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London riots five years on: we speak to those who were involved

By
Kate Lloyd
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In summer 2011 our city witnessed its worst civil unrest for decades. We speak to some of those involved and affected.

Marcus

Friend of Mark Duggan's, who was sentenced to 32 months in prison for his involvement in the riots

‘When they shot Mark it hurt. I’m talking deep down, in my belly, made me feel sick, so I didn’t care what happened to me. I’d known him since he was a baby. We’d always been in each other’s lives.

‘Some of us decided we’d meet at Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham and walk to the police station peacefully to get answers. We gathered there about 5pm on Saturday. [His partner] Simone went in to report his death. She was told the commissioner would come speak to us, but we were outside chanting “We want answers” for six hours before anyone came out. An officer came to the door, saying the commissioner couldn’t make it. Then he went inside and locked the door. They didn’t give us a chance to ask any questions.

‘I thought: You shot my brother and have given us no answers, so I’m going to give you a real reason to come out and kill somebody. I pushed a police car into the middle of the road. I didn’t see a reaction, so I smashed it up. Then I smashed up another police car and set it alight. No police came out.

‘After that, things escalated, people were killed, businesses were burned down. That was never my intention. A lot of people saw themselves as a “Mark Duggan”, like “That guy could have been me, I’m going to express my anger.” The other reason was people saw it as a chance to get free stuff, which had nothing to do with Mark. It made me angry – my sole agenda was fighting the police – but I can’t blame people. They’re in areas with retail parks of brand-name shops full of things they can’t afford; they don’t even have jobs. If I’d known it would escalate like that, I never would have done it.

‘Now I’ve set up an organisation to provide mentors to schools and colleges in Haringey. Part of me feels responsible for the new gang culture these kids are taking up. We’re the best people for those kids to listen to because we were once them. We’re the best people to tell them they’re just going to cause heartbreak for their family.’

Marcus is in documentary 'The Hard Stop', out on DVD Mon Aug 8.

Pauline

Nicknamed the 'Hackney Heroine' for standing up to looters

‘I was on my way to present my pirate radio show when I got a call to say the station had shut down because there were problems in Hackney. I went to a friend’s house to wait it out, but when I left three hours later it was like something out of a “Mad Max” movie.

‘I saw a van set on fire. I’m like: Why in God’s name are they burning cars? And this bloke said “Ah, they’ve got insurance.” It was then I launched into the speech that got videoed and went viral. I wanted people to know that what they were doing was dumb, that it was all going to be blamed on ethnic minorities and that being in a riot doesn’t suddenly make everything legal for the day.

‘As I headed into the crowd, I found a group running after this guy to get his phone. I tried to hold them off with my walking stick. Others tried to help me. We got him away safely.

‘The next day I went to do the clean-up, and people were saying to me “You’re that woman with the stick.” Then it was mayhem. I was on “This Morning” and LBC. I had emails and phone calls from MPs. Boris even gave me a Peace Award. I had a feeling of pride but also of nervousness.

‘I’ve since been elected on to the Lib Dems’ Federal Executive. I ran for councillor and even for MP. Here I am at 50, I’ve been through cancer, I’ve got a criminal record – and I’m getting involved in stuff and understanding things I didn’t before.’

Graham

Owner of Reeves of Croydon which was set alight during the riots

‘When my brother phoned to say our furniture shop was getting burned down, I said to my wife “I don’t think our lives will be the same again.” ‘When I got to the shop I knew we had serious problems. We have two buildings and one looked like something from the Blitz.

‘When you’re watching your business go up in smoke you feel responsibility for your family, and also the members of staff and their livelihoods. You don’t know how you’re going to keep a business going or what your insurance is. I was in a bad way mentally, really.

‘The business survived because of the wonderful people of Croydon. The building that was left was absolutely wrecked, but people still came into the shop and bought things. We somehow managed to carry on trading.

‘Looking back, the riots were clearly under-policed; it meant there was carnage over the whole of Croydon. Even now it’s difficult for Croydon to get its reputation back. We have problems with planning: Westfield is nine years’ waiting; East Croydon station’s been on its way for 25 years. If you want to redevelop a town, you shouldn’t let it run down for ten years before you start.’

Rico 

Was arrested for looting... even though he didn't actually loot

'I was 17 when the riots happened. I headed out to Hackney with my friends. I wouldn’t say we went there on a protesting vibe, we went there more like "this is fun". We didn’t know any better. As a young person, it was like "grab what you can" but I didn’t even get a chance to do that.

'My friends were running into shops, but I just stood thinking about whether I should go in or whether I should just chill. Good thing I didn’t. A policeman thought I was involved and jumped on me, pinned me down and said: "We believe that you’re involved with burglary". They took me to the station and questioned me. I told them that I didn’t go into the shop and they didn’t believe me. When I first got put in the cell, I was literally laughing. I’d never been arrested, they didn’t believe me and they were speaking to me like I was a criminal. I had to phone my mum like: "Mum, they’ve arrested me. I won’t lie to you; I was there, but I haven’t done anything." I don’t even think she believed me at that point.

'I spent three days in a cell. They said that, because the riots were still carrying on, I couldn’t go outside because apparently I was a hazard to society. And I was like: "I didn’t do it so how am I a hazard?" I understand why I wasn’t let out, but also angry. After three days looking at four walls, they open the door and said: "You’re going to court". It was a shock when they told me. I was like: "How?! How can I be going to court?!". They gave me bail but they said I have to be on tag, be in by 6pm and I wasn’t allowed to be on the streets with more than two people. A couple of weeks on, they finally got their CCTV footage that showed I wasn’t in the shop and luckily they came and took it off.

'I understand why it kicked off. There’s lots of limitations for young people in London, that’s why it reached that level. It was like an independence day. Looking at people’s faces as they ran around, they were happy.'

Sophie

Part of the ‘broom army’ who went to clean up Clapham after the riots

'It was the second evening of the riots, and I was upset by coverage in world media that made it look like the whole of London was on fire. I tweeted that we should go to affected areas and call it "riot clean-up". The tweet went viral. People started tweeting actual places they were going to meet. Then someone built a website that listed the events.

'I went to Clapham Junction and took part in the "broom army". Lots of the shops had their windows smashed and one was engulfed in flames, so there were street cleaners there to clean everything up safely. The "broom army" was more there to send a message that most Londoners didn’t want to riot. We posed for pictures with our brooms in the air, talked to people in the community, and discussed what we were going to do after. The website started listing where you could donate things to people who’d been affected by the riots or charity street parties to raise money for businesses.

'The original intention was simply "this is bad, the government response is not good, nobody knows what’s going to happen: let's respond", but some bloggers and campaigners felt that it was an attempt to white-wash the real problems behind the rioting. At the time I felt like what we were doing was a positive response. Now I can totally understand why some people in those communities would view it as a response by people who have greater access to jobs and good education than perhaps they do and also people who don’t regularly get profiled by the police – and that those people really need to be listened to.

'I moved out of London just under two years ago. I’m still friends with the people I met through riot clean up. Now, five years on, some of us are putting on a series of talks called Summer of Love as a positive reaction to Brexit.'

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