Source: Ronan McGreevy, The Irish Times (excerpt)
Saturday, Aug 13th, 2011
Somebody once described Croydon as the place where London meets England, where the multicultural sprawl of a world city meets traditional suburbia. The borough contains places such as Purley, which is so much the quintessential English suburb that the sitcom Terry and June was located there. It also contains some of the biggest local-authority housing estates in Britain. So troubled are some of these latter areas that more children are expelled from schools in the borough than anywhere else in the UK. […]
On Monday night the borough became the focal point of some of the most extraordinary scenes of riot and disorder ever seen on British streets. From top to bottom, much of it was pilfered. It has already become apparent that the damage cannot be blamed exclusively on what have been called “feral teenagers”. […]
The mob did its worst damage in west Croydon, one of the poorer areas of the borough, where many shops owned by immigrants are located. Little was spared. A florist and an undertaker had windows broken, and five small shops and the residential flats upstairs were burnt to the ground. Sixteen residents took refuge in an Irish pub when a jewellery store was torched.
On the night of the riots Alan McCabe, the manager of the Irish pub [the Fox and Hound], provided a commentary on a BBC news bulletin on the madness breaking out all around him. He described how police were struggling to cope with the number of rioters. “It was unreal. You could see line after line of them, scattering all over the place. It was just a free-for-all. It was building and building. They were just mindless thugs. They weren’t out to prove a point. Anarchists get in the face of police, but you don’t burn people’s property or shop. What message does it send?”
There is considerable anger locally about the absence of police on the night, but the Metropolitan Police claim that Croydon’s narrow streets and the sheer number of places that were attacked, 200 shops in total, made it difficult for them to control the rioting. It is not an excuse that goes down well with locals who feel overburdened by police when they don’t need them.
“There was so many people running around on the road. It was war in Croydon. This is what 21st-century life is coming to. It is madness how it got so out of control,” says Matt Fisher, a 19-year-old local who witnessed the looting. “There were people robbing the people who were robbing.”
Malcolm Wicks, the Labour MP for Croydon North, says parts of Croydon looked like “Berlin or London in the second World War”. This is hyperbole, certainly, as the borough was pulverised during the war by German bombs, but it hurts all the more that the latest damage was done by its own residents.