Tell us why the mob drove us from our corner shop: A simple good turn led to days of rioting on a Lincoln housing estate. David Connett reports

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The Independent Online
The corner shop is quiet now. Every door and window has been boarded up and is covered with graffiti.

A month ago this little corner of Macauley Drive and Swift Gardens in Lincoln wasn't quite so tranquil. It was a scene of violent clashes between police and youths as petrol bombs were thrown. Over four days it erupted from a minor confrontation to rioting.

Lincolnshire Police, local councillors and residents on the city's St Giles estate were astounded. No one was more surprised than Bob and Dot Dunderdale, who had run the shop for five years, building it up from an empty shell to a thriving business.

Their shop took the brunt of the mob's anger. The police took the rest. The shop was ransacked and looted, and the Dunderdales were forced to move to a secret address. Charges levelled at them since have left them confused and frightened.

'We got on well with the people on the estate. We used to mix in,' Mrs Dunderdale said.

'I knew the estate, at least I thought I did. I have no idea what has caused this, nor have the police nor anyone else.' The couple's business prospered until they became the target of a vicious whispering campaign.

'About six to eight weeks before the trouble the atmosphere on the estate changed. I don't know how it changed. It was the feeling I got from the odd look,' Mr Dunderdale said.

He speculates it might have started from a random incident. 'A person was injured during a disturbance at a wedding reception being held nearby. Someone came in and asked to use the shop telephone to call an ambulance. The person who made the call only telephoned for an ambulance. I know because I was holding the telephone.' The police arrived with the ambulance and he thinks people believe he called them. That night somebody broke one of his shop windows. In the following weeks the shop had several windows broken and had two break-ins.

The Dunderdales are still seeking an explanation for what happened next. 'I got a phone call from the local police. They asked me to go up because windows had been smashed,' Mr Dunderdale said. When he arrived he was confronted with a frightening scene. 'There were lots of people milling around, kids and adults. The atmosphere was very tense. I thought 'Christ I'm frightened, what's causing this problem?'

'Even one of the police officers was nervous. I had never felt anything like it. These were people we served every day. They just stood there staring.'

When he heard the next morning there had been a riot he broke down and both he and his wife had to be treated by their doctor.

Their sense of victimisation has since been compounded as rumours spread around Lincoln. Last week residents on the estate said the shop was attacked because the Dunderdales were 'grasses'. The Dunderdales deny it vehemently. 'I wouldn't know how to grass someone up. I only spoke to police to report vandalism for insurance purposes, and even then if it was minor I didn't bother. The only time I've ever been in court was for my wines and spirits licence.'

When pressed, residents on St Giles have no evidence for the informer allegation but are not concerned it might be untrue. They quickly cite other reasons why the shop was singled out.

They range from the Dunderdales' treatment of shoplifters to a cruel and unfounded allegation that Bob Dunderdale was a child molester.

Mr Dunderdale urged the Independent on Sunday to publish the latter allegation. 'Get it out in the open so I can challenge it. It is completely untrue.'

He dismisses every other rumour as well. They did have shoplifters but no more than any other shop. 'Normally I would ask them to either put the item on the counter and pay for it or put it back on the shelf. I didn't report them.'

They have been accused of barring people from the shop, but Mr Dunderdale insists he only barred a six-year-old for misbehaviour and a 14-year-old for bad language. 'We also banned a young girl for shoplifting but let her back in after she had a baby,' he said.

The most trivial allegation accuses the Dunderdales of being 'posh' and 'stuck up'.

'I was livid when I heard that one,' Mrs Dunderdale said. 'We have never been that way.'

In their own minds they think the shop was the target possibly for reasons of envy.

The shop is now in the same state the Dunderdales found it in. What the looters left, a salvage company has taken.

(Photograph omitted)