Britain faces a battle to find its moral compass, Prime Minister David Cameron declared Monday, following four days of riots that left five people dead, thousands facing charges for violence and theft, and at least $350 million Cdn in property losses.

Cameron said senior ministers of his year-old coalition government would spend the next few weeks formulating new policies designed to reverse what he described as a country being dragged down by many citizens' laziness, irresponsibility and selfishness. He said "the responsible majority" was demanding that the government build a stronger society.

"This has been a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face," Cameron said in his prepared remarks for a planned Monday morning speech. "Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations?"

Cameron pledged to end a culture of timidity in discussing family breakdown or poor parenting, or in criticizing those who fail to set a good example to their children or community.

"We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong," Cameron said. "We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said, about everything from marriage to welfare to common courtesy."

'We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong.' —British Prime Minister David Cameron

In a rival speech, main opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband criticized Cameron's response as overly simplistic, and demanded that lawmakers focus on delivering better opportunities for disaffected young people.

"The usual politicians' instinct — announce a raft of new legislation, appoint a new adviser, wheel out your old prejudices and shallow answers — will not meet the public's demand," said Miliband.

He spoke at his former high school in Camden, north London, half a block from the scene of rioting Aug. 8, when shops were trashed and police came under attack.

"Are issues like education and skills, youth services, youth unemployment important for diverting people away from gangs, criminality, the wrong path? Yes, they matter," Miliband said.

The differing approaches to Britain's most serious riots in a generation are likely to dominate the country's annual political conventions, which begin next month. Miliband has called for a full public inquiry into the roots of the riots, while Cameron insists his government is able to adequately examine the issue.

Cameron insists that racial tensions, poverty and the government's austerity program — much of which is yet to bite — were not the primary motivations for the riots across London and other major cities.

 "Does it matter whether young people feel they have a future, a chance of a better life? Yes it does," he said in the prepared text. "Are issues like education and skills, youth services, youth unemployment important for diverting people away from gangs, criminality, the wrong path? Yes. They matter."

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said that he was already examining whether those involved in the riots should have their welfare payments cut, while London Mayor Boris Johnson said young people convicted over the disorder would lose their right to use public transport for free.

What's being done on justice front

  • Britain's justice ministry says more than 1,200 people have been charged so far with riot-related offences.
  • Several courts heard cases Sunday for the first time in modern history to try to reduce the backlog of cases.
  • Two judges also worked full time Sunday in authorizing search warrants for police raiding homes of suspected rioters in a hunt to reclaim stolen goods.

Instead, Cameron pointed to gang-related crime, and a widespread failure from Britain's leaders to address deep rooted social issues, including the country's generous welfare system.

"Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged — sometimes even incentivized — by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally demoralized," Cameron said.

Peace and racial unity rally

The leaders were speaking hours after several hundred residents of Birmingham, England's second-largest city, rallied for peace and racial unity in memory of three Pakistani men run over and killed during last week's riots there. Asian, black and white locals joined hand in hand with police officers during the ceremony.

Birmingham police also charged a third suspect with the murders of Haroon Jahan, 20, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31.

The three men died Wednesday after a car struck them at high speed as they stood guard outside a row of South Asian-owned shops in west Birmingham, 190 kilometres northwest of London.

The attack raised fears of gang warfare between the area's South Asian and Caribbean gangs because residents identified the car-borne assailants as black. But public appeals for no retaliation, particularly from one victim's father, Tariq Jahan, have helped to keep passions at bay.

Police said Adam King, 23, would be arraigned Monday at Birmingham Magistrates Court on three counts of murder. Two others — 26-year-old Joshua Donald and a 17-year-old whose name was withheld because of his age — were arraigned Sunday on the same charges.

Speaking at Sunday's rally in a public park near the scene of the killings, Jahan told the crowd "that the three boys did not die in vain. They died for this community." He and several other speakers stood beneath a banner that read "One City, One Voice for Peace."

England's gang-fueled rioting began in London Aug. 6 and spread to several other English cities. Police were criticized for responding too slowly, particularly in London, but eventually deployed huge numbers of officers at riot zones to quell the mayhem.

Police said Monday that they had uncovered a cache of weapons and hidden loot buried in flower beds in London's Camden district.

Knives, a hammer, metal bars and two cash registers — both stolen from a nearby cycle store — were found after officers combed the area with metal detectors.

"This is an amazing result," said Det. Chief Insp. Eric Phelps.

"Several knives which could have been used as lethal weapons have been taken off the streets."

Police are still questioning two men over the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old man during riots in Croydon, south London. And police said Sunday night they arrested a 16-year-old boy on suspicion of fatally beating a 68-year-old man who had tried to put out a fire set by rioters in Ealing, west London.

Across the country, about 1,400 people have been charged so far with riot-related offences and thousands have been arrested. Several courts opened Sunday for the first time in modern history to try to reduce the backlog of cases.

London's police said in the capital alone, 1,635 people had been arrested and 940 charged with offences.