Croydon 8/8: Eyewitnesses ask questions of police approach

Wednesday was, thankfully, another peaceful night in Croydon, offering time for more reflection on the events of Monday. Two separate eyewitness accounts of the events offered to Inside Croydon provide different perspectives on how the frightening situation was handled

  • Eyewitness 1: We were let down by the police

The empty shell of the Reeves furniture store after the arson attack, and before the unsafe structure was demolished yesterday

What was witnessed in Croydon – and in West Croydon in particular – was mass commercial burglary and arson performed by many, if not all, of Croydon’s burglars, thieves and general low lives. I’d like to see the statistics on residential burglary last night as I would suspect it amounted to zero – they were all on the streets doing what they consider to be ‘fun’. It’s pointless trying to discuss motives for these people when in essence they are, quite simply, scum.

What I am bitterly disappointed with, however, is the response of the police to the West Croydon area. Or should I say, the lack of response. The looting of Tesco Express, Somerfield and arguably more tragically, the small local businesses along the London Road, went on for hours and hours.

After at least three hours of it, I decided to ring the police just to see what their response was. They told me that they were dealing with ‘life and limb’ as a priority and property as secondary. So in essence, they would not attend the scene of devastation, even though they were fully aware it was going on. How could they not be, when it was all over Sky News and BBC News 24? Everyone in the country was aware that West Croydon in particular was being destroyed, but they were also aware that the police would not go anywhere near it.

So, what was the result? Well, the scum phone their scum friends to let them now about West Croydon being a free for all. Let them know that because no police had turned up for the last two or three hours, they were very likely not going to turn up at all and so the looting continued in to the night.

The main concern for the terrified residents was not so much the looting in fact, it was the tendency for them to cause fires, which could spread to their own houses. There was a very real threat that they would lose everything they owned, if not their lives during the night… so most of them stayed awake through the night.

What made the threat of fire even more disturbing, was that we could all see the images of Reeves Corner up in flames for hours on TV, with a complete absence of the Fire Service trying to put it out. Now, there may well be some very good reasons for the Fire Service ignoring the Reeves building (and how could they miss it when it was about 200 yards from the Fire Station?) – but whatever those reasons were, it did nothing to calm the fears of the residents of West Croydon who were more than aware that the police were not attending the carnage outside their houses and at the ends of their roads.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not using this as an excuse to have a go at the police. And I’m more than aware that resources were well and truly stretched on Monday night, but how can a whole area, a whole community if you like, be ignored like that at a time when they needed the police most?

And it does not take ‘Riot Police’ to deal with situations like this. It takes a ‘police presence’. These looters we speak of are by definition cowards. The very last thing a burglar wants, is to get caught. So all it would have taken, would have been three or four sirened police vans to turn up in the area and the cowards would have dispersed. I appreciate that it isn’t always that simple, but 9 times out of 10 it is – and this is exactly what we pay the police for.

I can assure you that if you go out in your car without your seatbelt on, or drive at 85mph on the motorway, you will soon find a police presence… but when it comes to a very real threat to your livelihood or even your lives, then it appears that guarantee is not so absolute.

I am angry with what has happened and continues to happen with regards to the looting but I am also angry with the fact that West Croydon (I cannot speak for other areas) was let down so badly by the police. This ‘After The Event’ policing does not work. It takes a police presence, something this country used to have, but no longer does.

  • Eyewitness 2: The police have been let down

The police presence in West Croydon was the same in South Croydon and Central Croydon from what I observed and have heard since. Unhappily, one increasingly aggressive mob centred itself on London Road. The police were woefully thinly stretched (I heard similar reports from all over London) as there were 6,000 police officers on duty for the entire Greater London area.

Many of these looters were also out for confrontation with the police. They were not protestors gathering en masse in one area like Trafalgar Square, which is easier logistically to manage. They were thugs and looters breaking out in large gangs in multiple locations all over London and who amongst us could work out where best to deploy resources when thousands of 999 calls were flooding in from all areas?

And would you have faced up to an angry mob outnumbering you 20 to 1 with nothing much more than a truncheon, a stab vest and a helmet? Riot training should not be the default option when training a police officer. A ‘police presence’ would not have dispersed the increasingly drunken (from the looting of alcohol and the lawless atmosphere) and aggressive mobs.

Life and limb had to come first and, in the cold hard light of day, who amongst us would have wanted pitched battles between a handful of police officers outnumbered by a hostile mob – do you think the death toll would have been only one, as it currently stands?

I am sickened by the wanton damage to homes and businesses all over London and especially in my own backyard – Croydon – but I do not accept we were abandoned by the police officers who were on the ground last night, some of whom were on duty for more than 22 hours without a break.

We can have more police, but someone has to pay for them – and that’s us. We have to take responsibility for what we do and how we can influence those around us, sending a message about what we believe is acceptable behaviour. The yobs out there were someone’s sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, parents, friends, neighbours.

I don’t expect the police to be responsible for the moral code of my nearest and dearest – that’s up to us and if it hasn’t started already, we must start now.

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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
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2 Responses to Croydon 8/8: Eyewitnesses ask questions of police approach

  1. Nick Austin says:

    Some interesting points here. There is no doubt resources were/are stretched. At a time of crisis, up to date information and intelligence becomes hard to get, hard to manage and hard to interpret in real time. Making a 999 call, when there are hundreds, possibly thousands of others being logged, means someone, somewhere had to make difficult decisions about where to send resources. I can completely understand the priority to save lives over damaged property and I think there will be some very long reviews regarding the police’ response. We must remember, however, that the majority of the police have NEVER had to deal with something of this scale before, so we will all be learning from this ordeal.

    It is sad to read these stories and my heart goes out the the local business owners and residents of Croydon.

    @nickjaustin

  2. Arfur Towcrate says:

    I’ve been told that while shopkeepers in North End and the Whitgift Centre were alerted to the impending riots, those in West Croydon and South End were not tipped off that things might get sticky.

    If true, this suggests that the meagre police presence in central Croydon on Monday was devoted to protecting the interests of the multinationals and ignoring the needs of local, independent traders.
    Indeed, the Sadvertiser’s sleuth Gareth Davies, reported that cops stood at the top of Crown Hill by Barclays Bank, Primark and American Express,while rioters trashed Surrey Street and Church Street before moving towards Reeves Corner.

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