The archbishop of Canterbury dedicated his New Year's message on Sunday to young people, warning they should not be demonised following a wave of rioting across England earlier this year.

"Quite a lot of the images we're likely to remember from the footage of the riots in the summer will be of young people out of control in the streets, walking off with looted property from shops, noisily confronting police and so on," said Rowan Williams, the leader of the world's Anglicans.

He said this fed into a national habit of being suspicious of young people, whereas in reality the rioters were "the minority, whose way of dealing with their frustrations was by way of random destructiveness and irritability".

He argued that "most people of their own age strongly shared the general feeling of dismay at this behaviour", and society was letting them down by showing them only negativity.

"One of the unique things in the Christian faith, one of its great contributions to our moral vision, is the way it has spoken about children and young people," Williams said.

"Whether it's Jesus blessing children, or St Paul encouraging a young church leader, saying, 'Don't let people look down on you because you're young', or St Benedict in his rule for monks saying that you need to pay attention to the youngest as well as the oldest -- Christian faith has underlined the essential importance of giving young people the respect they deserve."

English cities were rocked by four nights of looting and arson in August sparked by protests against the police shooting of a young man in north London.