In times of trouble…

THERE were times last night where it was genuinely frightening, a feeling that the police knew that they did not have full control of what was happening in Chalk Farm Road and later Camden Town. That’s not a good feeling. Fireworks zipped across the middle of the road from nowhere and makeshift missiles looped impossible angles through the sky. The police and the eyes behind the scarves took it in turns to essentially rush at each other, the police equipped with shields, the scarves with anything they could find.

I saw a group rip open rubbish and recycling bags, pick up bottles and hurl them at the line of officers. The ‘feds’ – I heard that word probably 200 times last night – were at times outnumbered. Slowly, however, over an hour or so, the police drove the crowd back from Chalk Farm tube all the way up to the iconic Camden Lock rail bridge. The young people retreated down sidestreets but then came again with arms forked in the air and again throwing anything they could find, rolling dustbins like tripsy Donkey Kong barrels. 

Along the way, shops and bars were smashed. Evans Cycles saw its front windows cracked, the man size hole big enough for bikes to be looted at ease. On a drivearound the back of Camden Town, Chalk Farm and Kentish Town, we saw police retrieving some of the stolen frames. Lots in Prince of Wales Road.

Sainsbury’s was duffed up, the Lock Tavern had broken windows and several more businesses were indiscriminately hacked. When the line was pushed as far back as LA1 fashion store, the shutters were peeled open like a roll of carpet and again a wall of glass was shattered. Within minutes the store had been ransacked, boys and girls, young men and women, helping themselves to trainers and clothes. The speed of the raid was pretty astonishing, like piranhas devouring an ankle of meat.

Back down the road, police remained in their spots, their containment policy not allowing them to drive forward as some would have liked. What must they have been thinking behind those safety visors? Later, they charged again. A wine bottle zipped past my  head and smashed against the Stables Market wall. As the police shouted for everyone to move back, I turned to do just that. A scarf face called out: What are you doing? Hold your ground. Don’t be a pussy…  He might have gone on but the police were already charging and Mr Bandana had himself turned on his heels.

This was a typical scene of a surreal night in Camden Town. Bins burned in Jamestown Road, dashing chases flew down Inverness Street and as reached as far as Gloucester Crescent. Then, it was in the High Street. Then Camden Road. Then Camden Street, where youngsters teamed hoods with ‘Scream’ masks. What was striking was the ages of some of them, some 13 year olds were surely among them too. A group of ‘spectators’, a circle of giggling girls outside American Apparel, must have been about that age. It was 1 am in the morning, later, but they had no need to be at home with their parents – or even to ring home.

Yet after this thoroughly depressing night, there were some touching responses that only inspired hope. As we (me, Dan Carrier and Tom Foot tweeted news of the disturbances), we found a strong, caring community speaking back to us online. There was an amazing number of messages, so often from people we have never met, urging us to stay safe. That’s not the sign of a society which doesn’t care. Then, the next day, today, volunteers in large numbers came out to sweep away shattered glass. By 10.30 am, the clean up was just about done, limiting the clues of what had gone on just hours before. Now, as we tried to tweet with a steady head last night to insulate readers from hype and exaggeration, Camden was not as badly hit as Croydon or Enfield, where fires caused enormous devastation. But what went on was not insignificant. The police admitted that it took until 5am to completely bring things to order in Camden. The clean-up , however, from people who care about this city, care about Camden, was another example of why, in the end, bad behaviour can’t win.

Once you cut away some of the political point-scoring (not too much of that thankfully in Camden, but it is rampant elsewhere), it is refreshing to find a community that can essentially bond together when the hour comes. If we could harness that unity at times when our town centres aren’t being vandalised, we’d surely be onto a winning track.

12 Comments on In times of trouble…

  1. Very well written round up of last night events in Camden , where are you going to cover tonight ?

  2. Thanks for your commentary from last night – and for the lack of hysteria and hyperbole

  3. Do you know what’s happening at the moment? Thank you so much for your blogging. So much better and more informed than the news.

  4. What’s sad is the twitter response to the riots from Labour Councillors Awale Olad and Theo Blackwell. Awale tweeted #Holborn which prompted people to ask if everything was ok in Holborn, which it was, but then he said that people were heading over to King’s Cross which was a complete lie.

    Blackwell tweeted “Jeez – the weather isn’t even hot and it’s kicking off” He then responded to someone saying that it could be worse. How much worser could it have been?

    The pair of them are pathetic.

  5. Great post. Glad it’s seemingly quiet out there tonight.

  6. Richard- wanted to stay thanks for your tweeting last night on the events in Camden. Recently moved overseas but we’ve got still got property and many friends in Camden Town- US TV news wasn’t telling us anything useful, your tweets were the only thing we could rely on!! Keep up the good work this evening please, and stay safe!! Thanks again.

  7. Sarah Hayward // August 9, 2011 at 8:47 pm //

    What a fantastic blog.

    And to Steve above, I didn’t see Awale’s tweets, but there was a lot of speculation last night – in the end councillors are human beings who worry about their family, friends and communities like every other Londoner. I asked about some speculation myself – including whether buildings in Camden Town were on fire – which was a strong rumour and believable given what had happened elsewhere. As for saying it’s not as bad as elsewhere, it’s sadly just a fact. It’s horrific for the traders affected, and it’s awful that for a second night (tonight) in a row businesses are losing customers and litterally £1000s in income – putting businesses and jobs at risk. But as we saw in Ealing and Croydon it could have been much worse. And thank god it wasn’t. And lets hope nothing happens tonight.

    • Peter Brayshaw // August 9, 2011 at 11:51 pm //

      I add my thanks to Richard for his (and Tom and Dan’s) informative tweets last night.

      Spent most of tonight walking around Somers Town, where, despite some earlier rumours, all quiet so far (as indeed last night). A lot of our local shops had closed early and put up their shutters. Roger Robinson had spent much of the day visiting shopkeepers and local TRAs advising them.

      Whilst most police were understandeably on Camden High Street (at one point in the early evening the lower end guarded by Northumbria constabulary, who had driven down aroung three hundred miles) there were also groups stationed on some of the side streets into the hinterland, including eg Plender St, and vehicle patrols every 20 minutes or so along Chalton Street.
      I think given the resources available, the Police have been doing well, and I also know a large number of fellow-Councillors of all parties have been out there in their communities.

      But clearly we can’t have 16,000 police every night (eg Manchester kindly lending London some officers only to find Manchester City Centre and Salford under attack), nor a boarded up state of siege, Hope Thursday’s Parliamentary debate is constructive.

  8. Theo Blackwell // August 9, 2011 at 9:59 pm //

    What a nasty little comment from ‘Steve’ – above. I’m sorry it my tweets weren’t to his liking (presumably from the voyeurism of his computer somewhere nice and safe).

    Yes it could’ve been worse that’s obvious to anyone. Buildings could have been destroyed in Camden and people could’ve died, as elsewhere. Hot weather is known to contribute – in many occasions to rising tempers and situations, so my comment wasn’t flippant (it was also made before the start of the troubles).

    For the record ‘Steve’ I spent the evening liaising with local residents and businesses – particularly CTU.

    As one of the few councillors ‘on the ground’ (with Abdul Hai) we were able to email through info and give an assessment of the situation (for what that was worth). In fact we ended up seeking shelter in the Electric Ballroom, where Kate Fuller kindly gave a place to wait while some thugs had a go at her door and the police formed lines outside the venue.

    I answered calls until about 2.30am and also challenged two people truing to make off with the motorbike on Oakley Square. At 10am I did a walkabout to see the damage caused and talked to local businesses.

    • ‘Theo’
      I read your tweets via someone elses twitter feed. When I read your comment that ‘it could be worse’ it was kicking off outside my flat, so my immediate thought was that you were just another out of touch politician. However after reading your response to my comment and actually looking at your twitter feed I realise that my comment on this blog was wrong and I would like to apologise for my harsh comments. I’d also like to applaud you for your actions on Monday night which was done whilst other politicians were not even in the country. I hope you accept my apology.


  9. Mark Mannion // August 9, 2011 at 10:07 pm //

    Thanks for keeping Camden informed last night. Great work.

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