Pictures and reports by
Andrew Pelling, Will Downes and Ed Matthews
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.
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 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.
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.
- Police on standby for copycat “riots” in Croydon tonight (insidecroydon.com)
- Andrew Pelling agrees to write for Inside Croydon (insidecroydon.com)
- UK Uncut comes to Croydon to protest against tax dodgers (insidecroydon.com)