4 Days in August: Steve O’Connell’s lasting shame?

CROYDON COMMENTARY: The Met‘s own report into the London Riots last August paints a very different picture of events from that provided by the council’s own “independent” inquiry, revealing a thwarted petrol bomb attack on the police, and that Croydon’s top politicians were given 36 hours’ notice of the impending disorder. By ANDREW PELLING

The Metropolitan Police’s own report on the London riots, 4 days in August (which rather sounds like the title of a benign Hollywood movie), reveals just how soon the Croydon authorities were made aware of the possibility of trouble for our town: shockingly, the police say that the council was warned more than a day earlier than has been admitted.

This ought to bring massive pressure on Mike Fisher and Steve O’Connell, the Croydon Council leader and the borough’s London Assembly Member and then member of the Met Police Authority, to explain their inaction when they had 36 hours’ notice from the police of probable social disorder.

The police’s version of events will renew claims that the Croydon Council-sponsored Barnett Report on the Croydon 8/8 riots was little more than a public-funded whitewash, intended to ensure that no blame for mismanagement attached to the council’s leadership.

In information not provided in the Barnett Report, the police decided by the morning of Sunday August 7, more than a day and a half before the rioting began near West Croydon station on the Monday evening, that Croydon would be a target.

Also not in the Barnett Report is a record that appears in the Met’s final report of very serious disorder that occurred 16 hours before the events at West Croydon station on August 8.

At 3.03am on August 8, 200 youths had to be dispersed by police, with reports of looting from 3.39am in London Road, Purley Way and Norbury.

Even before that, at 8.18pm on Sunday August 7, a woman had been robbed in the midst of a group of around 50 youths. Police officers were stoned in Thornton Heath and at 8.30pm there were social media communications on plans to set the town centre ablaze. At 2.03am on August 8, there is a record of 10 armed males attempting a car-jacking in London Road. Hours later, in what appears to have been a similar incident, this time at Duppas Hill Road, led to the death of Trevor Ellis. A murder investigation continues.

The Met’s report shows that through Sunday August 7, Broad Green ward was already drifting into lawlessness, with the level of crimes reported in the 24 hours to midday on 8/8 matching those in other parts of London which were already officially deemed to be rioting.

The police are taking their share of the blame in this very frank and open report.  It raises the question whether local politicians will get away with their appalling neglect of responsibility.

Steve O'Connell: will he ever be accountable for his inaction on August 7-8?

As soon as it was formed, the Barnett committee was identified as being too close to the local politicians as it was made up of friends and associates of local politicians. The publication of the Met Police’s report now underlines just how compromised the exercise was.

With elections coming up, voters deserve to know why O’Connell, Croydon’s police liaison member at the London Assembly, was inactive, or at best ineffective, for a day and a half, until the town was ablaze.

Similar questions present themselves about Croydon Central’s MP, Gavin Barwell, driving away from his constituents, watching the flames in his rear view mirror.

Why did neither speak to the most senior politicians in London or the government to protect their constituents, when they had so much time to do so?

We know that Barwell left a message with the Home Secretary’s office on the Monday; O’Connell called a fellow Assembly member once the riots were underway.

Politicians’ dereliction of duty

A TELLING INSIGHT into the police’s view of Croydon at 10pm on the Sunday night comes from the Duty Inspector, who reported the situation as being “business as usual”.

The report repeats what Inside Croydon was told in a very open interview by Acting Borough Commander Jo Oakley last August: Mike Fisher’s Croydon Council was informed at a meeting at 9am on August 8 of the trouble expected, and retailers were being informed of impending trouble that morning.

With that much awareness of what had already happened and what was to come, it was surely a dereliction of duty for the politicians to be so indolent. It also becomes even more inexplicable that all Croydon’s riot-trained officers were sent elsewhere in the capital on 8/8.

Given all of that, it becomes all the more apparent that those in power in Croydon are failing to protect the borough’s interests, and its residents and businesses, as they have now allowed the town centre’s police to be reduced to just 10 officers.

The Met’s report says that 50 additional officers have gone to Haringey. It seems that Tottenham’s David Lammy MP is a far better protector of his people than the Conservative politicians in Croydon.

Petrol bomb attack on police station

Inside Croydon has also previously reported how Chief Inspector Mark Nanji admitted just how vulnerable and woefully under prepared the police were for the conflict that ensued.

This is repeated in the Met’s report with his testimony that: “My initial resources were a mixture of local response teams, safer neighbourhoods officers and pretty much anyone we could round up including CID officers… only a very small proportion of these officers were public order trained, most were wearing regular uniform and for the CID officers it was a question of grabbing whatever was available…”

Page 12 of the report has a photograph of the brave but ill-equipped and untrained British Transport Police officers who Inside Croydon reported on the night were holding the top of the hill above West Croydon station, a position they had to abandon, with commuters locked inside the station building, after charging rioters off the hill and into London Road. The scene makes an interesting counterpoint with the slogans on the Croydon BID banners that lined the streets: “Working together for a better Croydon”.

What’s also astounding is that the Met’s report reveals that matters could have even worse than was reported at the time. Operating on just two hours’ sleep, officers who had been dealing with rioters in Lambeth for 26 hours from the previous day managed to intercept youths armed with petrol bombs and marching on Croydon police station.

That Croydon was the worst-hit borough is confirmed by the police report. “Croydon recorded more crime than any other Borough,” it says.

The report is refreshing in recognising just how under-manned was the force put out on the streets of London by the third day of the riots: 6,000 officers were made available out of a complement of 32,000. To recognise the problems encountered on that night is to make the first steps towards ensuring preparedness for the next period of social conflict.

The police's public "scoreboard" after the Croydon riots

The report reminds us that the Met was already weakened by media-related corruption, with the Commissioner having left his post at a time when it most needed senior management stability, even if temporary Commissioner Godwin offered a very safe and experienced pair of hands in an emergency. The report very openly acts as a mea culpa with the litany of admissions of how the police service underestimated the challenge it faced.

Despite extraordinary acts of individual heroism by police officers, the Met ended up being entirely overwhelmed.

The word “overwhelmed” appears again and again in the testimony and report.

  • “The MPS was overwhelmed by the spread and scale of disorder”.
  • “resource … became overwhelmed”.
  • “intelligence material rapidly overwhelmed the capacity of decision makers”.
  • “ officers on the ground were simply overwhelmed” it says specifically of Croydon.

The police also seeks to blame the reporting by the Evening Standard of the shooting of Mark Duggan for the febrile atmosphere in London last August.

David Musker: robust approach

The report talks of an attempt to get community engagement to act as a bulwark against further trouble but one doubts that the deconstruction of consultation over the years in Croydon left very shallow roots for such desperate attempts to shore up matters. The approach of the current borough commander to “robust” policing also seems unlikely to cultivate easy community relationships in Croydon.

The poor progress on Riot Act compensation is underlined in the report. Only 396 out of 2,538 claims across London have been settled.

In contradiction to the Barnett Report, the Met’s report suggests that a lot of rioters commuted to Croydon, unlike elsewhere. But this anecdotal comment does not sit well with the addresses of those who have been found guilty in the courts regarding Croydon 8/8, as Barnett analysed. The Met’s report (page 124) shows Croydon’s arrest numbers absolutely towering over other boroughs.

That so many Croydon residents are suspects is a testament as to just how much Croydon deserves extra police officers to match the aid that Tottenham has received. Crime has been falling in Croydon as miscreants serve their jail sentences, but some will come back and offend again. Reducing police resources in Croydon now, as is happening in the town centre, just seems an obvious risk in the run up to the summer, when police will be diverted elsewhere in the capital, on duty for the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympic Games.

Will Steve O’Connell, the country’s most overpaid local councillor, make himself available for questioning on these matters in the run-up to the Assembly elections in May?

Click here to access the full Metropolitan Police report

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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1 Response to 4 Days in August: Steve O’Connell’s lasting shame?

  1. Lies in their DNA, how will the councillors ‘in power” respond?
    Will the Mrs. Piles in Croydon challenge the Police report?
    We are not all zombies.

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