Tuesday, August 09, 2011

"This is Great, Bruv - You Can Just Take Anything You Want!"

Those were the words of a hooded youngster who sauntered with his half dozen friends down the alleyway next to my flat in Romford town centre at around 2:30 this morning. He went on to encourage another boy to steal something for his girlfriend.

Living in town, you come to recognise when trouble is building up during the day. Yesterday afternoon the first sign that all was not well was the arrival of groups of boys on bikes, many very young, riding like posses of outlaws through the crowded streets, performing stunts and buzzing shoppers.

As five o'clock approached, businesses and venues pulled the shutters down and the streets started to clear. There would be no eating out, going to see a film or clubbing. The owner of the camera shop downstairs told me that the looters were coming to Romford and advised me to stay inside.

Shadows lengthened and little groups of youths began to appear. The alleyway was quickly identified as a good place to hide out and half a dozen people collected, muttering and looking lost - obviously not from the area. One had his mobile phone out and was texting away. They were a mixed group, four black and two white, for unlike the eighties this is not about race. And they were expensively dressed, for this is not about poverty either.

A police car drew up and four officers in stab vests approached the youths, taking their details and filming them with a hand held video camera. The youths slouched away but the police remained, patrolling the large car park and approaching groups as they gathered. At one point several would be rioters collected around the bottle bank - a possible source of missiles. Later on the window of a clothes shop was attacked but the masked looters fled as a police car arrived, its blue lights flashing.

In Romford that was the pattern for the night. The looters sought to avoid contact with the police, retreating into the dark and waiting for another chance. Targets were carefully chosen - JD Sports and Debenhams were attacked. This wasn't any sort of protest, it was opportunistic theft and vandalism, the sort of thing that we sometimes see when a power failure turns the street lights out.

We got off lightly, but in Ilford there was much more damage and looting around the town centre and of course other parts of London suffered greatly. Steve O'Connell who represents Croydon emailed me to say "my town centre is ablaze", a tragedy for the small businesses and residents who lost their homes. The emergency services, particularly fire crews showed great bravery and dedication to duty. Dick Tracey reported attacks in Clapham where police successfully deployed armoured vehicles to break up a crowd. Andrew Boff was out in Hackney, watching as gangs effectively took over the Pembury Estate for several hours.

And what can we expect tonight? Who knows, for London is in uncharted territory. With police reinforced to more than double last night's numbers, and with some 400 looters arrested and off the streets the trouble should be easier to contain but people are demanding a tougher response. I have had requests for water cannon and tear gas to be deployed and I urge police to consider such options.

Perhaps a curfew would help to clear the streets of the 'riot tourists' who have been in evidence in some places, allowing the police to focus on the criminals. With all the businesses and venues closed there is little to leave home for anyway.

We also need to see some swift justice handed down to those who have been arrested, preferably in the next couple of days. Theft and disorder are serious crimes and some exemplary prison sentences will deter copycat incidents. Conspiracy is also a serious charge which could lead to the social networkers doing a stretch.

For the longer term, if planners are to continue encouraging residential development in town centres - and I believe that they should - then they also need to plan for the security of those residents. Destruction of commercial property is sometimes seen as acceptable because the insurers will pay, but mixed developments mean that homes and lives are now at stake.

And is it too much to hope that we will see less acceptance and even glorification of dumbed down, insolent 'street culture'?? There are too many examples - including advertising material promoted by the very sportswear and entertainment industries that have been targeted - but perhaps the most pervasive is that awful London 2012 logo that was designed to look like graffiti. Our city has many things to boast about but street culture is not one of them.

I have asked for an emergency meeting of the Conservative Assembly Members at City Hall, so that we can share our experiences, get briefed by the emergency services and debate ways to deal with this crisis and to make our city safer in future.


sjm said...

The decent among us are paying for 40 yrs of soft-Left educational claptrap, shunning of responsibility and contempt for personal morality and respect for others.

The media and the entertainment industry, as do politicians who have all too often failed to stand up to the glib claptrap uttered by the PC brigade.

sjm said...

That last para should read:

"The media and the entertainment industry bear a lot of the blame, as do....."

Pit Stop said...

But SJM, how do you explain that for the last 32 of those years we have had right wing governments who have colluded in the fantasy that we can all have whatever we want on credit?

sjm said...

Actually you may recall that Mrs T believed in 'handbag economics', ie not living on credit.

And I strongly believe that the Left has had Education firmly in its grip, whatever the colour of government, since Antony Crosland. You may recall his wife claimed that he had said to her: 'if it's the last thing I do, I'll smash the f******g grammar schools.'

Pit Stop said...

Mrs T also "believed" in small government but left a larger one when she departed.

Not sure what your second point is getting at?

sjm said...

Pit Stop:

1. I didn't claim that Mrs T achieved all she aspired to.

2. I didn't wish to write a lengthy rant about what has happened to the education system in this country since the early 60's, because I thought Roger might wonder what was the relevance to his blog.

I believe the system needed reform (I'm not a diehard about Grammars), but whilst Crosland promoted polytechnics to address practical skills issues, he also promoted Comprehensive education wherein...... oh heck, this is turning into a rant.

Rog T said...

Just out of interest. Do you think that if we'd retained the grammar school system, that the majority of the kids who rioted would have been in grammar schools or sink secondary modern schools?

Comprehensive Education was a bold attempt to end inequality. I went to comprehensive schools and suffer from what is now described as a learning difficulty (dyslexia). I've 5 brothers & sisters, 3 had a private education & 2 had a grammar education. I think I've done OK in comparison

sjm said...

I said I wasn't a diehard about Grammars, and I certainly think far more effort should have been made to to develop non-academic schools. I believe there's been an inherent snobbery amongst the educational establishment regarding trades and business education v academia.

What I saw in post-war Grammar schools in London's East End was a demonstration of equality in one way - no matter what your background, you were offered an opportunity to shine. Unfortunately, this only worked if you wanted to go to University and into a respectable profession.

Mrs Angry said...

I have to say, Mr Evans that when we read about shoe shops in Romford being looted, some of us have suspicions that there may be more to the story than you are letting on ...