“Former gang leader Gavin McKenna said it was wrong to put the city’s riots purely down to gangs”

A former gang leader has warned people not to put the Birmingham riots solely down to gang culture in the city.

Gavin McKenna was one of about 1,000 people at a BBC Radio 4 debate at Birmingham Town Hall on Monday night to discuss the causes of the riots.

He said it would be simple to blame gangs but university students and athletes were also among those looting.

Hundreds of officers tackled two nights of disorder in the West Midlands in August during which three men died.

Former gang leader Gavin McKenna said: “I don’t agree with everything that happened and I don’t say it’s right.

No shots fired

“I don’t condone it but it’s not just gangs you know, it’s the easy thing to say it is. It’s easy to label everyone as a gang member or as a gang or a thug.

“There was university students there, there was positive athletes stealing and robbing stuff too.”

West Midlands Police Chief Constable Chris Sims said riot police had been issued with plastic bullets to deal with looters.

He said it was standard practice to use plastic bullets when officers were at risk of being targeted.

The force has been criticised by some community leaders for dealing too slowly with riots on the evenings of the 8 and 9.

Mr Sims said no shots were fired at looters by police.

Murder charges

Speaking after the debate, he said: “As part of the reflections that we all need to have, as these events sort of settle in our minds, is to understand that policing needs to be left to police and that the consequences of being on the street can be dangerous to the wider community.”

During the disorder the force closed off the main routes into Birmingham city centre at night and urged people to keep off the streets and stay at home.

Five people have been charged with murder in connection with the deaths of three men who were hit by a car during rioting in Birmingham in early hours of 10 August.

Haroon Jahan, 21, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, died while protecting property from looters in Dudley Road, Winson Green.