by HRI Correspondent in South London
Monday afternoon, there was a rumour on twitter that it was all going to kick off in Clapham Junction. Someone joked:
Your correspondent set off to the shops, not thinking too much of it. But the shops were already either closed or closing early as the word had already got around. Moving toward the Junction, around the crossroads there were about 50 young girls gathered, many with faces covered, gathered outside JDs laughing and saying.
“Oh – I like those, I want some size threes!”
I turned to someone else sitting near the bus stop saying; it’s all going to kick off soon, for sure.
Quickly there was a build up of youngsters, most wearing hoodies and then young guys started pouring out of the local estates around the Junction.
It started with the multi-story, Debenhams store in the old Arding and Hobbs building, just before 19:00 as the youngsters started trying to smash their way in. It took a while before they finally got into the building. A group of police turned up with riot shields but they quickly withdrew.
Within minutes, the main street was crowded with people, busier than the weekend before Christmas, looting the stores. The action then moved along St Johns Road and at its height dozens of youths were smashing their way into almost every shop, using fire extinguishers and rubbish bins, and probably 100s were then dragging stuff out.
Kids came out of Debenhams with trolley-loads of looted items. There was a carnival atmosphere amongst the looters, as people realised that the “feds” had fled, other than a group of about seven police who were standing two minutes walk away outside Clapham Junction rail station.
For an hour and a fifty minutes the ransacking of the stores continued totally unhindered. Most of the looters were masked but quite a few of the young girls didn’t even bother with masks, oblivious of the cameras on every street corner and inside every store.
Dozens of kids were dragging TVs, bundles of T-shirts, bags of perfumes and boxes of shoes off to cars and back to their houses. Many bystanders and many locals were watching, some laughing and joking, some expressing their revulsion. At one stage a laugh went up as a TV commentator could be seen running from the crowd with his bicycle – apparently he was trying to catch people’s faces on camera.
At the more gentrified end of St John’s Road, where the bars serve the upper-middle class, a few hundred of the rugby crowd stood, most in stunned disbelief, a few booing. Finally at around 20:50 three police vans turned up and a cheer went up:
“Kill them, beat them up, the scum.”
Police piled out of one van and arrested a girl. Three metropolitan police officers attacked a dark-skinned guy, shoving him to the ground and hitting him repeatedly and viciously with a truncheon, with some racists in the crowd egging them on. The video below shows the scene:
A dog handler came out with a dog, but by this time most of the shops had been thoroughly looted and the youngsters cleared the main street, leaving the police standing in front of the looted Curry’s store.
Debenhams, O2, T-Mobile, Vodafone, 3 Store, Orange, Footlocker and Carphone Warehouse were all looted. Other shops damaged or broken into included Boots, the KFC, JDs, Subway, Wimpy, the Nationwide Building Society, the Post Office, the Lock Shop and even Toni and Guys. Fresh and Wild was broken into with the main items taken being olive oil and ice-cream.
Groups of youngsters were moving off to other areas – some saying they were off to Brent Cross. Shops on Lavender Hill were being broken into. Amazingly, bus services continued and one has to admire the bravery of the drivers in continuing, particularly as items were thrown at a number of vehicles.
In a side street a man needed medical treatment, unrelated to the riot going on down the road. A police car stopped, considering how to get the man to hospital. But the police car, already damaged, couldn’t take him:
“We wouldn’t be able to make it to the hospital, most likely our car will be attacked. There are no-go areas all over London.”
The rioters were early to late teens, black and white, mostly local residents from the estates around Battersea. The atmosphere seemed to be one of collective recreational looting with some vandalism. Things took a severe turn for the worse later in the night as the party store on Lavender Hill, which has flats above, went up in flames.
Residents who had lived through earlier riots in the 1980s said this was very different – without the racial element and the police were not so much the main target in this area, perhaps because they were absent during the height of the riot.
Local residents mentioned the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowances to encourage young people from deprived backgrounds to stay in education and training after the age of 16. Others were just disgusted by the whole scene and the damage to the shops.
Obviously this a shot over the bows of the Tory government and their plans to ensure the poor, and especially disenfranchised city youth, suffer the full brunt of the recession. The danger is that these events serve to reinforce prejudice, to give a boost to the “law and order lobby” and lead to yet more marginalisation of young people. It is also a clear warning that society would be better served by spending money on youth services, education and jobs at home, rather than military adventures abroad.