Riots 'mark of respect' to dead local men: High unemployment and a siege mentality fuels an explosion of violence on a Bristol estate. Michael Prestage reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHILE insurance loss adjusters went about their task and police in a Transit van kept a weather eye on the Symes Avenue shops, young men congregating in gangs spoke of the anger that had led to rioting on Bristol's Hartcliffe estate.

A drinking friend of Shaun Starr, one of the two men who died when their stolen motorcycle collided with a police car, said: 'He was a nice bloke, harmless enough. He nicked bikes and everybody knew that. The police would have known where to look. It was no reason to kill him.'

He added: 'I haven't been in trouble with the police for years, but I was out last night. You have to show your respect. We won't fire houses - that's just hurting your own. But the shops are a target and there will be more to come.'

The Hartcliffe estate learnt on Thursday it had failed to win investment as part of the Government's City Challenge initiative. An application for pounds 37.5m to be spent on improved transport links, 1,000 new homes and leisure proposals was rejected. The decision strengthened feelings that the area always comes second best for cash help.

A bearded man in a Hartcliffe FC sweatshirt said: 'St Paul's (another district of Bristol) got plenty of money when they rioted. Let's see what we get now the trouble has started here. They will start throwing money at the place.'

Hartcliffe's potential for violence has long been recognised. It has a strong community sense and a siege mentality. Unemployment is among the highest in the city and there are few facilities on the post-war estate built on the outskirts of the city. Racism is a serious problem and there are claims that the city council is reluctant to house black families in Hartcliffe because of victimisation.

In Hartcliffe last month, a gang laid siege to the house of a convicted sex offender in a vigilante-style attack. The house was smashed and ransacked and the man forced to flee.

The police yesterday emphasised that it was a small minority of the 12,000 population of the housing estate responsible for first rioting and then stoning firemen. The disturbance was quickly brought under control by officers on stand-by following the deaths of Mr Starr and Keith Buck earlier in the day. Chief Inspector Colin Bensons said: 'This was quite clearly an attack on the community of Hartcliffe, not an attack by the community. It was merely senseless hooliganism directed at the heart of the community. It will solve nothing. The people worst-hit are the people who can least afford it.' But on the streets there was sympathy for the venting of anger; even from those who had been victims of it. Neil Derrick, one of the Bread Basket bakers, suffered pounds 6,000 damage in the riot. Keith Buck worked at the shop.

Mr Derrick said: 'He was a close friend and a lovely kid. He was more like a younger brother than an employee. I can definitely understand why feelings are running high and why they did what they did. They may have nicked a bike but that is no reason to kill them. If those two coppers don't get put away then this is just the beginning.' He said he had never known so much friction on the estate and added that relations between police and residents have suffered irreparable damage. 'There are hundreds of kids in Hartcliffe and they want to make a point. They are not out to injure anyone. They just want to get nation-wide attention, they have seen other places like Salford get on the television and they are copying it.'

The library, community centre and 11 shops were badly damaged when fire-bombs were used in a 20-minute orgy of destruction.

Paul Smith, a local councillor, said: 'People are pretty pissed off here and the death of the two lads was like a spark. This was just waiting to happen. There are rumours of trouble over the next few days. There are lots of things in Hartcliffe people can be angry about.'

Police evacuated people living in flats above the shops, but two residents above a hairdressers, one of the worst damaged shops, played down claims that they had been rescued.

Greta Barcroft, 28, and Louise Cook, 22, said: 'It was frightening, but we just walked out. There was no danger. The two who died were killed by the police - those officers were well out of order. The dead men were well known locally. A lot of people are really gutted about the deaths.'

A young woman with an American pit bull terrier was reading messages of sympathy attached to bouquets of flowers pinned to a fence at the scene of the accident. The grass verge was still bloodstained. Mr Starr left two sons, Christopher and Joe, four months. She said: 'Everybody knew them. They drank locally and were nice lads. This shouldn't have happened.'