For most “ordinary” and responsible people, the emotions stirred up by the wretched events of 8/8, a date which will go down in infamy for Croydon, can probably be summed up as a combination of maddening and saddening.
After a night of wanton destruction within our own community, including the murder of one 26-year-old man, by late afternoon today, nearly 6,000 people had signed up to a group on Facebook to volunteer to help the residents and local traders clean up some of the mess caused by the feral youths the night before.
Yet dealing with what led to, or allowed, the events of Monday night will take much more than many willing hands and a dustpan and brush. In some ways, what happened on Monday night epitomised what is so wrong with Croydon today.
You can hear it in the voices of the two Croydon teenagers, under-educated, with no apparent respect for their neighbours, yet seeping with utter arrogance as they were interviewed by the BBC this morning while still swigging from a bottle of wine that they had stolen the night before. Arrogance, with nothing to be arrogant about. Two idiot Vicky Pollards with Croydon facelifts, and there are so many more like them where they came from.
No one ever achieved social justice by stealing from, trashing and burning down the homes of working class people in your own neighbourhood.
Sir Hugh Orde is the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, and possibly be the next Commissioner of the Met Police, does not have a particular political axe to grind. It was interesting to hear him say in the lunchtime news bulletins that there may well be an issue with the disaffection of a generation of youngsters which contributed to the Monday night mayhem.
But Sir Hugh also said, rightly, that before seeking the reasons behind it – and the ultimate reason for Croydon’s 8/8 night was overwhelming greed – order must be restored.
So for those who locked their front doors at dusk on Monday and then waited for five or six hours in case a brick or petrol bomb might be hurled in through the windows of their home or business last night, the news that there will be three times as many police on duty in London tonight will be reassuring to hear. Whether it will be enough, only the next few hours will tell.
As with eyewitness reports from elsewhere in south London in areas where, perhaps, no great rioting was expected in Croydon on Monday, there were few police on hand when the simmering tension boiled over just before 7pm.
As we published yesterday afternoon, the council, working with the local police, had some contingency planning in place. In the event, in terms of police numbers, this was clearly inadequate. Our reporters in West Croydon at 9pm saw no police as looters helped themselves to the contents of local shops and businesses.
Was this because Croydon has an over-reliance on the “power” of CCTV? It almost seemed as if Croydon was left to burn because the council felt it could sift through the CCTV evidence in the morning.
According to our police sources, some Level 2-trained Croydon police were moved to north London yesterday afternoon, where the rioting had broken out on Saturday night, leaving Croydon under-protected.
You can see from the header picture on the website today (reproduced right), taken in the gloom on Monday night, that some of the police were ill-equipped for riot duty.
These are certainly not the Level 1-trained officers from the Territorial Support Group.
They are not even equipped with the hemets and shields of Level 2 officers who are trained to deal with public disorder (not that they receive a penny extra for this responsibility and its risks).
With nothing much more than a London bobby’s helmet and a hi-viz jacket, these look to be ill-equipped Level 3, ordinary Croydon coppers, put in an invidious and very dangerous position. It is not over-dramatising things to remind ourselves that when PC Keith Blakelock was horrifically murdered on Broadwater Farm in 1985, he was on duty protecting firefighters. He was equipped with fire-retardent overalls, a shield and a NATO-style riot helmet. The Croydon officers in our picture had none of this.
So did Croydon’s Borough Commander, Adrian “Ginger” Roberts, and council leader Mike Fisher make a miscalculation of the police resources needed in Croydon last night?
Certainly, although disturbances broke out before 7pm, it was not until nearly 10pm that a call went in for extra back-up. And by then, the Reeves furniture store was already an empty shell after the inferno had taken hold, while much of London Road was also left to burn.
Anyone old enough to remember the Brixton Riots of 30 years ago will recall that there was some genuine social grievances behind those disturbances, and that some positive good, some community cohesion, ultimately came of them – thanks the recommendations of Lord Scarman’s report.
But Croydon 2011 had no such social grievance to explain the behaviour of the youths who ran amok, clearly using their mobile phones and social networks to sidestep the over-stretched police on the ground. And this was not just “youths” or “kids”, but it involved many older people, often directing the action, like some modern day Fagins telling the oiks “you gotta pick a pocket or two”.
This is nothing new: football hooligans have been using mobile phones to fix the venues for their “battles”, while evading the police, for more than 20 years. The difference in 2011 is the technology, which one expert this morning described as “text messaging on steroids”.
With a £20 a month Blackberry contract, you can send a group message to hundreds of people that, once sent, is untraceable. Don’t believe any suggestions from the authorities that they can check these messages: if President Barack Obama opts to use a Blackberry, the chances are that its security features are pretty uncrackable.
For instance, the looting of Richer Sounds in South End last night was a calmly organised criminal act exploiting the mayhem elsewhere: the thieves drew up in cars and systematically stripped the hi-fi store of absolutely everything. Estimates for that once store reckons it might have had £500,000 in stock stolen. Sure, Croydon’s marvellous CCTV system might help identify one or two of the culprits. But isn’t prevention somewhat better than some recriminatory “cure”?
Calls for a curfew or for bringing in the army to London were gently pooh-poohed by Home Secretary Teresa May in that irritatingly patronising manner of hers (though at least she came back off her holiday before Mayor Boris and Prime Minster “Call Me Dave”. It does seem extraordinary that the PM, Deputy PM, Chancellor and Home Secretary should all be on their holiday at the same time. Did no one sort out a leave rota in No10?).
“We police by consent,” May condescended today. Tell that to the House of Reeves, or the businesses on London Road, or to the grieving family of the man who was shot dead in Croydon last night.
The reality is that curfews and using troops are just a step away from martial law; they did that (albeit under different circumstances) in Belfast in 1969, and the troops remained on the streets for another 30 years.
But given the perfect Twitter storm that modern technology managed to create in Croydon last night, there might be another way to hamper the looters. It, too, would be an inconvenience for many “ordinary” residents for an hour or so, and it does smack too much of Big Brother.
But taking down the mobile networks for a couple of hours, say from 8pm until 11pm, so that the police have the communications advantage and not the hoodies, might help calm the situation.
There comes a time, though, when ordinary people, the “silent majority”, have got to come together. For Croydon, this is that time.
Responsible parents will have their kids home with them before 7pm tonight. Look out for any suspicious activity in your area, and call Crime Stoppers – you can be anonymous if you’re worried about reprisals. Check up on vulnerable people on your street, the old lady down the way. Support your local shops by shopping with them. Chat with your neighbours. Most of us now are too young to have lived through the Blitz, but apparently people then used to talk to their neighbours.
Above all, keep safe, but don’t be intimidated.
- Croydon burns as looters storm the Whitgift Centre (insidecroydon.com)
- Police on standby for copycat “riots” in Croydon tonight (insidecroydon.com)
- VIDEO: Croydon store owner: ‘Mindless arson’ (bbc.co.uk)
- UK riots: Man shot in Croydon dies in hospital (mirror.co.uk)