Prince Charles claimed yesterday that many of those involved in last week’s riots had joined gangs as ‘a cry for help’.
He made clear his belief that many of Britain’s social ills could be put down to a lack of ‘self-confidence and self-esteem’.
Asked for his thoughts on what lay behind some of the troublemakers’ actions, he said: ‘Half the problem is that people join gangs because it’s a cry for help and they’re looking for a sense of belonging.’
He and the Duchess of Cornwall toured several of the worst-hit areas in the capital yesterday, meeting householders and businessmen devastated by days of violence and looting.
The prince’s views were contrasted with those of many he met, who blamed the troubles firmly on an increasing lack of discipline and respect among young people.
Charles said he believed schools shouldered part of the blame. ‘There are not enough extra-curricular activities–organised games or other kinds of activities to tire them out. You have got so much energy and aggression at that age.
‘Young people need self-confidence, we have to motivate and encourage them and give them responsibility.
‘We should have national community service to give all sorts of opportunities. All we have been doing is dealing with the symptoms, not giving the opportunities.’
Police have said that 25 per cent of those held after the disturbances are linked to gangs.
Charles’s contribution to the increasingly heated national debate on the causes of the riots came during a discussion in Hackney, east London, with young businessmen and women who have been helped by his charity, the Prince’s Trust.
Although many of those present expressed their gratitude to the prince for coming, their views were notably less sympathetic towards those responsible.
One man said: ‘Young people are getting far too much . . . they expect everything to be given to them.’
Natasha Faith, 25, who has a jewellery business in Forest Gate and also met the prince, said: ‘Respect has to be learned. Young people were obviously lacking that in the riots.
‘They had power but no respect.’
Laura Rennis, 26, who is setting up a holistic therapy centre in Edmonton with help from the Prince’s Trust, told Charles: ‘Everybody wants to be famous rather than successful.
‘They ought to be offered positive models, young people doing (good) things rather than (news about) Cheryl Cole’s new house.
‘I am sure David Beckham is lovely but you have to get young people thinking there is more to life than just kicking a ball.
‘The same angst and fire people had in their belly when they were rioting needs to be directed . . . direct that fire please.’
Charles and Camilla interrupted their annual holiday in Scotland to fly to London for the day. They began their tour in Tottenham, where the violence began.
The duchess said she had watched the ‘senseless’ events unfold with a mixture of horror and disbelief.
‘It is absolutely terrible. We were watching it on television and I had to pinch myself. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. It was so senseless. I could not believe it was happening in this country.’
She patted one Afro-Caribbean woman on the arm and said: ‘The next few months will be hard but stick together. Show that spirit of true Britishness that is so important.’
The woman replied warmly: ‘Oh we will, we will. We are British through and through. The way people have pulled together to help us has been inspiring.’
Charles was particularly taken by the stories of several families who feared that they would not be covered for the damage and loss by their household insurance policies.
He asked his private secretary to make a note of their details. An aide said: ‘He was struck by this very same problem after the floodings a couple of years ago and wants to see what he can do to chivvy them up. He strongly believes businesses should pull together at times like these.’
As well as making a personal donation of a dozen food processors to families who have lost their homes and belongings in Tottenham, the Prince’s Trust is making an extra £2.5million available to help disaffected young people get on their feet.
Later in the day the couple travelled on to Croydon where they saw some of the fire-ravaged homes and businesses in London Road.
Sherrilyn Miller, a retail manager, said: ‘I have lost everything I own in the world, including the only photograph I had of my dead father.
‘My neighbour even lost his wife’s ashes and has been asking the rescue workers to see if they can find them.’