Charlton’s night of looting: Confessions of a curtain-twitcher

Living on Woolwich Road has its ups and downs. The constant traffic is unfortunate, but there are many positives. One positive is being able to see the realities of human life through the partially drawn curtains of my home. On Monday night this took a turn to the more extreme.

After watching disturbances in Lewisham on rolling news since I arrived home from work it was hard to rule out something happening in the retail parks opposite my house. I had popped out to Asda at 8.30 just as the sun was going down. Despite increasing numbers of police cars rushing along Woolwich Road it actually seemed fairly normal. I asked the Asda security guards whether they were about to close. They replied: “We’re staying open – for now.”

Back home it wasn’t long till the violence erupting in Woolwich was confirmed. Tied with footage on the news of the fire in Croydon, things definitely went from serious to disastrous. It reached 10 o’clock and I was still transfixed to the television when a friend alerted me to the looting commencing over the road. There it began.

I looked through the blinds and sure enough five men were pulling up scarves over their faces outside my very house. My eyes followed them towards the alleyway at the foot of Victoria Way where there was already people filing in and out of the retail park. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Before long I started to see people coming the other way: Women with new clothes still on the hangers, men struggling with large boxes, teenagers fingering freshly looted trainers.

At the same time false rumours were being spread that Asda was now on fire. I looked into the sky and couldn’t see smoke. My girlfriend wouldn’t let me leave the house so I rushed into the garden to see if I could smell smoke. If Asda was on fire, then we would have certainly been evacuated.

I was in a state of shock at this point, I could hear shop sirens wailing in the distance. We had been on hold to the police for fifteen minutes before we spoke to someone. They kept on repeating the same question, “Is anything on fire?”. I had to be sure, my view of Asda from my house is restricted at best. Could I smell smoke? I couldn’t see anything in the sky, online reports of fire were severely outnumbering those saying there wasn’t any. “No”, I replied, three times over.

I really didn’t know what to do with myself, the next two hours were spent flitting from one room to the next. I peered through the upstairs curtains, cowered behind the downstairs curtains. I watched BBC News in the living room, Sky News in the bedroom. I would comfort concerned housemates, probably only making them worse.

I would rush out to the garden to smell the air, unravelling the hose pipe at the same time. I literally tripped over myself at numerous points, frantically trying to be everywhere at once. I managed to find a brass candlestick that I stared at in disbelief in the thought I might have to use it. There was a steady stream of looters by this point, some carrying weapons. Looters gushing out of the alleyway onto the road, sometimes causing traffic to swerve.

Hooded thieves were disappearing into the darkness of Wickes’ car park, jubilantly thrusting their arms into the air as they jumped over the two foot wall. Cars were parking in numerous laybys with masked men appearing from them. Police cars rushed towards us from Greenwich, only to fly straight past to the more serious riots in Woolwich.

At around 2am I tried to sleep. The looting had calmed down slightly. I was still uneasy about the threat of fire. Distant shop sirens were still haunting me, I had placed my candlestick beside my bed. It goes without saying that I couldn’t sleep. However, I was relieved to here the rotors of a helicopter over our house. A police helicopter, training its light over the retail park. They had arrived, they were here in force, it was going to be okay, after four hours of waiting.

The noise was deafening and it sounded like it was outside my bedroom window at points, but it was far better than shop sirens. After what seemed like ages I managed to drift off and get a few hours sleep before work.

Throughout the whole experience and the day after the incident thoughts revolved around my brain. Many entered my mind, but overriding them all was my disbelief that there are so many unlawful people in the world. I had no idea that amount of people would be willing to break the law in what was a night of opportunistic madness.

6 thoughts on “Charlton’s night of looting: Confessions of a curtain-twitcher

  1. Indigo August 14, 2011 / 16:58

    Very good account. Our neighbourhood was used as an “over flow car park” until about 2.00am. That doesn’t sound bad, now, does it – but at the time we didn’t know whether or not the night would finish with the roads barricaded with burning cars.

  2. Indigo August 14, 2011 / 16:59

    An over flow car park for looters, to clarify.

  3. Paul August 14, 2011 / 21:01

    Excellent post Matt. I can imagine how on edge you were, my road was just full of cars streaming past – some looters, some just getting their cars out of Woolwich I expect – and that, combined with the strange sounds in the air, was enough to freak me out big time. Went for a walk in Maryon Park today, had to lift the pram over a broken 40″ plasma telly.

    The worst thing for me is how it makes you look differently at your neighbours, especially if they have the misfortune of being under 25.

    Anyway, as I said, great post.


  4. J August 15, 2011 / 10:46

    There must be CCTV all over there right? It would be nice if they got the plate of every car and then confiscated it and raided the owners house.

  5. Chris August 15, 2011 / 13:23

    I must admit I’ve been thinking along the same lines as ‘J’.

    But I don’t reckon there is CCTV coverage of the end of Victoria Way which is where most of the loot (presumably) was loaded into cars.

    What a lot of the press coverage of this whole affair has failed to mention is that the people who were caught — especially around the Charlton retail parks — were the looter equivalent of the old, the sick and the lame.

    As Matt has pointed out by noting that police cars were whizzing past on their way to Woolwich, Charlton was effectively unpoliced until the choppers turned up. In that time hundreds of people acquired themselves free loot and the bulk will never be nicked.

  6. Ashleigh marsh August 16, 2011 / 17:11

    What worries me more than the looting of a few chainstores is the prospect of the Thameside from Deptford to Thamesmead being turned into a high-rise commuter/retail corridor – all under the spurious banner of ‘sustainable’ development and a housing crisis. Where will these new ‘communities’ actually work if all our industrial land is systematically poached? This is not regeneration – it is environmental vandalism on a ridiculous scale. Unsound economics.

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