Croydon burns as looters storm the Whitgift Centre

Pictures and reports by
Andrew Pelling, Will Downes and Ed Matthews

The fire at Reeves furniture store in Croydon Old Town tonight

Police appeared to have lost control in central Croydon tonight, as McDonald’s in North End and a bus were set on fire and the furniture store at Reeves Corner ablaze. A senior police figure described the situation across the capital as “virtual anarchy”.

Around 11pm, there were unconfirmed reports that amid the mayhem, a man had been shot in the head.

By West Croydon bus station by 9pm, our reporters could see few if any police.

Just before 9pm, a gang of about 30 youths, some of them wearing balaclavas or hoodies to hide their identity from the CCTV cameras in the area, stormed the back entrance to the Whitgift Centre and quickly managed to break in. An Asian man, well dressed in a suit, in his late 30s or early 40s, was observed providing details to some of the gang about the whereabouts of the jewellery stores in the shopping centre.

Traffic in the area around the centre of Croydon began to snarl up, as roads were closed and the junction at Reeves Corner – just off the busy Roman Way dual carriageway – became impassable because of the raging inferno which was witnessed by millions of television viewers watching Sky and BBC News. Although close to Croydon fire station, the furniture store and warehouse had all but burnt to the ground even before the first fire tender was on the scene.

“It’s like a war zone out there,” one eye witness said.

As copycat “riots” – as an excuse for looting and wanton destruction – took place across south London in Peckham, Lewisham, Clapham Junction and Brixton, John Tully, the vice-chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, speaking to the BBC, described the situation around London as “virtual anarchy in many parts across the city”.

In Croydon, following some looting in North End and on the Purley Way overnight on Sunday, contingency plans were made and there was a visible police presence on the streets of central Croydon by late afternoon, when many shops and offices closed early and brought down their shutters to protect their premises.

Croydon 2011: a once landmark and listed building at Reeves Corner was gutted within 90 minutes by the inferno

Yet the situation quickly deteriorated around 7pm, when some youths began to throw wood and stones towards police near West Croydon station. British Transport Police tried to control the junction next to the station, but train services into the station were suspended and around 70 commuters on their way home were locked in at the station for their own safety.

Police chased small groups of youths from North End south towards George Street, where pubs shut in their customers for their safety.

With news of the events being circulated by mobile phone and on social networking sites, such as Twitter, the small groups of youths rapidly grew – estimates reported by eyewitnesses suggested as many as 200 were gathering near the centre of town.

The House of Reeves furniture store, as it used to be, a listed building where five generations had run their family business

The first fires in Croydon High Street were seen just after 8.30pm, and as darkness fell, any shops without steel shutters were broken into and looting took place. The assault on the Whitgift Centre took place soon after.

“The looters are swarming through the entrance, many wearing balaclavas or hoodies,” an eye witness said. “They just smashed down the entrance.”

Worried residents from West Croydon were unable to get to their homes because the police had cordoned off the area. Later, London Road was described as “apocalyptic”, as free-range looting took place by marauding groups of youths. “Not a single shop has been left untouched,” an eye witness said. Several buildings were set on fire, with the fire brigade unable to get to the site or control the blaze, which was whipped up by strong winds.

Probably the most horrifying image of the Croydon riots, taken in Church Street by Mirror journalist James Robertson, as a woman leaps from a building to escape a fire, firefighters below hoping to catch her in their arms

Meanwhile, looters were observed shuttling backwards and forwards around Church Road, one even carrying two recently stolen television sets, one under each arm. Another approached by our reporters boasted of stealing a lawnmower from another shop.

The looters were also observed trying to push a large wheeled rubbish bin at the police, but the police coped with this assault readily.

By 10pm, the violence and looting had spread south, with Cycle King and Richer Sounds, the hi-fi store in South End, broken into, and a large mob gathering by the Swan & Sugarloaf pub, the Whitgift Foundation-owned building recently occupied by squatters.

Mike Fisher, the leader of Croydon Council, talking to the BBC, decried the wanton destruction: “These are mindless criminals who believe it is acceptable to break in to people’s properties and take what they want and cause whatever damage they want. This has nothing to do with whether there is adequate youth provision.”

  • Click here to see one clash between looters and police at West Croydon tonight.
  • Click here for the startling – and sad – video footage on YouTube from BBC’s helicopter over Reeves Corner.

Even steel shutters were not enough to protect some Croydon shops, such as these premises by St George's Walk, from being wrecked by the mob

Police vans move in to George Street just before 9pm

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Andrew Pelling, Crime, Croydon Central, London-wide issues, Mike Fisher, West Croydon, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Croydon burns as looters storm the Whitgift Centre

  1. It reminds me of the French Revolution.

    Much as this does not justify what has been done you need to understand the problems to fix it. And these kids have been cut to hell of late. Their futures are in tatters in some places. And their incomes have disappeared. Some even face losing their homes due to further cuts.

    Is it any wonder some kicked off?

    The Govt needs to think long and hard about their utter stupidity in dumping so much on The Young rather than The Rich.

    Sorry, but this is an absolute shambles. And part of it is due to Morons At The Top. There isn’t a nice way of putting it.

  2. adrianwin says:

    At a time like this, I feel the above comment shows a regrettable lack of sympathy for the large numbers of people who have lost their jobs; seen their businesses wrecked or burnt down; had rocks thrown at them; or otherwise suffered sheer terror, simply because they had the misfortune to live or work in the same places that groups of organised youths thought would be particularly profitable to “kick off” in.

  3. mraemiller says:

    Well, having driven through at least 3 separate incidents last night I’m firmly of the opinion that that this is nothing to do with poverty they’re just a bunch of c**ts.

  4. To solve the problem and protect people for the future you have to understand the problem. Why did these kids kick off? It is all kids as well. And a few 20-somethings.

    It’s like a floating WW2 mine for how angry and dejected some of these kids are normally these days. One knock and off they go. Do you diffuse it, make it safe, and then recycle the metal? Or hit it with a hammer?

    I’d rather this not happen again. And some of us are fast at spotting the sources. I am very much interested in helping Croydons’ victims. I want this mine diffused though, as I’d rather not get blown up whacking it with a hammer. I’m pretty sure others won’t want further explosions either.

    But…

    EMA gone, Bus Fares through the roof, Benefits cuts leading to possible homelessness for some, Council Tax benefits cuts in the pipeline, few jobs for The Young, and VAT up. That’s almost a perfect storm for how many blows to The Poor it is. This isn’t a coincidence.

    Like with the Poll-tax Riots The Torys have hammered The Poor. And once again the result is a mess, a lot of anger, and some choosing to get violent. The sooner our ruling classes understand this very simple concept the better. And the less tears there will be for the rest of us.

    And until they do expect more trouble. I’m sorry, but you can only kick a dog so many times before it bites you.

  5. For the record:

    I am currently suggesting to Raj Chandarana and Croydon Labour that emergency repair grants be made to West Croydon traders who lost so much. Some do not have ‘riot insurance’, so are facing ruin.

    The Council has a reserve of about £33 million for emergencies last I read. The Council could stump up these grants, as I’m pretty sure this classes as an emergency.

    I move quickly. That doesn’t mean I’m nasty.

  6. If these people really are angry about cuts why didn’t they attack whitehall, the houses of parlianment instead of their neighbours and local shop owners who are there to provide them with a service. A t the least they could have just looted large chain stores but they picked on the small guys, shame on them.

  7. mraemiller says:

    “Like with the Poll-tax Riots”

    Ha!

    I’m sorry what I saw last night was nothing like the Poll Tax riots or any other political demo I’ve ever seen. The Poll Tax riots were a peaceful demonstration with a lawless element – like the student protests. This was just complete lawlessness. It was the deliberate targeting of other people’s property for financial gain.

    Why only young people? Because they’re the only ones stupid enough to think that the police cant trace down txts and messaging and pin down where they were via mobile phone masts. It will take time of course but they will catch up with people.

    These riots are organised and they’re organised by people exploiting the breakdown of law and order for their own financial gain. The rioters weren’t interested in confronting me or the police or any symbol of authority, had no placards and had no message. They were in it for the money. Respectable political protesters dont mask their identity – it completely defeats the point of protesting.

    It’s nothing to do with socialism or social justice it’s just opportunistic looting for greed and averice.
    These people have no message – they are criminals …and trying to attach a social or political message to their actions is just the worst kind of political opportunity and naivety. The only reason this is happening now and hasn’t before is – the technology wasn’t available to manipulate young people like this before. If it had been someone would have done it.

    Okay have to wonder too do these kids parents not know they are out and wonder where they are but I doubt that they are driven by poverty. They are driven, I think, by pure greed.
    All I saw was businesses being targeted. Well, when you HAVE to work late at night and go places late at night it isn’t fun to deal with this. Gigs dont happen by magic someone has to risk money. If there’s a riot, no gig – but the acts still have to be paid. Okay my problems pail into insignificance compared to those with phyisical businesses and assets to protect but I’m still deeply pissed off and I dont need lessons in the Poll Tax riots from someone who probably wasn’t even a sperm when it happened.

    This is a disaster for the night time economy and the worst of it is that I know some organised criminals must be making a big fat wedge of cash out of this. It’s not just the short term drop in turnover …there will be a medium to long term effect of people not wanting to go out.

    The losers will be the enterainment and pub industries and the civil liberties of ordinary citizens to peaceful protest. Promoters have to fight governments of all political hues at every level local and national to maintain our rights for street advertising all the time and things like this will result in more draconian legislation for the management of public space which will make the lives of people like me even harder and everyone generally more miserable.

  8. Those who exploit this disorder to make political points aren’t far above the looters who are exploiting the Duggan killing for thievery and profit. There is nothing political about arranging a flashmob to steal mobile phones, trainers and televisions. It’s just criminal greed, and a total disregard for the communities they destroy. Every time you say “blame the cuts” you legitimise this greed as political protest. Let’s focus on restoring order, before you start demanding we pay off the vandals with EMA to stop them burning more shops and homes.

    • Not sure that anyone has sought to condone what went on last night, just seeking some of the reasons behind it.

      As you observe, much of it was simple, but very well-organised, thievery: Richer Sounds in South Croydon was stripped bare of all its goods in a systematic way, not a policeman in sight, as the looters exploited the anarchy elsewhere in Croydon.

      Some politicians have sought to make capital of it – one we noticed even descending to using the events of last night to call for the return of the death penalty.

      But Sir Hugh Orde, who may yet be the next Commissioner of the Met, can hardly be accused of being a politician or points-scorer, and in the lunchtime news today, he mentioned the disaffection of youth as one of the possible issues behind what happened. Importantly, though, he also said that order needs to be restored before seeking the reasons behind the disorder.

  9. There’s more here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14458424

    I’m not gonna say ‘I told you so’, but so much of this is pretty obvious stuff.

  10. @Ross:

    Are you honestly telling me that people getting Poorer whilst they watch bankers and fat-cats staying rich won’t make them angry? When it’s the bankers and fat-cats that created this mess and caused said cuts to happen? And a Tory Govt that hammered The Young and Poor with said cuts?

    A Blackberry Curve is only 20 quid per month on a contract for a start.

    These kids watch their relatives suffer, and watch the stress etc etc. And they simply stop caring about a society they perceive as not caring for them. Especially when Govt is full of millionaires who then take away even more of what little they get.

    I have to say it’s a strange world you appear to live in. I do not condone this violence at all, but to understand and diffuse the situation is to help stop it from happening in the long-term.

    There were 6,000 cops in London last night. There’ll be 16,000 tonight. Let’s hope we fare better.

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