there may have been something earlier is of course something that should be fully investigated. If there’s the possibility, then that possibility needs to be fully investigated.”

Police have since accepted that a police van was in pursuit of the boys less than a minute before the deadly collision. A local resident who witnessed the chase told reporters that “you could see the boys were panicking and trying to get away from the police. The boys were petrified.”

The suburb of Ely, on the outskirts of the Welsh capital city, is a low-density working class area consisting of local authority-built housing. Since deindustrialization in South Wales, unemployment in Ely has increased rapidly and the area has become associated with economic deprivation. Unemployment is double that elsewhere in the city, and 60% of children are eligible for free school meals – an indicator of low income and significantly higher than anywhere else in Wales.

In 1991, Ely was the location of widespread rioting after a dispute between local shop owners escalated into violence. Police lost control of the Cardiff suburb for four days, and were forced to set up “sterile areas” and turn non-locals away in order to restore order. As a result of the post-industrial deprivation and the legacy of the 1991 riots, Ely residents often complain about stigmatization against people from the area.

But the Cardiff suburb is also a proud and closely knit community, where local residents know each other well, look out for one another, and news spreads quickly. Ely residents have previously expressed frustration about heavy policing of the area due to its reputation, and allegedly excessive police handling of petty crimes. In this light, the latest riots brutally expose the poor relations and mistrust between many members of the community and the police.

The apparent contradiction between the police account of Monday’s events and CCTV footage has further fueled mistrust and piled pressure onto South Wales Police for information and accountability, with some calling for Michael to resign. However, the police commissioner was defended by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford on Wednesday evening, who said that demands for his resignation were trivializing a tragic event.

“I’m very determined not to turn anything that happened in Ely into a political football involving individuals,” Drakeford said.

In a press conference following the CCTV footage release, Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Bacon denied that police had lied about the incident, instead claiming that events unfolded in an “unclear” manner. Attempting to calm community anger, Bacon said, “I’m here today to talk to the communities of Ely to let them know that we absolutely understand their concerns, that we’re listening to their worries about the accuracy of what we’ve said.”

The actions of South Wales Police are now under investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

Tributes to Sullivan and Evans have poured in from people throughout Ely, saying the two best friends were caring, funny and sociable teenagers who were inseparable and widely popular in the local community.

“Two beautiful boys lost their lives," Evans’ godmother Bridy Bool told reporters Wednesday. "They were loved by so many people. They grew up together from when they were babies, they ate, slept, breathed together. They say we are a deprived community but we have the same blood running through our veins. We stick together.”

Categories:Civil Rights, Government, International

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