7 APRIL 1990, Page 25

Purposeful mob violence

Sir: Together with my wife and two sons, I was in central London last Saturday even- ing. We were going to the theatre and were looking for a restaurant to have a meal beforehand. We walked up Shaftesbury Avenue and, approaching Cambridge Cir- cus, heard the sound of breaking glass. Naively, we assumed that there had been a vehicle collision. There was then the sound of more breaking glass and a deep, reson- ate, forceful chanting broke out — 'No Poll Tax! No Poll Tax!' Two men appeared round the corner from Charing Cross Road carrying a Keep Left bollard which they threw repeatedly against the window of a branch of Midland Bank until the glass broke and the bollard disappeared inside. Other men then threw a litter bin and rocks into the bank.

We could not go back, we had to go on. Reaching the kerb at the corner of Charing Cross Road, we saw that the road was filled with marching men holding a variety of impromptu weapons. They were not drunk, and they were certainly not mind- less. Those at the pavement side of the march were systematically smashing win- dows and shop fronts. Shards of plate glass were flying everywhere. Those in the middle were carrying more broken-off bollards, litter bins and traffic cones. With these they made a road block in the centre of Cambridge Circus, and, as soon as they had brought the traffic to a halt, climbed on to the bonnets of cars and leapt up and down. While some were leaping up and down on cars, others were smashing car windows. The men were utterly purposeful in their actions. Certainly, the road block idea must have been premeditated.

Is it unfair to lay at least some of the blame for these scenes at the door of the Labour Party? I think not. For perfectly legitimate electoral reasons they opened the Pandora's Box of opposition to the community charge. But at least Pandora, poor girl, tried to catch the evils and put them back in the Box when she realised what she had released. The Labour lead- ership has taken no steps at all to condemn those Labour MPs and, in particular, Tony Benn, who have lent respectability to civil disobedience. There has, of course, been routine puffing of condemnation of the violence by Roy Hattersley, but that does not go to the root of the matter. Matters have, in fact, been made worse by the platitudes of those who proclaim that they can quite understand the burning anger roused by an unjust and unfair tax — as if there is any tax which was totally just and totally fair.

Michael S. Howells

Glenowen, Mastlebridge, Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire