The menace of the masked mob on the night of riots

8/8 One Year On: As we approach the anniversary of the London riots, we will be publishing readers’ and contributors’ memories of that darkest of nights, their views and  hopes for the future.

People in hoodies and with scarves and masks pulled over their faces menaced homes and property across London that August weekend, as Anthony Miller found as he drove to Sydenham

ANTHONY MILLER, an East Croydon-based comedy promoter, went for a drive that night to a supermarket to do some shopping with his girlfriend. What he saw angered him long afterwards.

This account is based on his testimony to the council’s Barnett Inquiry

I left home some time around 10pm to drive my girlfriend to West Norwood. As I’m often at gigs in the evenings, we don’t tend to watch the news on my evenings off, so I had no idea that Croydon was rioting.

As I came out of the underpass we could smell burning and as we passed the junction of Poplar Walk and Wellesley Road we could see that the police had tried to tape off Poplar Walk but the tape had been broken.

There were quite a few policemen with riot gear but they didn’t seem to be in any formation and I couldn’t see any rioters but we didn’t hang about, just drove up further along Wellesley Road away from where there appeared there might be trouble.

After going round the Hogarth Crescent roundabout we continued up White Horse Road where there seemed to be some groups of people milling about but we didn’t stop and I turned right up Windmill Road and kept driving towards Sydenham.

My girlfriend wanted to go to Sainsburys Sydenham to get some food as she was staying with her mother in West Norwood.

This is a supermarket on a sort of industrial estate with a large car park. As we drove in it was noticeable that there were not many cars parked and I noticed too there was a lack of shopping trollies. Some lights were on so we got out to see if it was open.

Then we realised there were two police cars next to where the cashpoints were and about three or four policemen.

My girlfriend wanted to use the cashpoint so she asked the police what was happening and if she could. They explained that the shop had been ram-raided and pointed to a car in a broken glass panel.

I stood a way away from the car between my car and the police and I noticed a hooded figure move towards my car but as I moved back towards my car he sheepishly moved away with an unconvincing impression of innocence.

As we left the car park we could see a large gang of people, some hooded, some not, hanging back from the supermarket by where the petrol station bit is. They sort of advanced towards us in curiosity and I noticed some of them had their mobiles out.

It was fairly dark and I was concentrating on driving but there seemed to be upwards of about 20 of them that I could see. I drove rather hurriedly out the car park considering whether to jump the lights but decided I was being paranoid.

We then drove back to West Norwood where we noticed some small groups of people milling about along Sydenham Road, but whether they were criminal or just there, I don’t know … and wasn’t stopping to look.

Establishment figure William Barnett: paid £35,000 for a report that exonerated all blame from Croydon Council for last August’s riots

Coming back to Croydon, I went down South Norwood Hill and Portland Road, along Shirley Road and Addiscombe Road and these areas seemed comparatively quiet.

The overall impression I got was that although, when we found trouble we drove away from it, the chaos in south London was so extensive that this was impossible.

We were watching a complete breakdown of law and order.

It took me several weeks to calm down from this. It’s difficult to get over the unspecified nature of threat. Certainly the gang around Sydenham Sainsbury’s car park were eerily co-ordinated and strangely quiet.

There was a sort of a stand-off going on between them and the police; it was like one of those wild west films where you know something is going to kick off but it hasn’t yet.

It was difficult to believe that the rioting could be that coordinated. But it clearly was coordinated. Very coordinated.

I also remember looking at a lot of young people whose faces were obscured and noticing many of them were using their phones and thinking why were so many of them out? Didn’t they have homes? Did their parents not know that they were out?

I can’t think that everyone who came home that night with “gear” would not have done so if they did not have parental support of some kind for their nocturnal activities. Or are these kids just neglected? It made you suspicious of everyone you saw about.

I was a bit worried about submitting information to the Croydon Inquiry at all, so it’s a bit annoying that having made myself available the inquiry then didn’t really seem to do much inquiring. Although the timeline of events in the report is interesting what I really wanted to know was how what happened in Croydon fitted into the larger pattern of events that I saw. I was expecting the report to probe this and to tell us something of the larger criminal networks involved.

Maybe that cant be divulged for police operational reasons but I suspect no one knows who orchestrated much of the highly organised crimes.

As far as the stand up circuit went, things seemed to return to normal fairly quickly and there was no actual loss of trade that I noticed, although I did lose a bit of money on pulling the gig on the Wednesday that week.

I don’t like pulling gigs ever because if you don’t run there’s the danger of losing return trade. But really we had no choice

London Road remained closed for a long time which made driving to Balham a bit of a chore but I don’t think it actually hit nightlife or stopped people going out in the way I feared it might. Mind you it might have stopped them coming to Croydon.


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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
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