“Croydon was on fire and we had to just sit in a car park”

Malcolm Wicks, MP for some of the areas worst affected by the rioting in Croydon last August, has demanded that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police should hold an inquiry into reports that up to 100 back-up police were left sitting in a car park, watching while Reeves Corner burned on 8/8.

Reeves Corner ablaze last August. Dozens of back-up police failed to be deployed to help their Croydon police and fire brigade colleagues

The latest astonishing revelations about the traumatic weekend of rioting last summer come from the Reading the Riots survey, conducted through first-person interviews with 130 police officers by the London School of Economics and The Guardian newspaper.

The survey’s findings suggest that a senior Met officer in command ordered police from outside the capital not to come to the assistance of local Croydon police and firefighters who were under attack from rioters because the back-up were not able to use the London force’s radio system.

The survey also presents serious concerns that there could be further widespread public disorder and rioting in London this summer. The anniversary of 8/8 falls when large numbers of police will be allocated to duties in east and central London for the Olympic Games.

Reading the Riots, published yesterday, has unearthed serious shortcomings in the police and civil organisations when faced with an emergency on the scale of the London riots.

Croydon Council’s own local inquiry, chaired by the Whitgift Foundation’s Willy Barnett, which published its findings earlier this year, had failed to discover that the Metropolitan police declined to use the reinforcements from other constabularies, Hampshire and Thames Valley, as the LSE reports.

Malcolm Wicks MP: wants the Met Commissioner to investigate the force’s short-comings on 8/8

Croydon police sources confirmed to Inside Croydon last year that on the morning of Monday, August 8, an appeal was made for additional officers in anticipation of trouble later that day. Yet as the rioting escalated on the Monday night, with Croydon and British Transport Police outnumbered by rioters near West Croydon station, on London Road and on the Purley Way, the reinforcements were stood down because, according to the LSE survey’s findings, the Met officer said he was unable to communicate with those on the ground from other forces.

The lack of police cover meant that the fire brigade could not tackle Reeves’ blazing furniture store without fear that its firefighters would be attacked by rioters.

Inside Croydon reported last August that the borough commander, Adrian Roberts, had received information from social media sites and telephone messages that some rioters in the borough had set out with the intention to kill a police officer.

On the fateful night of 8/8, with Roberts working as the Met’s “silver commander” in charge of London-wide police tactics from a control centre in Lambeth, less than 100 police were deployed in Croydon from the borough’s total available force of 700.

Those officers put in peril on the streets included under-trained back-office personnel and “anyone from the police station who could wear a uniform”, according to one officer who spoke to Inside Croydon.

The civil unrest had begun in Tottenham on the Saturday night, following the death of Mark Duggan after an incident with local police. One officer, deployed to deal with the resulting disorder in north London, told the LSE researchers something which seemed to be a common experience of many police on duty that weekend: “We were the target.”

Roberts is no longer borough commander in Croydon, having been assigned to Olympic security duties.

“The fact is we ran out of people,” Roberts told The Guardian‘s Paul Lewis.

Yet on the night of 8/8, nine vans of trained and experienced officers were left in a car park outside Croydon while lawlessness ruled.

“Croydon’s on fire and we’re sat in a car park for the simple reason we can’t get on the radio channels… in this day and age, that’s just laughable,” one anonymous officer, critical of the Met’s handling of the crisis, told the LSE researchers.

“The information we were getting was we can’t access the radio channels and the command channels that were being operated in Hackney and in Croydon, and for that reason, we were not going to be deployed there. That was the most frustrating thing I’ll take from that night.

“Massive amounts of resources were mustered into the capital that day were basically useless when there were other areas in desperate need of help.” Other forces have filed complaints to the Met over this failure to deploy these back-up officers.

According to the Reading the Riots report, on the nights of the rioting Roberts said he was unaware of the availability of these additional police. “You get to the point [when] there is nothing left in the pot,” Roberts was reported as saying. “It was extremely frustrating. We didn’t have enough people, we ran out of people very quickly…

Adrian Roberts: unaware that backup officers were not deployed

“We were overwhelmed. No one has ever denied that.”

Roberts has even claimed that the Met’s radio system “worked very well for us” on the nights of the riots.

Asked about the nine vans of officers who had to sit and watch while Reeves Corner burned, Roberts, in an interview with Newsnight, said, “I can assure you that if I had known cops were sitting in car parks, they would have been deployed pretty quickly.”

The LSE revelations come against the background of extraordinary cuts in police numbers, which many serving officers believe will leave the public and businesses extremely vulnerable if rioting was to break out again. “The cuts that are coming in are only going to make things worse,” said one interviewee.

“They say it’s not affecting front-line police officers. It is affecting front-line police officers,” said another serving officer. “We will be 16,000 police officers less in 12 months’ time, so the next time we have disorder on that scale, Theresa May can whistle.”

  • Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon. Not from Redhill.
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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
This entry was posted in Andrew Pelling, Broad Green, Crime, Croydon 8/8, Croydon North, London-wide issues, Malcolm Wicks MP, Policing, Purley Way, Riots Review Panel, West Croydon and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to “Croydon was on fire and we had to just sit in a car park”

  1. Jonathan Law says:

    For goodness sakes – if the rioters and looters could coordinate via mobile, Rwitter and suchlike, you’d think that the police could think of a plan B.

    What did the Police in the Brixton riots in 1981 do?

    Maybe an adequate health and safety assessment hadn’t been filled out and approved.

    It’s pathetic and must be frustrating for able-bodied police officers unable to lift a finger whilst the town burns.

  2. The damage caused by the riots is profound.

    It is clear from the powerful Guardian article of 2 July that the lives of many of Croydon’s riot victims have been destroyed. The stories of two victims – Gwen McIlree and Okay Niyazi – are heartbreaking. For Croydon as a whole, the riots have truly thrashed its image. The implications for the investment that Croydon so badly needs are hugely damaging.

    Given the huge damage caused by the riots, it seems both right and fair that there should be a completely honest investigation into how large swathes of the town were abandoned to the rioters.

    Although such honesty is painful, it provides the best chance of learning all of the lessons so as to ensure that Croydon is best prepared if these horrifying events were ever to recur. Also, as a matter of justice for the victims who were abandoned that night, political and police heads should roll from among those who were negligent in allowing this to happen.

    The Guardian/LSE revelations, together with the blunders revealed in Inisde Croydon’s post of 28 May, evidence that the Barnett riots’ inquiry has been completely ineffective in revealing – let alone analysing – the mistakes that led to the mayhem of 8/8. Although a thorough going investigation with real teeth will be a painful process, we need to know the truth. We need a proper inquiry – the Barnett inquiry has failed Croydon.

  3. Jon Rouse must also take responsibility for this, too, as a key member of the local Gold Command – he must have known things were about to get difficult when he left his office at 4pm to go to a meeting, as a police presence was building up in North End all day.

    He may have even walked through it. And when leaving his meeting at Mayday, perhaps he had to come back through Croydon to go home?

    And where was the Leader Mike Fisher all this time?

  4. Just one caveat.

    Let’s not blame Croydon’s appalling problems on 8/8 alone. Croydon Council and the Metropolitan Police had already damaged the borough’s image, possibly beyond repair, by their failure to act decisively long before last year’s riots.

    In particular the council’s idea that a night-time economy means opening as many vertical drinking establishments as possible as quickly as possible caused the police to come close to losing control in the town centre on numerous occasions before August 2011.

    And now, the withdrawal of police officers from Croydon is another disaster waiting to happen. Who will our delusionary council and complacent police management blame next time?

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