"My son and I were in the middle of the streets being looted from 10 pm to 3 am." by Rev. Paul Perkin
Rev Paul Perkin, rector of St Mark’s Battersea Rise, watched his parish being looted from end to end.
He writes: “My son and I were in the middle of the streets being looted from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. The police abdicated responsibility. It was open season for looting.
The police seemed to have no idea what to do. They set up lines but were like a disoriented army in battle which did not know where the frontline was. The lines were neither containing nor defending any territory.All the looters did was to keep a few yards distance or move a street away while the police stood and watched.
I have never seen anything like it. We were in the middle of a battle against property. The place was like a bomb scene.
There was no violence against people. There was no indignation against police brutality. This was not an angry mob – indeed for some there was almost a carnival-like atmosphere. What was truly terrifying was the complete absence of law and order – this was truly a society without law. There was no breaking into houses. It was petty criminality by looting thieves.
Our church garden was being used to stash the loot. They smashed up shops and took stuff out to hide in the church garden and hid there sometimes themselves. They called up cars which were driving around the periphery to come and take stuff away.
They were older teenagers, most between 15 and 20 years old. Theywere almost entirely blacks. Many we talked to, trying to encourage them to go home, were not local people. We engaged with some of them. They did not know where they were or how to get out of the area. Some of them who were driving the cars did know where to go and with others on motorbikes they were directing the operation. Clearly professional thieves were also cashing in – every so often a white van would turn up and they would fill up the vans.
Seventeen year olds were looting the sports shop for trainers and people were walking out of Curry’s with televisions. Only at 1 am was the party shop was set ablaze.
First there were a few ordinary policemen. Then the riot police came. For most of the night they exerted little influence randomly in no particular direction. There was no control or strategy. Towards the end they formed lines to protect Debenhams, but the looters merely walked in and out of the back.
Right at the end, after six hours, the police turned up in force. The police told people to clear the area so that they could do theirwork. But they did nothing. In any case by that stage most of the looters had dispersed. The police suddenly saw they were in the ascendancy and so had a line of riot police, followed by lorries then another line of riot police. Armoured vehicles raced up and down the streets but by that time all the looters had gone. It was only to show that they now had the power. The only people they were terrifying were the bystanders and stragglers trying to get home.
It was total chaos and the police were part of the chaos. They did not know what to do.We had known it was coming, being warned at 4pm that looters were on their way. A message came to our church office that shops in Clapham Junction were being encouraged to close down early. By 5 p.m. the place was closed. The main concern may have been to guard Clapham Junction station. So there may have been little interest in preventing shops from being looted.
Max and I went first to look at the church. There were lines of cars outside the church to pick up the looters and their loot. They were causing chaos. The violence was randomly dispersed. The police spontaneously and helplessly formed a line. But the rioting was taking place either side of the line. There was no co-ordination. The police could have swept down the street. But it was a question of the balance of power – there were 50 of them among 1000 looters. We were not on the periphery. We were in the middle of this. The police did not want a pitched battle. The looters knew the police did not want to do anything. They carried on carelessly.
Few people wanted to start fires. Not till 1 am once everyone had gone did someone light a fire.
This is our parish. It is so small.
Pray for the restraint of further rioting tonight. The first object must be that it stops. Pray for parents to keep their young people in. I hear that youth workers in Croydon ( where there was also trouble) were telling the young people to go home – with some success.
Pray for the police effort to gain a co-ordinated strategy. Many of the riot police had come on from North London, and for some it was their third night at this and they had not had much sleep. It seems that they have been moved on as every fire flares up, but they come too late. Indeed if no police had arrived throughout it probably would have made little difference to the outcome