After the riots: Three months on, communities across London remain divided and distrustful

riots pic

Pic: EastLondonLines

Three months after the riots which devastated large swathes of east and south London, local people say they still feel disenfranchised and victimised, trusting neither their neighbours or the police.

This week, EastLondonlines is examining the effects of the rioting on Lewisham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Croydon – and what it has meant for their communities.

As hundreds of criminal cases progress through the courts, the rehabilitation of communities, and the rebuilding of shops, homes and businesses throughout these areas, has met with mixed success.

In Hackney, local people say their communities are “frustrated”, “victimised”, “disenfranchised” and “divided”, according to a survey commissioned by community and voluntary groups and released on Monday. Locals told polling group IPSOS/MORI of a loss of control due to various factors like unemployment and police harassment. Riots, the survey said, had given them an opportunity to feel in control.

Both there and in Croydon, people now say they feel more unsafe in their areas – and that they find it harder to trust their neighbours or the police. Jobseeker Tyrone Green, 22, said: “I personally don’t feel safe in Croydon any more and wouldn’t go out after dark on my own…people in Croydon seem more hostile to one another now.”

In Lewisham, business are still suffering, with many claiming the council has abandoned them and others struggling to stay open. But, ironically for events often seen as arising from a breakdown in the social fabric, the riots seemed to have fostered community spirit in the area and spurred mutual aid. Hackney officials were overwhelmed by members of the public who wanted to aid the clean-up.

The riots began on Saturday August 6 after a peaceful protest over the shooting by police of a local man, Mark Duggan, turned into scenes of arson and looting. Further trouble occurred in Wood Green that night and Enfield the next.

On the Monday afternoon, sporadic rioting and disturbances entered Hackney and later spread across London,. Outbreaks occurred in Lewisham, Tower Hamlets, and, that evening, Croydon, where rioting and arson left many businesses destroyed.

In Hackney, 16 businesses were looted or damaged, 24 cars torched, and 30 hours of CCTV footage recorded. There were fires on Lewisham’s Albion way while shops were looted and local MP Heidi Alexander’s office was broken into.

In Tower Hamlets, restaurants locked their doors as rioters moved down Brick Lane and a security guard on the Isle of Dogs was attacked by crowds wearing balaclavas. In Croydon – one of London’s worst hit boroughs, with severe damage to property – London Road and Reeves Corner went up in flames and one man died in a shooting.

Panels and reports inside and outside government continue to assess the consequences.  Some boroughs are recovering. Regeneration plans in Croydon – which was one of the city’s worst hit boroughs – saw retailer discounts, fund-raising events and free parking in the town centre, driving a 15 per cent increase in footfall one month later.

Meanwhile, the wheels of justice grind on. Last week, the Metropolitan Police released details of Operation Withern, the investigation into crimes during the riots. Thousands of arrests have taken place across London, which has seen 35 per cent of the country’s convictions, and new arrests are made every day.

More than 3000 people have been arrested, 1931 charged or cautioned; 1809 brought before the court of which 617 have been sentenced, and 255 jailed. The cases of 1058 people charged during the disorder are still ongoing.

At Wood Green and Inner London Crown Courts, where most of the cases are heard, staff have been rushing to cope with a huge increase in administrative work since the August riots. This is partly due to the volume of arrests being made, but also because so many are being expedited, creating tremendous pressure for legal staff.

As the crackdown continues, courts have handed out over 100 years of custodial sentences for offences from burglary through violent disorder to criminal damage and handling stolen goods. Recently the Guardian reported that courts were treating some crimes unrelated to the disorder as ‘riot offences’, and two thirds of offenders are being held on remand compared to 10 per cent of those charged for indictable offences last year.

Convictions have fallen on unexpected heads. On Tuesday it was announced that Chelsea Ives, an Olympic Youth Ambassador from Leytonstone, would be jailed for two years after she admitted to rioting in Hackney on 8th August.

But perhaps most surprising is the dramatic variation in the age ranges of those involved. 20 per cent were aged between 10 and 17, and 15 per cent were over 30, with 6 per cent over the age of 40.  Of those so far convicted, only 10 per cent are female, according to police figures. Hackney authorities said that young people made up only a quarter of those arrested in the borough.

Sophie Zeldin-O’Neill and Laurence Dodds

Leave a Reply