Jackie Carmen, a 28-year-old shop assistant is surveying the scene on London Road, Croydon. Great swathes of the street are roped off with police tape, and the pavements are strewn with glass. She says: ”How could they do this to our homes, our streets, our workplaces.”
Carmen continues: “I work in a shop just down there. They smashed all our windows and took the tills. All this does is make life hard for everyone else in the community. The only saving grace is that we didn’t get the place torched like so many others”
Further along London Road fire appliances are still shooting jets of water at a gutted building which is still smouldering. Last night a dramatic photo showed a woman jumping from the first storey of this very same building.
Jessica Walls, 19, who lives nearby said: “I saw the photo and thought ‘that could have been me’. I live just around the corner. I could see the youths all in black running through the streets all night and I was feared for my life.”
The smouldering flats are just one of four burnt buildings in the town centre. Further along London Road a four storey pawn shop with flats above is similarly gutted. Crowds of onlookers are gathering at the ruins in shock. One woman breaks down in tears and has to be comforted by her friends.
Luigi, 66, who lives outside the town centre says he has come into town to do some shopping. “They smashed up the Tesco near me, so I hoped there would be something open here, but it’s worse than I imagined. Last night I saw kids, and they were kids, 10 years old or so, in my area. They were looting Tesco, Halfords, I saw them coming out with their spoils.
“Some of them were wearing what looked like burqa face coverings, so you couldn’t see anything”
Luigi says he has seen minibuses full of police officers arriving this morning. “I hope they won’t be needed, but we have to be prepared for this to happen again tonight”
At the Reeves furniture store, just south of the town centre, the damage is devastating. The Reeves family gave an emotional interview last night in which they said their lives were ruined. The business was established in 1867, all that remains now are outer walls and iron beams.
The owner Trevor Reeves told the Evening Standard: “Words fail me. It’s just gone. It’s five generations. My father is distraught at the moment. It’s just mindless thuggery.”
At the New Life Christian Centre next door to the razed furniture shop, Katy Hall, 25, and her friends are writing up signs offering assistance and prayers to the community.
“I could see the Reeves store from my window last night”, Hall says, ” there were loads of guys running down over the bridge towards it and then it went up in flames”
“We run youth groups with young people, and we know a lot of them in the area are just angry. Some of the kids out there are doing this for recognition and they use violence to fill that void. I feel that faith can help fulfil them instead”
The damage in Croydon is so severe that a clean-up operation cannot yet take place. A police officer says she thinks it will be hours before the cordons are lifted.
A shop-owner who didn’t want to be named is sweeping up broken glass outside his newsagents. “I am so sad that this could happen here, but we have to carry on. I have lived here 15 years now and I know that this is the British way; to soldier on, to battle through, and we won’t take this lying down.”