Senior Croydon councillors – including council leader Mike Fisher and London Assembly Member Steve O’Connell – failed to attend a police strategy meeting on the morning of the Croydon riots on August 8 last year to organise and plan to try to avert the looting, destruction and anarchy, all because they were “only” given an hour’s notice, Inside Croydon has discovered.
This latest revelation of Croydon Council’s ill-preparedness for the riots – despite a weekend of trouble across London and even in the borough itself – raises serious doubts about the judgement and commitment of the people in charge at the Town Hall.
Key questions remain about the council’s handling of the civil disturbances and its preparations for further trouble. The council should have been on notice after a 200-strong crowd embarked on a looting and carjacking spree in Croydon on Sunday, August 7, and needed to be dispersed by police.
A police Gold command meeting – an inter-organisational meeting to decide strategy – was called for 9am on August 8 in response to the significant lawlessness the previous night. Yet no senior politician from the council or City Hall was available to attend this key meeting.
Later that same day, without significant reinforcements being summoned and with many riot-trained officers being diverted from Croydon elsewhere in the capital, the borough’s remaining, under-manned and ill-equipped police were put in harm’s way and were unable to control the rioting mob.
This prompts serious questions about the reasons for the lack of police on the ground in Croydon as the borough descend into virtual anarchy, with hundreds of people losing their businesses and homes, and one man murdered. Did Croydon’s politicians fail to take the threat seriously enough?
Inside Croydon has already uncovered that Croydon’s CEO, Jon Rouse, was absent from Taberner House for four hours in the late afternoon and evening of August 8, apparently conducting “business as usual”, rather than being on hand in the control room as civil disturbances broke out along London Road.
According to a former council press officer, Rouse returned to Taberner House at around 8.30pm, more than two hours after a small band of British Transport Police came under attack from a rioting mob at West Croydon station, with hundreds of terrified commuters locked in the station for their safety.
Now, through an answer to a council question, the excuse for the absence of senior Croydon politicians from the Gold command meeting on the morning of August 8 is that they were not given enough notice.
According to an answer provided by Councillor Simon Hoar, the cabinet member for “community safety” on the Tory group which runs the council, “The meeting was organised through a series of phone calls by the Police giving an hours [sic] notice to attend.”
Two senior members of council staff did attend, Andy Opie, Head of Community Safety and James Collis, Resilience Manager. Hoar claims that with “the short notice given the attendance was appropriate”.
This may reflect on a terrible lack of judgement by Hoar and O’Connell – who was on the Metropolitan Police Authority at the time – for not giving the gathering emergency the importance that it clearly deserved.
Certainly, Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central, feels strongly that he should have been invited, telling Inside Croydon that, “The police should have invited me to the Gold meeting.”
“This failure to keep the MP involved and for the councillors to make themselves available was a key failure that fateful day,” Andrew Pelling, the former councillor and Assembly Member for the area, said.
“The MP was left so unaware that he reported on his own website that he went to a residents’ meeting in South Norwood that riot-filled evening and drove home with the smoke rising over Croydon, with his worst fears realised over what was happening when he watched Sky News.”
Croydon Council has refused Freedom of Information requests to release any documents relating to its performance during the London riots last August. Following the council’s superficial inquiry on the riots, and given Rouse’s absence at a key time and Hoar’s lame admission, this all smacks of an official cover-up of mishandling and incompetence by our council in the face of the biggest emergency that Croydon has faced since wartime.
Hoar’s answer stated of the two council officers who did manage to find the time to attend the police’s emergency meeting: “Both officers are senior managers and were able to feed back information at short notice to the Chief Executive and Cabinet Member as appropriate.”
Yet if this really was the case, then he needs to account for what he did on August 8 to inform his colleagues at the Town Hall and City Hall – where he works. Because on the streets of Croydon that night of August 8, there was no sign that our borough was in any way properly prepared for what was to happen.
- Inside Croydon: A news source about Croydon that is not based in Redhill. Do you have an event or business in or around Croydon? Tell us about it by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Retired judge handed £35,000 for chairing riots panel (insidecroydon.com)
- Jon Rouse, Croydon riots, and the crucial missing hours (insidecroydon.com)
- Compromised riots report covers up policing problems (insidecroydon.com)
- 4 Days in August: Steve O’Connell’s lasting shame? (insidecroydon.com)