A rare UK insurance decision looking at the definition of “riotously” found that the focus of the enquiry is whether property is damaged or destroyed as a result of mob violence. There does not have to be a confrontation. An attack in a private place on an empty building was held to be sufficiently riotous and tumultuous to qualify as a riot under the UK Riot (Damages) Act 1886.

Following the police shooting of a young man in Tottenham on 4 August 2011 there was rioting for four days in London and other English cities. At 23.40 on 8 August a gang of 15 youths broke into the Sony distribution warehouse in Enfield, looted it and burnt it down with petrol bombs.

The insurers paid for the physical loss but the claimants also sought consequential loss of profit from the Mayor’s Office under the Riot (Damages) Act. The act refers to damage caused “riotously and tumultuously”. The focus of enquiry is whether property has been damaged or destroyed as a result of mob violence. Whether the assembly is “riotous and tumultuous” is a question of degree.

The behaviour of the group of youths was agitated and volatile when they were attacking the warehouse. The incident was a frenetic, agitated and chaotic process. The group was making no attempt to hide what they were doing and the use of petrol bombs evidenced wanton violence towards the property damaged or destroyed.

This cannot be accepted as an exact account of South African law because these are always factual enquiries and relate to particular wording. It is correct that an event may be a riot even if it is also accompanied by other criminal behaviour such as robbing and looting where the damage is done by a mob behaving riotously.