For the second time in less than three years, last night the Metropolitan Police was forced to abandon a part of central Croydon to an unruly mob, with officers ordered to withdraw from an area that was unsafe for them as a public order situation got out of control.
An illegal rave in the abandoned Royal Mail sorting office at East Croydon Station continued loudly into the early hours of this morning, with police watching on from a safe distance outside, while tram and bus services were stopped from travelling into the taped-off area, causing considerable disruption at one of London’s major transport hubs.
According to local MP Gavin Barwell, the police – mostly equipped with nothing more than standard issue stab vests and a truncheon – abandoned any pretence of being able to control the situation when confronted by a crowd of an estimated one thousand rave-goers.
As with the Croydon Riots of August 2011 – when Barwell bravely wrote of how he drove away from central Croydon, anxiously watching the smoke and flames in his rear-view mirror – the MP was not actually at East Croydon last night, but he expressed his gratitude for the updates provided to him by the Met’s under-manned and under-resourced front-line officers.
After the police first attended the scene at around 9pm, “Within 30 minutes the crowd had doubled and was increasing further with every train which arrived at East Croydon Station,” Barwell wrote, somewhat breathlessly, this morning.
“Officers became the focal point of the crowd’s frustration and missiles began to be thrown at police. This then escalated to fire extinguishers and furniture being thrown from the building at the officers below.
“At this point, it was evident that the officers on scene were at risk of serious injury and there was a distinct risk of the crowd moving into a very busy Croydon town centre with the possibility of serious public disorder. Just before 11pm, the decision was therefore taken to turn the building over to the crowd. Instructions were given for all officers to withdraw from the building, but to maintain a watching brief…”.
While it was never likely to have been as serious an incident as the infamous night of August 8, 2011, the rave highlights yet again the inadequacies in Croydon’s front-line policing when confronted by a major public order incident.
“For many of my constituents, this incident will have uncomfortable parallels with the 2011 riots where officers quickly found themselves wholly outnumbered,” Barwell said this morning. Serious doubts remain about whether the Metropolitan Police’s establishment, cut by Barwell’s Tory colleague, the London Mayor Boris Johnson, has ever been restored to pre-2008 levels, whether in Croydon or across the capital.
There would have been extra officers on duty last night, in any case, to deal with the crowds expected in the town centre for the late kick-off in the England v Italy World Cup match. But while the Met’s helicopter was busily buzzing over central Croydon for a couple of hours before midnight, calls for additional resources on the ground to help to control the issue appear to have gone unheeded once again.
“Were additional police resources requested quickly enough and were they despatched quickly enough?” Barwell asked. Whether he will get any frank answers to such questions from Mayor Johnson, or from London Assembly member Steve O’Connell, the Conservative councillor for Kenley, seems unlikely.
That police only knew of the rave at 9pm on Saturday – that is, as the event was getting under way with hundreds of revellers starting to spill off trains from central London and the south coast – suggests an utter failure in the Met’s and the council’s local intelligence operation.
For a borough with such a high density of CCTV cameras in operation, how the initial break-in to the building and the arrival of large pieces of audio and lighting equipment was never noticed should raise some serious questions not only within the police, but also at the “borough command centre” (ho! ho!) at Croydon Council’s headquarters.
And that the old sorting office building was so easily broken into and turned into a rave venue highlights another shortcoming in Croydon’s “development” strategy, so warmly embraced by Tory MP Barwell, but which has left the husks of buildings across the borough abandoned or near-derelict and inviting use by squatters and rave organisers.
Last night’s incident occurred as the Met’s Borough Commander, David Musker, is being moved on himself, as first revealed by Inside Croydon last month.
Put in charge of Croydon’s police in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 riots with a brief to toughen-up the Met’s response in our borough, last night’s incident surely summarises the true impact – or lack of it – of Musker, who has been rewarded with promotion. His replacement as Croydon Borough Commander has yet to be named.
Even this morning, party-goers stared out of the many smashed windows and leered at truncheon-bearing but impotent police holding a cordon around the site.
With many shards of glass strewn over the surrounding pavements of Billinton Hill and George Street, bus and tram services continued to be suspended.
Once the Royal Mail was privatised at Vince Cable’s knock-down price for the benefit of the ConDem Government’s pals in The City, the national postal service abandoned its public utility function and instead opted to become property developers. The East Croydon sorting office building was one of the prime sites quickly flogged off, despite protests by local residents and the trades unions. It has since stood empty ahead of possible redevelopment for 200 yuppie apartments.
“Developers must bring such buildings into use as quickly as possible otherwise they leave themselves open to this kind of abuse,” said Andrew Pelling, the Labour councillor and occasional contributor to Inside Croydon.
“With a massive housing shortage and housing costs ballooning in Croydon it is a scandal that places like the sorting office and the Nestle building are left to rot. The physical damage that raves can cause to the empty buildings they take place in hurt our community.”
Coming to Croydon
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- David Lean Cinema: Suzanne, June 19
- Airport House swing dance free event, June 21
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- David Lean Cinema: Feet from Stardom, June 23
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- David Lean Cinema: The Lunchbox, June 26
- Warnings to the Curious, Spread Eagle Theatre, June 27
- St Peter’s Village Fayre, South Croydon, June 28
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- Coast to Capital business briefing, July 4
- CODA’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Wandle Park, Jul 30-Aug 2
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 72,342 average monthly page views (Jan-Mar 2014)
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