Tottenham smoulders after night of rioting
Rob Hastings is Deputy News Editor at The Independent. He has served on the news desk since 2010, and also writes travel articles, music reviews and features. In 2015 he shortlisted for the Washington Post’s Laurence Stern Fellowship for a series on reportage features from Iran.
Monday 08 August 2011
The residents of Tottenham were demanding answers from the police last night amid accusations that too little was done to control London's worst riots in a generation.
Twenty-six police officers and three members of the public were injured in violence on Saturday night, which erupted after a vigil for Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old man shot dead by police on Thursday.
Anger spread before opportunistic looters ripped cash machines out of walls and stormed shops, carrying away what they could or loading up shopping trolleys. The looting continued yesterday morning as smoke still rose from burnt shops, a bus and two police cars.
London Fire Brigade said it attended 49 fires on Saturday night, while 55 people were arrested for offences ranging from violent disorder to burglary and theft. Police were reportedly drawing reinforcements from the Home Counties as they tried to prevent a second night of violence. Further disturbances took place last night in neighbouring Enfield, where a police car and shops were vandalised. Officers used dogs and baton charges in a bid to restore order.
The Metropolitan Police has launched a major investigation – codenamed Operation Withern – into the Tottenham riots and will review hours of CCTV and interview witnesses. Large sections of Tottenham High Road remained closed off yesterday evening after the smouldering remains of what had been a large carpet store were declared structurally unsafe. Meanwhile, the owners of dozens more businesses were left to assess the damage and board up their shop windows.
"A community that was already hurting has had its heart ripped out," said the local MP David Lammy, whose constituency still holds bitter memories of the race-fuelled Broadwater Farm riot in 1985. "There are homeless people standing back there. We don't know if there are fatalities within some of those homes and flats which are now burned out."
The most severe violence took place on the High Road, where riot police on horseback faced streams of hooded youths armed with petrol bombs, bricks and other weapons.
Unrest then spread to the nearby Tottenham Hale retail park, where large outlets of Argos, Currys, Comet and JD Sports were ransacked. By morning, looting had spread to the separate neighbourhood of Wood Green, which is some two miles away.
Teenagers and adults were said to have turned up in cars and filled their boots with stolen items, unimpeded by police, while others stuffed shopping trolleys with electronic goods. Every single handset was stolen from one mobile-phone shop.
Fiona Edwards, a 19-year-old student who had been working in Argos during her summer holidays, said: "They took jewellery, laptops, TVs, the tills – everything's gone. I don't have a job any more."
Hostility to the police remained yesterday – with "Fuck the Police" graffiti daubed on roads and several buildings – but residents spoke of their anger that officers had not reacted quickly enough.
"There was no visible police presence," said a 60-year-old woman, who did not want to give her name. "They just stayed at the bottom of the High Road, watching the whole thing. They took the attitude that the buildings can be replaced, and that if they rushed in and someone got hurt, they'd get the blame."
Sources close to David Lammy also spoke of frustration that the police had not done more to calm anger surrounding Mr Duggan's death, although Mr Duggan's family strongly condemned the rioters.
"Some questions were supposed to have been answered, they weren't answered, therefore there was a domino effect from that," said his brother, Shaun Hall.
"We don't condone that at all. I know people are frustrated, they're angry out there at the moment, but I would say please try and hold it down. Please don't make this about my brother's life, he was a good man," he added.Police Commander Adrian Hanstock defended the Met's response.
He said there had been "no indication" the violence was about to happen and that a peaceful demonstration had been "hijacked by a small number of criminal elements, who used that for their own gain". He added: "The looting, the damage, the concern that has been caused to businesses and people who have lost their homes and their livelihoods is absolutely unacceptable."
There was also concern among locals about an apparently sluggish response by leading politicians, with the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Mayor of London all on holiday. "Where's the mayor, where's Boris?" said 30-year-old resident Karen Smith. "I'm furious."
Later Mr Johnson issued a statement saying: "I'm appalled at the scenes of violence and destruction in Tottenham. The acting commissioner [of the Metropolitan force] has assured me that the police are doing everything they can to resolve this situation. The events leading to these disturbances are rightly being investigated by the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission].
"Harming people and property will do nothing to facilitate the investigation – it will only make the situation worse," the Mayor added.
In a statement issued by Downing Street yesterday morning, the Prime Minister called the riots "utterly unacceptable". Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said: "Such disregard for public safety and property will not be tolerated."
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