The Clapham Junction riots: My eyewitness account.
By now the whole world has heard of ‘The English Riots’ that started last weekend in Tottenham, north London, in response to the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan the previous Thursday night. I thought I’d write an account and upload my short video of the destruction that took place last Monday night in my local neighbourhood.
I’d seen a few tweets about trouble heading our way at around 6pm that afternoon, and at half past, I decided to go and see for myself if there was any truth to the rumour. As I strolled around Clapham Junction, there was an eerie calm, many shops had been closed upon instruction from the police. There were five or six police officers on static patrol on the main street but other than that, no sign of trouble, so I went home to my flat, about fifty metres from the train station and town centre.
At about 8.30pm, my friend Matt, who lives nearby, called me to say he could see groups of youths running down Falcon Road towards Clapham Junction. We decided to go and see what was happening and as we approached the main shopping area on the crossroads of Falcon Road and Lavender Hill, it was clear that a storm was brewing.
There were around 150 youths, many with hoods pulled up and scarves across their faces, to hide their identities. They were milling about in smaller groups. The atmosphere was tense and electric. Around six police officers, in riot gear, had sealed off St. John’s Street between Debenhams department store and JD Sports shop, and another line of riot police could be seen further up Lavender Hill, towards Asda grocery store.
We’d only waited and watched for around ten minutes before a small group of young men started to hurl rocks and newspaper dump bins at the windows of Debenhams, and within three or four attempts, the window started to cave in. Then – unbelievably – the riot police vanished. Far from intervening to ‘protect property’, they retreated out of view, and, with that, all hell broke loose.
There began a full scale smashing and looting rampage. We and numerous bystanders watched in incredulity and dismay at the destruction and chaos unfolding around us. For the next two hours (at least), groups of youths quite literally helped themselves to electrical goods, sportswear, and anything else they liked the look of, without any police hindrance at all.
Transit vans and cars drove into the epicentre, flung open their doors to be loaded with armfuls of stolen goods, and were there driven away at speed, to return again for another load. A slip road nearby was used as a rendezvous point by looters to sort out what they wanted to keep, and load up a line of cars like a bizarre kind of taxi rank. Every 15 minutes or so, more youths, these with wearing full balaclavas, some carrying rocks and sticks, ran in gangs to join the fray. It was extremely intimidating. There is no doubt in my mind that this was organised crime.
The Party Shop, a local fancy dress store, was broken into so that looters could steal party masks to conceal their identities – something that added to the surrealism. A hooded youth with a scarf across his face cycled casually away on a ‘Boris’ bike, with flat screen TV tied to the handlebars. I overheard a woman saying: ‘I’ve come down here with a shopping list’. A group of four or five youths hurried past me with armfuls of stolen clothes, one of whom yelled in my face for staring at him.
By almost 11pm, we’d seen enough and went home to our flats. Coverage of the riots, which had spread across London, dominated every news channel and it was on Sky News that my partner and I watched the Party Shop go up in flames. Eventually I went to bed, but although I was exhausted, I barely slept that night, and kept checking Twitter to keep updated on what was happening.
The following day, on Tuesday morning, I again walked to the town centre to offer any help in cleaning up the mess, and support the #riotcleanup being organised in the area on Twitter. However, I couldn’t get into the area as it was cordoned off by police as a crime scene, so I went into work and later saw that a big group of local residents had arrived on scene armed with brooms. You might have seen the now iconic photograph that’s been circulating the internet of an army of residents all holding their brooms aloft – click here for the pic.
That’s my account for now. This morning I took some photos of the boards covering all of the smashed shop windows, which now have hundreds of messages of support and solidarity written on them. I’ll be loading some of those up later.