CROYDON COMMENTARY: In a week of anniversaries, tomorrow’s of the Croydon Riots reminds us quite how poorly served the people of London Road have been by some working in public service. By STEVEN DOWNES
To borrow a phrase, August 8 is a date that will go down in infamy. At least as far as Croydon is concerned.
Not very much, it seems, as some parts of our community continue to feel a justifiable sense of abandonment by the authorities.
Just this week, with the sort of comic mis-timing of which Norman Wisdom might have been proud, Croydon Council’s media department has been busily publicising the news that £3.2 million-worth of works are about to start in Broad Green and along London Road, the areas worst affected by the arson, rioting and looting on 8/8.
It has taken them three years to get round to it. A full 36 months since the riots.
The insensitive souls working in Fisher’s Folly have even crassly headlined the work as a Croydon “Facelift”. Ha bloody ha.
A new paving slab here, a lick of paint there: it is all quite superficial, another example of yet more style over substance. And all wretchedly too little and much too late for the many who lost their homes and their livelihoods in that night of riots, when the council and local police effectively abandoned them to the mob.
For those who were forced from their homes and businesses in 2011, the modest works starting in London Road in 2014 are, according to one local campaigner for victims of the riots, “…like giving the kiss of life to a corpse years after they’ve had the last rites read to them”.
Of course, similar projects have already been conducted elsewhere in the borough, in Fairfield and Croham, wards which were far less affected by the rioting than London Road. Unlike Labour-supporting Broad Green, both of these wards happen to have Conservative councillors, including Vidhi Mohan, who was the cabinet member responsible for prioritising these projects under the previously Tory-run council.
All the projects have been part-funded by the Mayor of London’s laughably entitled “Riot Recovery Fund”.
“Almost £600,000 of the budget will be spent supporting 40 local businesses to improve their shops and building frontages,” according to the council in a statement issued yesterday, in an admission that this is all about papering over cracks. “This will include cleaning and repainting, new shop fronts, signs, awnings and security shutters, and the restoration of historic features.”
It’s the same-old, same-old elsewhere, too, as far as the aftermath of the riots are concerned. The not-so-local paper, from the safety of their offices in Dorking, have run a suitably facile poll of their diminishing band of readers, full of over-simplified, yes-no answers in an attempt to generate a couple of easy headlines during the usually slow-news silly season.
Most reasonably minded observers will have been aware from that terrible weekend of rioting in London that there are no simple answers, no quick fixes to any of the under-lying problems across the capital that led to and contributed to the nights of destruction.
It is telling how often the supra-authority for London, the Mayor’s Office, crops up time and again in the post-riots stories, and never in a good way.
There’s the slow delivery of works under the riot recovery fund. Then there’s the glacially slow progress when it comes to paying compensation under the Riots Damages Act – again ultimately the responsibility of the Mayor as the police commissioner for the Met. Only yesterday, one couple whose London Road business was gutted by the riots finally got their pay-out. Three whole years after the event. Thanks, Boris!
Boris Johnson, as London Mayor and police commissioner, has presided over Croydon having 50 fewer police on the streets for the past three years as well as the closing of all but one of the borough’s police stations – a plan which he and our London Assembly Member, Steve O’Connell, knew about when seeking re-election in 2012 but avoided mentioning until after they had been safely returned to their cosy positions at City Hall. Meanwhile, violent crime on our borough’s streets has been on the increase.
It is fair to say that we were sceptical of the Croydon Riots Review Panel when it was established in September 2011, suspecting it of being a toothless body too steeped in its local Establishment connections and vested interests to make any difference.
The panel was given just a fortnight to collect evidence. The police refused to co-operate. Nonetheless, the review panel made a grand total of 24 recommendations when it delivered its report in March 2012.
It is a festering scandal for our borough and our city that, as of today, not a single one of those mostly modest recommendations have been implemented in full either by the London Mayor or Croydon Council.
The majority of the panel’s recommendations focused on policing, which some may suggest was because there was much to be improved about the way our streets are policed.
The recommendations included,
- “Increasing the number of Level-2 public order-trained officers across the service” and
- “Ensuring boroughs that have officers taken away for use elsewhere are not left without any public order-trained police”.
When Croydon had another bout of public order problems with the rave at the East Croydon Post Office building earlier this summer, the police on duty were forced to withdraw from the scene because of the lack of sufficient and suitably trained or equipped officers.
The review panel’s recommendations also included,
- “Increase visible policing in West Croydon and New Addington by opening full-time stations in these areas”;
- “Assess whether the overall number of police officers in Croydon is in keeping with areas such as Lewisham, Wandsworth and Islington and whether resourcing takes sufficient account of the high levels of unreported crime and fear of crime in some areas of the borough”;
- “Take into account the requirements of areas outside immediate town centres when considering the level of policing required for incidents”;
- “A reduction in the number of stop and searches that are not intelligence-based to achieve better targeting”;
- “Ensuring stop and searches are undertaken in a dignified manner that does not cause disaffection”;
- “Provide every person who was stopped and searched with written reasons for doing so”.
Those last three recommendations for the police are particularly noteworthy, since they demonstrate how we have learned nothing in the past 30 years. When Lord Scarman delivered his report on the Brixton Riots in the early 1980s, the Met’s stop and search policy was singled out for particular criticism in the way it was ill-used and created divisions between communities and the police.
Yet here, in the 21st century, and following another full-scale riot in another part of south London, similar recommendations have been put to the police. And ignored. The work of a local stop and search monitoring group may be instructive in this area in future.
Since becoming MP for Croydon North, Steve Reed has followed Inside Croydon’s lead, looking at some of our case studies of riot victims. “The Prime Minister and the Mayor of London walked along the devastated London Road and promised people they would not be forgotten, that while the state had failed to protect them during the riots, it would stand by them now as they rebuilt their lives,” Reed said.
“They feel completely abandoned by a government that promised to help them when the TV cameras were on, but walked away when the media glare died down.”
That was more than 12 months ago. Another year on, and little has changed for the residents and small business owners of the London Road. MP Reed has met with residents, of course, and offered many reassuring words. But neither he nor the Conservative-led government’s whip, Gavin Barwell, appear to have affected much in the way of significant or immediate improvements for the people of Croydon North and Central who were victims of the riots.
Of course, at Croydon Town Hall there is now a new, Labour political administration. But will that change anything? Can the Labour-run council really change anything?
The early signs are not good.
In Labour’s local election manifesto for Croydon, the word “riots” was mentioned just once. Fly-tipping was mentioned seven times as often. “We’re looking forward, not back,” has been the new slogan of Tony Newman since taking over as Leader of the Council in June.
Is that signal of where the Labour-run council, with reduced budgets and limited powers, believes it can affect change – street-sweeping – rather than by getting the Tory Mayor who runs our police to deliver on his responsibilities? Sadly, probably.
Newman and the borough’s elected representatives have already endorsed the leadership of the council’s executive, many of whom were in position and in charge on that infamous night of the riots. For all the chatter about cleaning Croydon’s streets, Labour seems strangely reluctant to employ a new broom to sweep through the council offices.
“We’re looking forward, not back.” It is a curious position to take, to entrust the solution of the problems of neglect, abandonment and disinvestment which led to the riots to the very same people who have singularly failed the people of London Road for three years and more.
- For Inside Croydon’s in-depth archive of coverage of the 8/8 riots, from the moment it began right through the enquiries and on-going aftermath, click here
- Parade-ground generals fail to lead on council’s Front Line
- Labour and the hidden agenda as Elvery is handed top job
- £20 million: Croydon’s planned spend on consultants this year
Coming to Croydon
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 13
- David Lean Cinema: The Wind Rises, Aug 14
- Mind-Loosing Workshop, Aug 16
- David Lean Cinema: The Love Punch, Aug 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Aug 16
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 20
- David Lean Cinema: Stop The Pounding Heart, Aug 21
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 27
- David Lean Cinema: Frank, Aug 28
- Upper Norwood Library well-being groups, Aug 30
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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