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09 August 2011

Lewisham and Catford riots

Yesterday evening vague reports of disturbance in Lewisham were coming through, so I decided to go and look for myself and cycled through Catford to Lewisham and back.

At first, it seemed quite normal. Traffic was flowing pretty freely, but in Rushey Green a bus had been parked across the road and traffic was being diverted away from Lewisham High Street. The Argos store had a broken window, and the optician next to it was smashed wide open.

In Lewisham there was a police line across the High Street at the corner with Courthill Road. It seemed as if they were kettling the area, but I couldn't see what was happening inside.

Back at Catford there was a strange, unpleasant atmosphere. There were a lot of people walking around, partly, I suppose, because there were no buses running, partly because there were a lot of sightseers, like me, but I also felt that some were there opportunistically to grab what they could. There was no sense of a riot, no sense of a large mob rampaging. Rather there were groups of four or five, mostly in hoodies, which isn't unusual, but some wearing masks, which is. They had the stance and posture of kids in a mall, wondering which shop to go to next - which is probably exactly what they were thinking. I'd guess there were at most 100 people looking like this. There didn't seem to be many police around. A lot of small shops which would normally be open till 10 or 11 were closed and grilled at 7pm.

This morning I repeated the ride. Lewisham centre was now open and there didn't seem to be any major structural damage: no buildings burnt down. Macdonalds had smashed windows, and a few places were boarded up, but I couldn't tell if that had been a precaution rather than a consequence. A few pawnbrokers seemed to have had their grilles attacked.

In Catford, still the major damage appeared to be Argos and the optician's. At the business centre on Bromley Road it looked as if Curry's, PC World and Comet hadn't been touched. I learned off twitter that JD Sport on Catford Island had been seriously looted, and found a youtube video of that taking place, as well as the trouble at Argos.

Compared with Croydon, or even Ealing, Lewisham and Catford got away fairly lightly. My guess is that the police action in sealing off Lewisham centre was effective both in stopping any serious incidents there and in stopping it spreading down the A21. It also looked as if businesses had been given adequate information  and taken precautions. If that's true, then well done the Police.

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