August 16 – The Olympic Park was one of the main targets for rioters in London last week but the Metropolitan Police were able to prevent an attack because of intelligence they picked-up on social networking sites like Twitter, senior officials told the House of Commons today.
The Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens told the Home Affairs Committee that rioters in Hackney, one of the five Olympic Host Boroughs, had planned to storm the Olympic Park and Westfield Straford City, which is adjacent to the facilities being built for London 2012 and is due to officially open next month.
Westfield is also due to be the headquarters for several teams and sponsors during the Games, including Team GB.
But information about possible attacks was picked up via Twitter and BlackBerry messenger (BBM) Owens said, while Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin said he had considered asking authorities to switch off social networks.
“Through Twitter and BBM there was intelligence that the Olympic site, that both Westfields [shopping centres] and Oxford Street were indeed going to be targeted,” Ownes told the Committee at a special hearing.
“We were able to secure all those places and indeed there was no damage at any of them.
“We were able to respond because of our monitoring of Twitter and BBM.”
Much of the looting and rioting was allegedly coordinated via social media, particularly through BBM service, leading to demands that police have powers to shut them down during crisis.
Godwin said the police considered trying to shut the networks down in order to prevent them being used to organise further violence.
But doubts over whether the Police had the powers to do that meant it did not happen and, in the end, helped assist their coordination in trying to quell the trouble.
“We did contemplate, I contemplated, asking the authorities to switch it off,” Godwin told the Committee.
“The legality of that is very questionable and additionally, it is also a very useful intelligence asset.”
Earlier this year the Olympic countdown clock in Trafalgar Square became a target for protestors who were demonstrating against Government cuts.
An estimated group of 300 tried to take it down but were prevented by the Metropolitan Police who formed a cordon around it.
Police have arrested more than 3,000 people over the riots that erupted August 6 in North London and flared for four nights across the capital and other English cities.
The mass rioting coincided with representatives from more than 200 National Olympic Committees visiting London for a Chef de Missions meeting to discuss preparations for next year’s Games.
“While there can be no doubt that the images of violence were damaging, in some ways, it underscores why events such as the Olympic Games are so vitally important in our world today,” said Andy Hunt, the chief executive of the British Olympic Association and the Chef de Mission for Team GB.
“A year from now, London will be the city where the world comes together in a spirit of friendship, peace, understanding and human excellence.”
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