Adrian Roberts, the Met Police’s Borough Commander, was diverted away from his Croydon base just as tensions were building towards the riots of last Monday night.
According to police sources, Croydon’s most senior officer had been ordered to Scotland Yard to work on the command of the Met’s 6,000 officers across the capital on the third night of organised rioting and looting. Croydon was also without several experienced officers, who had the benefit of training in handling civil unrest.
Croydon North MP Malcolm Wicks used yesterday’s parliamentary debate to highlight how the Borough Commander was not at his usual post on 8/8, a decision which may have cost hundreds of people in Croydon their homes and their businesses.
Speaking as Parliament was recalled from its summer break, Wicks expressed his sheer amazement that Roberts was moved out of Croydon for Met Police strategy work, just as the crisis was enveloping Croydon.
“The absurd decision of Metropolitan Police commanders to withdraw our very able and experienced police commander from Croydon to look after strategy at Scotland Yard, meaning that when the riots kicked off that experience was not available,” Wicks told the packed House of Commons.
Feeling that the rioters “made more effective use of technology than the police”, Wicks said “there was no law in Croydon North that night”.
Wicks’ Croydon North constituency runs from West Croydon to Norbury and Upper Norwood.
As Inside Croydon reported on Monday night, and in the eyewitness accounts that we have published since, Wicks told the House, “there were virtually no police” along London Road and north of West Croydon station; the thin blue line was “virtually invisible”, Wicks said.
Wicks also complained that his constituents were treated appallingly by the police when they called the emergency services: “999 calls were sometimes unanswered. When people got through they were told that no officers were available. If they dared to call again out of fear about what was happening, they were told they were being a nuisance and, ‘Please do not call again’.”
Wicks felt that it was the poorer people of Croydon that got hurt, while powerful corporations like Marks & Spencer’s and Nestle were “protected by police”.
Wicks told the House: “The plea from people in that Croydon war zone—for that is what it was—was ‘Where were the police?’ For hour after hour after hour, people were free to pillage and loot, with no uniformed officers around.
“This is not partisan. May I ask the Prime Minister, on behalf of the people whom I have met over the past two days, distraught and sad people, the people of Croydon North who have been the victims—may I plead with the Prime Minister, on behalf of my constituents—to think again about police numbers? The people of Croydon, and indeed the people of London, want more police in London, not fewer. Providing fewer would be precisely the wrong policy, at precisely the wrong time for our society.”
Wicks was reflecting the views of local residents, the same views which had been told to the Prime Minister during his walkabout in the area. In his comments in the House, David Cameron was strongly critical of the way in the which the police had mobilised in Croydon.
“The time that I spent in Croydon with the right hon. Gentleman was incredibly powerful,” the Prime Minister said. “I heard about the immense frustration, and the anger, that those shopkeepers, householders and tenants felt.
“Let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman, however. The problem was that the police were not on the streets,” Cameron said.
“The problem was not about police budgets in four years’ time, but about the availability of the police right now. There are 32,000 officers in the Met. We needed to get more of them on to the streets more quickly, and more of them to Croydon. It is about now: it is not about the budgets of the future.”
The Commons debate also saw Cameron agree that the events of Monday would be regarded as a riot, which will come as a massive relief to the many shops and businesses along London Road and elsewhere which were looted and gutted on Monday night. Few of the businesses carried adequate insurance, but by defining the unrest as a riot, it means that anyone affected by the events can now be compensated from official funds. Vital to the rebuilding process will be for such funding to be released urgently.
Croydon Central’s Conservative MP Gavin Barwell also criticised Croydon’s police service, demanding of the Prime Minister that there should be a permanent change in police tactics to have high-profile policing.
In a speech later praised by David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, where the first riots had happened last Saturday, Barwell insisted that rioters came from all ethnic groups and again demanded to know why high-profile policing was missing in Croydon on Monday.
“We are united in our determination that we will not let the wreckers win,” said Barwell, who estimated that at least 200 Croydon businesses had been affected by the riots.
The debate was remarkable in one respect, since it saw Richard Ottaway, Croydon South’s absentee MP, actually speak in the House about Croydon.
The veteran Tory MP who lives in a large house in Bletchingley nearly lost the nomination for his parliamentary seat two years ago when he was implicated in the MPs’ expenses scandal.
Yesterday, Ottaway took the opportunity for a bit of grandstanding when he said, “Does the Prime Minister agree that once the situation is stabilised we need to consider the underlying causes and, as he says, to accept that there is a small group in our society who do not know the difference between right and wrong?”
In a week when one looter has been sentenced to six months in jail for stealing three bottles of water, Ottaway’s self-righteous piece of parliamentary cant came from the same MP who had to repay the £4,050 he had claimed on half of the price of a new bed from Harrods (note, he shopped at Harrods, rather than at Croydon’s Reeves furniture store) and £1,400 for electrical goods.
As Peter Oborne has written in today’s Telegraph, the moral decay is present at the top of our society, as well as at the bottom.
- Croydon 8/8: Do you agree with Cameron on policing the riots? (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon was vulnerable after being short-changed for decades (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon 8/8: Local Tamils say “We have been doubly let down” (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon 8/8: Eyewitnesses ask questions of police approach (insidecroydon.com)
- “Clean Up Croydon” will need more than a dustpan and brush (insidecroydon.com)