How six police officers saw off a gang of 50 in Catford

A police officer has described how he fended off a gang of 50 hooded youths from ransacking a retail park.

Pc Gordon Murphy, 30, and five other officers had just two shields to protect them against a mob who were trying to loot the stores, in Catford, south-east London, on Monday night.

The officer, based at Catford Police Station, said that he and his colleagues charged at the mob - despite them being so few in their number - in a bid to scare them off.

The father-of-one, who is also a local resident, said the gang of 40 to 50 youths waited until dark to start their assault.

He said: "We were able to create a small barrier at the end of the retail park.

"As darkness fell, the young people started attacking - they were throwing bricks and bottles at us.

"There were two of us with small shields to protect other police officers and the property.

"Once they had thrown missiles at us they then rushed directly towards us, shouting and screaming.

"Their intention was to run at us mob-handed to frighten us to run away. Don't get me wrong, it did cross our minds, but I am a local police officer, I work in the Safer Neighbourhood Team. When you police the local area, you get to know people, you do get quite protective of your area and have a pride in it.

"You want people to be safe, you want businesses to be safe, so we just thought: 'We are not having any of this'.

"We decided, as they ran at us, to rush back at them, with only six officers running back at 40. The mad thing is, they all ran back so we didn't even have to make contact with them.

"We just showed a show of strength, with our shields and our batons drawn, shouting as loud as we could: 'get back' and a few other war cries and the kids ran back across the road and continued throwing things at us."

The officer, who has been stationed in Lewisham for six years, said that sporadic disorder had spread throughout the borough and other officers had been deployed elsewhere before they could assist those defending the shopping park, which is home to Currys, PC World, Harveys, Comet and a CarpetRight.

The small group protected the area on their own for about half an hour before backup could come and disperse the group.

Team manager at Currys, Ridwan Haibe, said: "They did a fantastic job. We really appreciate the service that they have done for us.

"Six of them against 50 youths is quite impressive."

Mr Murphy said he felt "proud" that he had managed to keep the buildings safe and added that he and a few others suffered minor injuries during the clash.

He said: "A couple of us have got some bruises but I think the tiredness is worse than anything else.

"There are so many missiles hailing down on you that you aren't able to protect yourself from all of them so you are getting hit in the legs, feet and ankles with bits of rock and bottles.

"Some officers have cuts to their arms, bruises to the legs, but there are other officers who have much worse injuries than us."

He added that police were "stretched to the limit" in London in a bid to stop the violence.

He said: "Every police officer on the ground in London is doing exactly the same thing.

"We are out there, wanting to protect the people, protect the public.

"We are stretched to the limit because this is a concerted effort by young people who just want to carry out mindless violence because they are exploiting an opportunity.

"We are doing what we can to stop that."

The officer also described how officers around the capital had been working tirelessly to keep the city safe.

He said that police staff had been working extra-long shifts with little sleep in between.

All leave has been cancelled until at least next Tuesday, he added.

"We have been doing 14-hour shifts and upwards so most officers are not getting to see their families, not getting to see their partners, they are surviving on five to six hours sleep a night at the most. We are lucky if we're eating properly.

"It is getting to the stage where everyone is tired but last night the officers on the streets had made a massive difference."

Mr Murphy, originally from Glasgow, is the first frontline Metropolitan Police Officer to speak about his experience since the riots began last Saturday.