The rioter who set fire to a 140-year-old furniture shop, burning it to the ground in a scene which became a symbol of last summer’s riots, has been sentenced to 11-and-a-half years in prison.
The blaze set by 34-year-old Gordon Thompson gutted Reeves furniture store and forced Monika Konczyk, who lived opposite, to jump from an upstairs window to escape the flames. The picture of her leap to safety set against the flames was beamed worldwide.
“The total destruction of the site has been a bereavement to me, I just can’t understand what I have done to make someone do this to me,” store owner Trevor Reeves said in a victim impact statement to the Old Bailey. And Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow said of Mr Reeves’ 80-year-old father Maurice, who worked in the shop from the age of 16: “it was his life and, as he regarded it, his life had now been destroyed”.
Speaking outside court today, Maurice Reeves said he felt the sentence was fair, and that he accepted the apology Thompson had offered. The 81-year-old said: “He [Thompson] has done so much harm for everybody and we have to fight back and that’s what we are doing. That’s the typical Reeves family.”
Trevor, 56, said: “My father has built that store up, that store was his baby. I lived there as a child, played there as a child, I lived there as an adult, I worked there for most of my adult life, and when you lose something like that it’s like a bereavement.”
Thompson was sentenced at the Old Bailey today for arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered at House of Reeves in Croydon, south London, and burglary. Thompson also looted an Iceland and a House of Fraser in Croydon during the riots.
He was given 11 and a half years for the arson, two years each for two counts of burglary, and three years for a third count of burglary, to run concurrently.
The blaze he set at the furniture shop was said to be so fierce that buildings on the other side of the street and tramlines in the road caught alight. Ms Konczyk, who lived opposite Reeves, was left too scared to go out and could not go to work without her sister accompanying her. She now lives back in Poland but said at the time: “England has become a sick society”.
Passing sentence, Judge Peter Thornton said: “This day was a bad day for Croydon and the people of Croydon. Perhaps the most shocking event was that the House of Reeves was set alight and burned to the ground, putting lives at risk.”
He told Thompson the shop “had stood on the site for over 140 years, proudly giving its name to its location, Reeves Corner. You were about to bring all that to an end. This was a deliberate, wilful act of shocking, dangerous vandalism”.
He added: “The Reeves family lost their historic business, something they and generations before had lived and worked for all their lives. Their loss is priceless. The trauma they have suffered is inestimable.”
Thompson admitted starting the fire on February 24. The court heard that the total financial loss to the Reeves family was an estimated £3m.