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.
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.
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.”
“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…
“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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