After the riots: Tower Hamlets “a ghost town”

Mario Denotti and his pub Pic: Koos Couvee

Tower Hamlets place in the August riots is often forgotten. But, four days after Mark Duggan’s death sparked violence, Tower Hamlets clashes between rioters and police came to the borough.

Local business owners in the East End agree that the rioting was coordinated and targeted, but opinions on the effects differ.

Most of the rioting took place on Bethnal Green Road and Whitechapel Road, but hundreds of worshippers leaving an east London mosque on Whitechapel Road prevented further damage and looting by keeping groups of rioters at bay until police arrived.

In Bow, several hours of undisturbed looting took place at designer clothing store Zee & Co, and jewellery store Gold-N-Image was also plundered.

Violence erupted on the Isle of Dogs, where group of 60 attacked a Tesco Express in Pepper Street. A number of cars were burned and a security guard was assaulted.

A group of rioters briefly entered Brick Lane but were swiftly pushed back by police.

Three months on, EastLondonLines spoke to local businesses in the East End about their experiences of the aftermath.

The Star of Bethnal Green, a pub on Bethnal Green Road, was caught in the middle of the disturbances as the nearby Halifax Bank and Tesco were targeted by hundreds of youths. Rubbish bins full of glass bottles had not been collected on the Sunday, so there was ample ammunition for the group gathered outside the pub to throw at the outnumbered police.

Mario Denotti, 35, manager of the Star of Bethnal Green, spoke of his experiences since that day.

He said: “The days after, it was like a ghost town here and for at least a month, it felt like the community experienced some kind of trauma. The riots were like a car crash, we did not expect it. I am from Sardinia and have lived here for 10 years. I could not imagine something like this happening in London.”

The Star only recently received a £3,200 payment from its insurance company for the smashed windows it suffered. Business has now picked up again, and the popular pub has received countless messages of support from local clientele.

As a result of the riots, bins on Bethnal Green Road were removed by Tower Hamlets Council, and businesses are now charged £1 for each bag collected by waste management company Veolia. Firms say this is very costly and Denotti estimates the new arrangement will cost the Star thousands of pounds a year.

Further east, in Bow, £400,000 worth of goods were stolen during three hours of undisturbed looting at Zee & Co fashion, the designer clothing shop on Roman Road.

Nuthfur Rahman, the 35-year-old assistant manager, said: “We were targeted because of what we sell here. Most looters were young and from the area; they were organised and knew exactly what they were doing.

“There is a different vibe now, particularly towards the local boys. We tend to keep more of an eye on them than we used to. Things have changed.

“We feel very much let down by the police. There were two vans, they left when stones were thrown and came back three hours later. We received no prior warning from police.”

Three weeks after the looting, Zee & Co, which has been in business for over 25 years, reopened – and, according to Rahman, business has picked up again.

Sakarya Karamehmet, the 45-year-old owner of the looted jewelry shop Gold-N-Image in Bow, told EastLondonLines he was very happy with the treatment he received from police.

However, he said the Council let him down. A representative promised that the council would pay for repairs to the shop front when Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, visited the shop. This was later denied by the same representative and the shop received no additional support from the Council.

Tower Hamlets experienced relatively little rioting compared to other east London boroughs. Denotti thinks this has to do with the community being more tight-knit than other areas and that many businesses are family owned.

Another shop owner said he is now much more concerned with Stratford’s Westfield Shopping Centre drawing customers away from the East End. He said: “Westfield is the final nail on the coffin of Roman Road. The riots were yesterday’s news.”


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