Croydon's Future

Croydon's police

Croydon police during the night of the riots
Croydon's thin blue line
The events of 8/8 have given us much to reflect on regarding Croydon’s policing.  Undoubtedly, the police on Croydon’s streets on 8/8 were brave in the face of a very dangerous situation.  They deserve our gratitude and admiration.  However, the dogged journalism of InsideCroydon has raised many uncomfortable questions on the adequacy of police resourcing on 8/8.  In the aftermath of 8/8, we learn of the loss of the borough’s top police officer – Adrian Roberts.  But perhaps the most disturbing revelation is that Croydon’s police seem to have been losing the battle for “hearts and minds” in some parts of the borough – well before 8/8.

We have learned from InsideCroydon's post of 2 September that a tiny complement of between 60 to 100 officers were on the streets of Croydon on 8/8.  Many of these brave officers had no specific riot training and lacked heavy duty protective body armour.  There were some remarkable stories of courage that night – PC Andy Hewlett being especially noteworthy.

However, our admiration of the bravery of “the few” is mixed with amazement at the tiny number of officers who were mobilised.  The small numbers are all the more amazing given InsideCroydon’s revelations that the police were forewarned – as evidenced by police warnings to traders early that morning that Croydon was at risk.

Borough Commander Adrian Roberts - Croydon's top police officer
Borough Commander Adrian Roberts
In the aftermath of the riots, we learned of the transfer of Borough Commander Adrian Roberts to a senior role in the Olympics' policing.  Commander Roberts' departure is a real loss for Croydon.  He and his family are “out and out” Croydonians.  Commander Roberts’ affection for his home borough is palpable.  Also, he is one of that rare breed of senior police officer who really works at developing a two way dialogue with the public.  He was always eager to attend community meetings and answer questions from the audience.  Unlike many public meeting attendees, there was a real sense that he wanted to listen – as well as put his own organisation’s case.  InsideCroydon in its post of 2 September hints that his replacement may be Hounslow’s deputy borough commander - Paul Martin.  Whoever the replacement turns out to be, this newcomer will have a hard act to match in Commander Roberts.

I’m continually referring back to Andrew Pelling’s InsideCroydon post of 11 August.  One of the taboo subjects that Andrew analyses in this outstanding post is Croydon’s north/south divide.  Andrew observes that virtually all of the ruling Conservative councillors represent wards in the borough’s leafy suburban south.  Although the great majority of Croydon’s councillors work hard and have good intentions, it has to be admitted that the borough’s north and south are like “chalk and cheese”.  Andrew expresses his concern that the southern ward councillors may have little sense of what northerners think and feel.

Police stop and search is a grievance in Croydon
A source of greviance - stop & search
This sense of unease on a north/south split was reinforced by a public meeting on 1 September at the CVA Resource Centre.  This meeting was targeted at Croydon’s youth to discuss the riots.  As well as the sense of exasperation at how London Road was left unprotected, a major theme of this meeting was the low esteem that the local police are held in.  Some audience members pointed out that the riots were in the making a long time before 8/8.  Heavy handed policing – especially the abuse of stop and search – was raised as being a real grievance.  The concerns emerging at this meeting were compounded by the recent revelations on the police mistreatment of Nyron Games.

Those who attend any public meeting tend to be good citizens with a strong sense of community.  The vibes from this meeting that the police are so disliked is therefore disturbing.  It suggests that there are areas of the borough where the police are failing to win “hearts and minds”.  Admittedly, there are sections of the community who are unlikely to ever like the police – especially young men under the age of 21.  But it is real cause for concern when the police are actively disliked – especially by a wider cross section of the community.

There seems to be real resistance to establishing an independent local inquiry on the specific policing failures in Croydon on 8/8.  The objections seem to centre on an inquiry being like “picking at a scab” – it will do more harm than good.  But even if an inquiry raises many uncomfortable questions, it does provide a good starting point for assessing how we can prevent a repetition – given the limited resources available.  Also, as a matter of justice for those traders and residents in fringe Croydon who were burnt out and/or looted on 8/8, it is only fair that there should be a forensic analysis of why they were left unprotected.  One of the most basic provisions of a civilised society is the protection of life and property.  On 8/8, the residents and traders at Reeves Corner and London Road were failed on this most basic of rights.

Laura Johnson - despite being a millionaire's daughter, she was charged with rioting
Laura Johnson - a millionaire's daughter
One of the most valuable benefits of an independent local inquiry is that it forces us to assess the underlying information – which leads to better solutions.  The television footage of the riots suggested it was largely the work of young teenagers.  However, as the criminal justice system whirred into action, the media’s focus moved on to the many older people – who had no previous criminal records – who were charged.  The millionaire’s daughter and the 31 year old primary school worker received exceptional media publicity.  Alas, the real facts should never get in the way of a good media story.  The reality shows a very different profile for the typical apprehended rioter/looter.  We have learned that three quarters of those charged had a previous conviction – which is at odds with the media’s pre-occupation with those opportunists drawn into the riots – but who had previously been of good character.  The other notable fact - that is also at odds with the media’s portrayal – is that only one fifth of those charged were under 18 years of age.

The one perception that is being backed up by the statistics is the major role of gangs in the riots.  One fifth of those charged are known gang members.  The role of gangs in the London riots is discussed in an outstanding InsideCroydon post on 6 September.  A post on this blog on 11 August discusses Croydon’s gangs at length.  If anything, the gangs’ role in the riots is understated by the raw statistics.  Many gang members were well disguised and organised during the riots – so their detection rate is likely to be lower than for the opportunists.  Also, one of the most notable features of the riots is the extent to which twitter, facebook and mobile text messages were used to whip up trouble.  Although the social media incitements to riot seem to have taken on a life of their own, there is a real suspicion that the gangs may have been the initial spark on the social media - so as they could take advantage of the ensuing mayhem.

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan: 4 years for incitement
The severity of sentencing has received much attention in the riots’ aftermath.  There are a small number of well reported cases where the punishments appear draconian.  Hopefully, on appeal, these unduly harsh sentences will be remedied.  However, although it is a sentiment that will jar with many of the readers of this blog, I support tough sentences.  I take no pleasure whatsoever in seeing someone sentenced to jail.  However, jail terms do serve as a deterrent – particularly to those who were tempted by the torrent of “invites to get free stuff” by twitter/facebook/phone texts – but who held back.  Most psychologists accept that individuals have differing moral standards as set out by Lawrence Kohlberg's theory on the stages of moral development.  For young children, often it is the threat of punishment that acts as a brake on wrongdoing – not any internalised moral standard.  Most people do develop moral standards as they grow up.  However, psychological tests consistently show that a surprising proportion of the population never develop beyond the most basic moral level of “will I get caught?”  The personal variation in moral development is best illustrated by the example of finding a wallet – that contains money and the owner’s phone number - in a public park.  Most people would contact the owner as it is “the right thing to do”.  However, some will keep the wallet as they know they will never be caught.  In the case of the riots, it is a sad fact that for some people, tough punishment and a high chance of getting caught serves as a real deterrent.

On 8/8 in Croydon, there is much anecdotal evidence that many of the rioters were gangs who travelled in from other parts of south London.  However, we need to gather and analyse the data so as we fully understand who was involved in 8/8 and exactly how the rioters operated.  It is a sad fact that we can no longer linger under the illusion that the British state is like “the cow that is fed in heaven and milked on earth”.  In this age of austerity, we need to have accurate underlying information so as to make good decisions – especially given the funding constraints.  For example, if a careful analysis of those charged/involved in 8/8 indicates that most were locals, then that would suggest funds should be channelled into local job creation programmes.  However, if most of the rioters were gang members (and opportunists) from outside Croydon, then that would suggest very different spending priorities.  The overriding need is to compile good information and analyse it in a rigorous way.  If we are to “pick at the scab” of 8/8, then the best way by far of proceeding is by way of an independent local inquiry that has access to comprehensive and reliable information.

One of the great problems for local democracy is that councillors are always pointing out how national policies constrain their freedom of action.  But national policy – even when the need is pressing – can take an age to reform.  In this context, the option of doing nothing at the local Croydon level seems a very poor choice indeed.  In the short term, Croydon badly needs to understand the immediate lessons from 8/8 – no matter how uncomfortable this investigation proves.  Longer term, Croydon’s politicians and police need to develop an effective strategy for tackling the borough’s gang crime.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our police need to engage with the many disaffected Croydonians who hold them in such low esteem.



Alan Reynolds
07/09/2011 4:00pm

A very interesting overview and a further one to analyse the stats about who was involved (and why) would indeed be helpful in considering actions to minimise a repeat of those events. As to the Police response, the admission in Parliament 6 Sept that there were serious disturbances in 22 Boroughs that night with just over 2500 police trained to deal riots, suggests to me that a wider London view was taken to spread the resources around. Hindsight tells us 400+ arrested in Croydon plus an unrevealed number not apprehended, so just what proportion of the 2500 trained Police would have been needed in Croydon to deal with (?)1000 rioters? Is there any realistic prospect that Society will pay the taxes to invest in that level of policing or indeed that Society will accept a level of policing which underlay communist Eastern Europe?

Terry Coleman
08/09/2011 2:52pm

Sections of the community think that the law of the land does not apply to them.
Small shopkeepers are robbed & intimidated throughout the area every day, for at least 5 years to my knowledge. Street robbery is rife around West Croydon and Thornton Heath.
Firm policing and stiff sentences are urgently required....
In my humble opinion of course.

24/05/2013 8:21am

Thank you for writing about the 8/8 incident. There are so many questions and conspiracies are there behind this incident. It is good to read more about Borough Commander Adrian Roberts. Keep writing and sharing these kinds of valuable articles.

25/09/2013 8:17pm

I wish that the police were with the people. I want the police to protect its citizens, and not opposed by the people.


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