British police revealed on Tuesday that during the recent riots, they sent officers to protect major shopping centers and the 2012 Olympics sites, The Associated Press reported.
The police said it did so after intercepting phone and social network messages saying these sites were targets for rioters.
London Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens told a committee of lawmakers that police sent extra officers to London’s Oxford Circus, two malls and the Olympic Park on August 8 after it saw messages on Twitter and the BlackBerry devices of people who had been arrested for rioting.
“We were able to secure all those places and indeed there was no damage at any of them,” Owens said, according to the London-based Evening Standard newspaper.
Police and politicians are claiming young criminals in the recent riots used Twitter and Blackberry’s simple and largely cost-free messaging service to coordinate looting sprees.
As a result, the government has said it will debate whether cell phone services could be disrupted or blackouts imposed on social networks during riots.
The acting chief of London’s police force told the Parliament’s home affairs committee that police had considered seeking approval to switch off such services but decided against it. He explained this decision by saying the legality of such action was “very questionable” and that social networks were a useful intelligence asset.
More than 3,000 people have been arrested for last week’s riots that erupted in north London and then spread to other cities. So far about 1,400 people have been charged with riot-related offenses.