Sunday, 21 August 2011

Heddlu - Croeso to the streets of London

Police from Wales are patrolling London's streets. I first saw them in Bloomsbury Square. Their vans and police cars, marked 'Heddlu', Welsh for 'police', showed they were from Gwent.
   The Welsh officers are in the capital providing additional support to London's Metropolitan Police after the riots and looting that rocked the city a fortnight ago.
   South Wales Police sent 54 officers to London. North Wales Police sent an undisclosed number.
    London seems 'back to normal' again - although this is now an ongoing saga.  Later, I chatted with friends on Museum Street as floods of tourists ambled to and from the British Museum.  Only the Welsh 'Heddlu' officers appeared slightly out of place. 
   Friendly, they chatted with people, nodded and smiled as they ambled around on patrol. Some of them are big lads too. Probably, ex-rugby players, y'knoh! Oh cry-key!
   But they've received a warm 'croeso' ('welcome') from many Londoners. Partly because our own Met officers have been very busy - as this riot of stats shows. 
  Met police are investigating 3,296 offences that took place over 6-9 August, including two murders, 1,101 burglaries, 399 damaged vehicles, 310 thefts and 162 arson incidents.
 There are more than 1,110 crime scenes in 22 of London's 32 boroughs.
   Police are reviewing over 20,000 hours of CCTV footage. The Met has released 52 new photographs of people they want to interview about violent disorder in Southwark, Greenwich, Merton, Enfield and Hackney.
  To date, police have made over 1,800 arrests, including 396 juveniles. Almost 1,050 have been charged including 218 juveniles. 
  Prison numbers in England and Wales have risen to a record level of 86,931.
   The Guardian newspaper's analysis claims prison terms being given are on average 25% higher than usual. Some 70% of those coming before the courts are being jailed compared to 2% before the riots.
  For instance, Nicolas Robinson is frequently mentioned. Robinson, 23, stole a £3.50 case of bottled water from a Lidl supermarket during rioting in Brixton. He is now serving six months. 

Paul Coleman, London, August 2011.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Facebook reveals character of London rioters

Facebook has provided police officers with insights into the thinking of at least one young person who was arrested, charged and sent for trial for taking part in the riots that hit London.
  One teenager, now awaiting trial after a serious attack on the police, quoted song lyrics on Facebook back in July. The lyrics went: "All I care about is money...ima sip until I feel it. ima smoke until its done. I dnt really gv a fuk."
   Asked a few days later by a friend if they were behaving, the teenager replied: "Yh I'm stayin out ov trouble."
   But on Saturday night (6 August) when rioting flared in London, the teenager posted on Facebook: "eyyy what's happening...I'm hearing ders a mad riot??...I wanna get involvd."
  A friend replied: "Knew you was gonna say suttin like dat lool behave yourself."
   Another friend on Facebook warned the next day: "U shld stay at home."
    Sadly, their young friend paid no heed to their advice, went out rampaging and violently attacked police officers. The teenager's Facebook profile also might lead police officers to other people that might have been involved in the serious disorder.
To be continued when the trial takes place...

Paul Coleman, London, August 2011


Thursday, 11 August 2011

London's Riots: Seven Days Later

A week is a long time in rioting. Last Thursday (4th August) at 6.15pm, I emerged from a cosy conference room in central London - about the same time as armed police confronted Mark Duggan in Tottenham Hale, 
   I checked my Blackberry phone for messages and thought about buying a doughnut. At about the same time, Mark Duggan reportedly sent a message from his Blackberry to his partner, saying: "I'm being followed by the Feds."
   Plied with coffee and cookies, I dodged the doughnut. Around about the same time, several miles away in a very different part of London, Mark Duggan caught two bullets. 

I walked along a quiet safe street, reflecting on a warning I'd just heard during the conference. A Hammersmith-based architect claimed local politicians in Hammersmith had "emaciated" and "demoralised" its own planning officers. "If this is a national policy, then it's very worrying," said the architect.
   Last week I thought the architect's warning carried some significance. But this morning, seven days on, after listening to a recording of that session, the professional conference-going folks with their earnest concerns seem an age and a world away - a small and now irrelevant 'before the riots' moment. 
   Since then, people across London and England have been killed, run down, attacked, shot, and forced to flee and leap from their burning homes with their children in their arms. Homes, shops and warehouses now stand only as ashes and cinders.

Mental map
In recent years, as regular readers will know, I’ve scampered a lot around London’s streets, reporting on this housing scheme, that property development, covering angry residents’ meetings and sleepy council meetings. I've interviewed local residents, shopkeepers, market traders, transport workers, police officers, social workers, architects, developers and planners. 
  As I've scuttled around London on these assignments, I've used my mental map to ensure I don't go into the wrong place at the wrong time. 
Occasionally, my mental map of London and street radar has failed me when, more by luck than judgement, I've only narrowly avoided being mugged and perhaps worse by groups of young opportunists. 
Since then, I've tried to add intelligence of their postcode gangs and their 'ends' to my own map, if only just to keep clear.

In writing this, I offer no grand moral or wise explanation. I'm merely reflecting that people living in parts of London have struggled to run their lives alongside the increasing presence of these young people and their gangs for several years. 
  In fact, as I write, 'holiticians' recalled from their holidays are debating the riots in the House of Commons. Thankfully, so far, politicians have refrained from instinctively indulging in a useless competition to see who can sound the most outraged. 
We might hope Parliament keeps this up but might say let's not hold our breath. Nevertheless, the question of why – the diagnosis – and what must be done – the long-term preventative cures – must be openly discussed if any lasting good can be extracted from the last seven days of mayhem. 

Paul Coleman, London, 2011

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The London Riots: The Question of Why?

© Paul Coleman, London 2011

I bought a Greater London Streetfinder Atlas the other day.
Terrifyingly, it's already out of date. 
Sony's massive distribution centre in north-eastern Enfield shows up on page 105 as a big orange rectangle. 
But in the wee hours of this morning the vast building itself exploded and was raised to the ground in a huge fire set by looting arsonists.

Twelve hours or so later, at 1pm today (Tuesday, 9 August), bits of the building and its huge store of electrical goods - plasma TVs and games consoles and the like - continue to float past my window as dense smoke carried by the wind (click on photo to enlarge). Tonight, Londoners brace themselves across the city hoping to see 16,000 police officers visibly reclaiming the streets of London from these gangs of rioters.

Typically edgy is Enfield, where I live. 
Enfield normally runs shy of the news limelight. 
But, after the Sony centre fire, and Sunday night's now relatively minor skirmish between rioters, riot police and police dogs in sleepy Enfield Town, Enfield is now a familiar tag to millions who watch TV news.

© Paul Coleman, London 2011
Yesterday afternoon, Enfield even 'trended' on Twitter. But, after the worst devastation and fires in modern British history since the 1980s riots, the Blitz of World War II and the Great Fire of London in 1666, people worldwide are now also sadly familiar with Bruce Grove, Tottenham, Hackney, Lewisham, Peckham, Ealing, Woolwich, Colliers Wood, Catford, East Dulwich, Camden, Clapham Junction, Ilford and, perhaps most of all, with the two horrifying fires in Croydon.
   Mushrooming like Sony centre smoke hanging in this bright afternoon sky are several big questions, such as 'why is this happening' and 'why are they doing it'?  
Most politicians, senior police and pontificating pundits who've plonked themselves in front of cameras have struggled to find new ways to give old answers about 'inexcusable violence', 'mindless thuggery' and 'sheer criminality". 
To me, their dead-end condemnations seem pretty mindless, inexcusable and irrational.

However, some of you might've caught Dr Clifford Stott, an academic from Liverpool University, provide his take on these questions on Sky News. Asked what is the psychology of young people attacking police and looting, Stott replied: "We cannot understand the problem if we dismiss it as mindless. It's driven by particular meanings that those rioters have in their heads. 
   "We have to ask where do those meanings come from and what drives them," added Stott. "And that takes us, unfortunately, to questions of social context and social conditions. I populate a very difficult position because by talking about the way this behaviour is meaningful and linked to economic and social conditions, I get called an apologist - as if by injecting some objective, rational debate into the situation I am doing something wrong.
  "But I'm not," insisted Stott. "What we have to recognise is that these targets in terms of the expensive, high-end goods are out of reach of the vast bulk of the people involved in this kind of rioting. And they are using these riots as an opportunity to attack the society from which they are so alienated and marginalised from.
  "So, we've got to ask, how did we get here? How did we get to a situation where this group of people are so angry with the world that they live in, and so angry that they're capable of coming out onto the streets and to attack us in this manner?"
The sorry phlanx who might denounce Stott as 'an apologist' do us all down. These riots reflect more about the psychology of our own consumer-led, profit-driven society.  Sadly, our politicians can't see this kind of logic through the dense smoke of their own populist, sound-bite rhetoric. 

Postscript: Almost on cue, shortly after my original posting, Mayor Boris Johnson, speaking to angry riot victims on a Clapham Junction street, said: "It's time people engaged in looting stopped hearing economic and social justifications for what they're doing."

Photos: The last round? Enfield Civic Centre shrouded by smoke still swirling over north London from the Sony centre fire attack started by rioters several miles away.

Photos: Copyright Paul Coleman. No re-use without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, August 2011

Monday, 8 August 2011

Tottenham to Enfield Town and beyond: looting across London

For several troubling hours last night, people in sleepy Enfield Town didn't need to switch on their TVs to see what was making the news. 
They just looked out of the window. 
Rampaging teenagers hurled house bricks at riot police outside Enfield Grammar School, where I looted some 'O'-Levels decades ago. 
Shocking scenes flared elsewhere, particularly the car burning on Gentleman's Row, Enfield Town's conservation area of quaint, listed riverside cottages. 
All rather ungentlemanly, I should say.

Truly shocking, but was I really surprised? 
Every day Enfield Town's anonymous shopping area is disturbed by groups of uninspired youngsters coming in from across the north London borough's east-west social divide. On school day afternoons police keep a watchful eye on clusters of young people 'jamming' outside McDonald's and the HMV. Both premises were attacked last night. 
  A quieter form of individual looting has taken place in the Town's dull shopping precinct each day for many years. Store staff maintain crackling radio contact with the shopping precinct's padding, patrolling security guards.
   Pearson's, a modernising department store clinging to remnants of its old charm, keeps a ground floor back room to detain folks who disobey the payment rules of our consumer culture. Pearson's glass frontage was also shattered last night.

Statisticians say people who reside in affluent western Enfield live ten years longer on average than people from Enfield's poorer east. It's an east-west divide mirrored by a similar socio-economic chasm in Enfield's southern neighbour, Haringey, where Muswell Hill and Crouch End contrast starkly with Tottenham.
   Tottenham, where all this criminality kicked off, isn't that far away from Enfield Town. Text and Twitter instantly shorten that distance although not as much as Blackberry BBM, the fast, free and very private social network apparently favoured by youngsters organising riotous rendevous. 
    After messages are sent and received, it's only a quick bomb up the A10 Cambridge Road to Enfield passing through Edmonton Green, Lower Edmonton and Northumberland Park. That's only a short brick chuck from Bruce Grove where the carpet store and flats were horrifically burnt out on Saturday night, leaving several families homeless and destitute. 

Why did all this kick off in Tottenham in the first place? Much more, no doubt, will be revealed and sadly, concealed. But my photographer friend has sent me a link to an eyewitness account of the demo outside Tottenham police station on Saturday afternoon. 
Click on the link; it sheds some light on why London's barely submerged and boiling pressures geysered to the surface precisely over this particular weekend.

Paul Coleman, London, August 2011

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Tottenham 2011: the background from 1985

"On 5th October 1985, four Tottenham police officers entered the home of a Black woman, Mrs Cynthia Jarrett, and searched it. During the course of the search Mrs Jarrett collapsed, and soon after she died. 
   "On the following afternoon a demonstration outside Tottenham police station passed off without any serious incident. But during the evening and night of 6th October, a violent disturbance took place at the Broadwater Farm Estate, Tottenham. A police officer, PC Keith Blakelock, was killed.
   "Several buildings were set on fire, as well as many motor vehicles. Guns were alleged to have been fired at the police. Officers armed with plastic bullets and CS gas were deployed but not used. 
   "In a television interview, the senior officer for the North London area, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richards, claimed that the disturbances were "the most ferocious, the most vicious riots ever seen on  the mainland". 
   "In the weeks and months following 6th October, police officers remained on the estate in considerable numbers, and raids were carried out by large squads of police upon dozens of homes."

Source: The Broadwater Farm Inquiry, Report of the Independent Inquiry into Disturbances of October 1985 at the Broadwater Farm Estate, Tottenham, Chaired by Lord Gifford QC.

Paul Coleman, London, August 2011