Croydon riots 10 years on: ‘I was in real fear for my family’

London Road, West Croydon, August 9 2011: firefighters deal with the aftermath of a night of looting and arson. Photo: Jan Podsiadly

CROYDON COMMENTARY: On August 8 2011, the night that Croydon burned, photographer JAN PODSIADLY captured some of the scenes close to his home that he witnessed and terrified him, and here, 10 years on, recalls some of the events 

Ten years ago I was in the middle of the Croydon riots.

It was purportedly a response to the controversial killing of Mark Duggan by the police.

Terrified: eight buildings on London Road were destroyed that night. Even now, 10 years later, some have never been rebuilt. Photo: Jan Podsiadly

West Croydon, where I lived, was the worst-hit place in any city in England. Few press images exist of the London Road. The enduring Croydon image was of the flames from Reeves Corner, but that was nowhere near the destruction of properties at the top of my road.

It wasn’t “protestors”. Cars parked in a side street opposite my house were loaded with loot by young men whose only interest was taking what they could.

According to one rioter, interviewed by academics years later, the only thing that made it all stop was when “The shops ran out of stuff.”

Shopkeepers who tried to protect their homes and their livelihoods were threatened with violence. Photo: Jan Podsiadly

Shopkeepers on London Road who attempted to defend their stores were brushed aside and threatened.

Eight shops on London Road in West Croydon were totally destroyed and have never come back. Some of the buildings have still not been rebuilt.

Even charity shops were targeted by rioters. Photo: Jan Podsiadly

Eventually, government recovery grants were paid to the council, but the money was diverted to more affluent South Croydon, although the destruction there was minimal by comparison.

West Croydon buildings were left completely gutted by the arson of 8/8. Photo: Jan Podsiadly

Ministry of Justice figures show a total of 1,292 offenders were jailed for their part in the rioting that started in London and spread across the country.

But I am not aware that anyone has ever been charged with the destruction of the West Croydon buildings. Probably, they never will.

Post-riot reports praised police officers on the frontline, but found that there were not enough to cope with the emergency. Photo: Jan Podsiadly

There was no official government inquiry after the riots, but there were reports by other bodies. Opportunism, social deprivation, discontent with the police and unemployment were all mentioned, but a single overwhelming cause for what happened over five days in August 2011 was not pinpointed.

Analyses following the riots found that police tactics were hampered by inadequate numbers, that they should sometimes have intervened more promptly and assertively, and that their intelligence was flawed.

All the reports praised the bravery of the officers on the frontline.

That night, I was living on the frontline.

I have never experienced such vile behaviour and greed as I witnessed that night and I hope that I never have to again.

The clear-up started on London Road the following day, Tuesday, Aug 9. But 10 years on, there are still vacant lots left by the night of rioting. Photo: Jan Podsiadly

I was in real fear for myself, my family and friends and for the possibility that my house might be torched.

I doubt that all the looters have been caught but I sincerely hope that those who were caught paid a heavy price for their actions.

Read more: Croydon riots 10 years on: Arson land put up for sale at £2m
Read more: Croydon riots 10 years on: A decade of missed opportunity
Read more: Croydon riots 10 years on: Risks greater now than in 2011

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4 Responses to Croydon riots 10 years on: ‘I was in real fear for my family’

  1. miapawz says:

    I lived in West Croydon then. I was pretty scared that it would get to where I lived and I could feel the heat from the fires. It was clear to me that looterers and robbery was the main motivation for the attacks in Croydon. People were sending BBMs to each other arranging for vans to go to Valley Park!

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    Jan is quite right. Having to go an get my children from Windmill park where they were playing football and walking through the hundreds of youths with balaclava’s and scarves over their faces was an interesting experience. Considering that this was the late afternoon and not one officer in sight said it all. Getting home and connecting the hose and plenty of buckets and ensuring as best one could that anything that could be weaponized was secured or removed and the house locked down just brought back memories of previous days in 80s Brixton. Watching the cars being firebombed at the end of the road and friends at the dry cleaners having their livelihood destroyed was also very difficult and gave a sense of helplessness.
    We organised ourselves
    We looked after our neighbors who were unable to secure their homes as maintenance had not been done by their landlords. We kept in contact with others on Elmwood road also by phone and those we knew in St James Court. That it was close to midnight before we saw any Police and then it was a van dropping off two female officers at the end of the road by the junction of St James and the London road said it all. The shops were burning to the ground and the cars burning at the end of the road the road had melted in places. Those living in the flats above the shops on st James road vulnerable and they had to leave their homes with no where to move to. Never were Council and Government cuts and mismanagement so keenly felt by those in need. The Emergency Services were more than stretched that day and were also at risk but they were not helpless like the residents at Broad Green. It felt like the world had abandoned the area and it had.

    However what was worse was being abandoned in the aftermath and ever since. I am sure representatives of local and central administration came and saw and talked and made plans.

    But not on my road or the next and there has never been anything spent on our road, no riot money no compensation, no insurance and no crimes numbers. We had to fix and pay for the damage ourselves. No information no leaflets nothing. We heard about Boris’s £20 million and read about all the Public realm ”improvements” on the hoarding of the burnt out buildings.
    What we got was a traffic nightmare, trap houses and brothels more cuts to services, total ignorance from the Council and just more development in an already crowded area. So many people left and a happy and thriving local community where many did voluntary work at schools parks rubbish picking died totally.

    The Croydon riots caused a lot of damage and ruined some peoples livelihoods and caused injury.

    It took the Council and Governments (in)actions afterwards to totally destroy a community for a generations and destroy public trust and confidence in our services and elected representatives.

    I am not surprised there has been no public inquiry – there is no need – culpability is evident and continues to be so.

  3. Hazel swain says:

    I would like to know which parts of “affluent South Croydon ” got the help.. precious little evidence in my part ……

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