How a former soldier battling post traumatic stress disorder documented last summer's riots


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The Independent Online

For former soldier Ernie Taylor, the Hackney riots brought back the senseless violence and trauma of Northern Ireland, triggering memories of horrors almost four decades old.

In an attempt to record and deal with the extreme emotions that last year’s criminal uprising generated, he went out on to the streets near his east London home to record the wreckage the following morning, 9 August 2011.

A former Private in the 3 Battalion, The Light Infantry, Mr Taylor, 56, has spent years battling with PTSD brought on by the horrors of Belfast in the seventies.

“I was handling it reasonably well until I had a stroke five years ago. When I woke up in hospital my first memories were of Belfast. The main thing that upset me was two children, a two-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl, dying in a house fire. We couldn’t get in and we tried our best. When we finally broke the door down, they were under the sink. The army prepares you, and you prepare yourself, for friends being shot or blown up but not children.”

He recalled an eerie quiet around his home in Hackney last year before the riots erupted.

“I went out in my mobility scooter towards the centre. I saw a photographer with a broken nose and another with a black eye who complained they had stolen his cameras. It just took me back to Belfast, bricks all over the place, glass all over the place, things burning.”

The following morning he re-emerged to take these photographs, a hobby he has used for years to keep his emotions under control: “I was up before 6am. I needed to record it. It was gross stupidity, there was no reason for it whatsoever. It made me extremely angry. What is the point of destroying something instead of using it? These were adults behaving like children having a tantrum.”

The memories of that night exacerbated the sleeplessness, flashbacks and nightmares of his PTSD so, with the help of his former regimental association, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) rehoused Mr Taylor to a quieter spot in Suffolk.

“They were fantastic. It is very, very tranquil here and there is the freedom, the open space.”