On a night of violence

I’ve had to turn the news off as the repeated images of violence were making me inestimably sad. As I write this, Camberwell has remained mostly unscathed, although the same can’t be said for Peckham, Brixton, Walworth Road, Old Kent Road, or East Dulwich. I can’t quite take in what’s happening.

Anyone who says with certainty that this is down to pure criminality is talking out of their arse. Likewise anyone who says this is due to disaffection from society, or poverty, or anger with the police, or racial hatred, or any of the multitude of other reasons I’ve heard tonight. Nobody knows for sure why this has happened. I’d imagine the real reason is a combination of any or all of the above, depending on which of the participants you ask.

One thing we can probably say with some certainty is that this doesn’t happen for no reason, and it doesn’t spring from nowhere. But we don’t have any context for it, just supposition and opinion.

There’s no excuse for some of the behaviour we’ve seen; smashing in or setting fire to small, locally owned businesses, and looting the houses of the people who flee out of fear. You can’t excuse that. You shouldn’t even try.

If things have become so bad for people that they feel that rioting is the only option open to them now, I can sympathise with that. But using violence to take something because you’ll personally gain from it is loathsome behaviour, and deserves punishment.

I don’t want to score cheap political points now (there’ll be enough of that in the next few days) but the lack of presence from our elected leaders has been notable. Where was Mayor Johnson? Prime Minister Cameron? We’re hosting the Olympic Games next year, shouldn’t they have spent some time to at least pay lip service to addressing the problem? And while they have the excuse that they were out of the country, where was Deputy Prime Minister Clegg in their absence?

I don’t know what’s going on. I’m bewildered and confused and sad, and not looking forward to all the finger-pointing, politics and punditry that’s destined to follow this.

One final note: over the next few weeks, please don’t buy anything that you suspect to be stolen. Don’t reward this. Help local shopkeepers instead.

Author: Peter

Long-time resident of Camberwell, author of this blog since July 2004.

68 thoughts on “On a night of violence”

  1. Thanks Peter, really considered post given the emotion a situation like this generates.

    I keep thinking about the “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women” quote by Maggie T.

    For me this is where the current problem has it’s nucleus. I think she had a point to some extent, in the sense she was trying to re-invigorate people and mobilise a post war Britain to be more pro-active and less reflective.

    Having said that, I think the tone of her speech, her policies, and the context in which she voiced those policies, ware divisive, and it remains so. But the real problem for me is that the speech resonated so well, and that the policies that resulted from them broke communities apart and that few people recognise the consequences of those policies.

    I’m really upset that ‘the revolution’ is televised, worse still, it does go better with coke, there are stolen ambulances and it involves white goods and destruction of property.

    I am wholeheartedly upset about the nature of the situation we, as a society and not as individuals, find ourselves in.

  2. I am devastated. And too scared to go to work on my own this morning, I would normally be leaving about now but apparently Peckham and Old Kent Road are still unsafe. I’m frightened for my little girls who are meant to be going to the childminder on Trafalgar Avenue in an hours time. How can this happen in England? How can there be SO MANY people joining in with this madness?

  3. Hey Amanda. It’s all pretty Clear in Camberwell. The only place that seems damaged is the phone shop by Haart.

    Illegitimi non carborundum to paraphrase/bastardise the Camberwell motto. don’t let the fear of these people stop you living your life.

  4. I think there is a definite context for the violence and chaos we’ve seen: it’s called gansta culture. I see it on the streets of Camberwell and Peckham every day. Now the world sees it too.

  5. Amanda’s fears are understandable, given the amount of coverage of horrors and, especially, rumours. But we need to keep on normally so far as possible. And beware of rumour: ridiculous messages around this afternoon about multiple fires in Camberwell, when nothing of the sort occurred. Shops are mostly battened down, but hopefully not for long. In WWII sites that were bombed were usually cleared of survivors and bodies and the rescue teams moved on after just three hours — then people got back to normal in the area. A ‘business as usual’ attitude needs to be restored, then we’d all be more confident.

  6. Thank you for your comments, Peter — I empathise totally with how you’re feeling.

    Opportunists and thugs have been allowed to bring havoc, fear and destruction to the streets of London because the police were simply unprepared for (or unwilling to deal with) the level of violent disruption, as well as being overwhelmed by the large numbers of rioters involved.

    I can’t escape the nagging feeling, though, that there would have been a more proactive stance by the police had rioters attacked Chelsea, Kensington, the west end or suchlike.

    Will the Conservatives suffer as a result of police failures? I certainly hope so!

  7. Spent a lot of today on Twitter trying to sort out the real news from the unsubstantiated rumour. The ratio was about 99% in favour of rumour.

    There was all kinds of stuff being said; through the whole day I heard that these buildings were on fire:

    The pawn shop

    I read that King’s had been evacuated, that an 800-strong mob was descending on us from Clapham, that the Green/Burgess Park was thronging with gangs meeting up to cause chaos, even that Camberwell was ‘finished’.

    It was, of course, all bullshit. As far as I can tell, there definitely was a break-in at the pawn shop, but there were certainly no fires or mobs.

    What exacerbated the situation was the mainstream media reporting the rumour; the cycle went like this: person on Twitter reports third-hand rumour “OMG my cousin says his girlfriend’s hairdresser says there’s riots in Camberwell!” -> journalist at The Guardian/The Telegraph says “I’m hearing unconfirmed reports of rioting in Camberwell” -> person on Twitter reports “OMG I just read on The Guardian that there’s riots in Camberwell!”

    I dropped into my local for a drink after work and they’d all heard the rumours and taken them at face value. It was an interesting study in watching rumour spread, but left many people scared and nervous.

  8. That said — only Twitter got the details of what was happening in the south east entirely correct. It was not really reported on the news and having checked this morning — it was astonishingly pretty much 100% correct.
    The rumours about Camberwell did set me on edge though as I have a loved one who lives there.

  9. we need our local communities to defend our streets and homes if our police “service” cannot do this. We need a call for the community to come onto the streets to stop this destruction.

  10. As for calling on the community to help out, take a look at the Crisis Commons website which seems excellent to me — sensible, restrained and well organised. Also see what the people of East Dulwich are doing or suggesting re Lordship Lane by looking at the E D Forum pages.

  11. Nice post Peter, I agree with @Shaun Richards about it being the ‘Gangsta’ culture, sure there are other issues causing it too, but mindless thugs will be mindless thugs regardless.

    I’m not sure what the best ‘response’ is (I loved the Millwall fans approach to Eltham — singing ‘Noone loots us…’) but we should all show some solidarity with local business and return to ‘normality’. Keep calm, carry on!

  12. We’re supposed to be meeting friends at Frank’s Campari Bar tonight — is Peckham Rye open ? I know the number 12 bus is being re-routed .…

  13. @monkeycat — thanks for that — get off before peckham rye so no idea what the situation is 🙂

  14. Just a thought, and I know I may get lynched for this but…

    Does anyone know, out of all the shops in London, or even in the worst affected areas, how many shops did not get attacked by rioters and looters compared to those that did get damaged?

    How many people were not affected or harmed by the rioters?

    As a percentage of population, how many people were rioting and looting?

    Whilst the news is all about what people DID do, I would be interested to hear what people DIDN’T do.

    As I say, just a thought.

  15. Following last weeks riots… Garudio Studiage invite you to cut and collage your own fantasy shop for Rye Lane.
    Guest artists include Tatty Devine, Coralie Bickford-Smith, Andrew Rae and Hannah Waldron.
    All sales and donations help fund Peckham Space art workshops for local young people.

    2nd – 27th august 2011

    it’s free!

  16. Monkeycat, so your saying it’s OK to reek havoc if only a small amount of people do it if the rest of the law abiding community being a larger part of us don’t?

    What a bloody inane statement!!!!!

  17. No, not at all. You miss the point. I was more thinking in relation to a cancelled visit by friend because his wife was so worried about the dangers of coming to London. How dangerous was London during the week?

    Also it seems that there is a fear of violence and crime that is does not correlate with the actual risk of something happening to you.

  18. Many shops may not have been affected, much of Camberwell was unaffected apart from the phone shop and two cash for gold shops, however the fear that was brought onto people certainly had an inpact. I know Caravaggio had all their bookings cancelled on Tuesday and we barely managed to scrape over the £100 mark in takings that day. Part of me thinks I would have been better off had some looting taken place and a nice insurance payout come off the back of it…
    Thankfully we seem to be going back to normality, hopefully the weekend doesn’t bring any trouble. Shame the council have had to postpone their festival.

  19. POSTCARD FROM CORNWALL Hello, postcodes! We are having a nice time here. Hope you are well. Any news?

    No newspapers or telly down here, just the cry of seabirds! One little bird has told us that the ELEPHANT TO THE NUN festival has been postponed till 1718 September weekend. We are very pleased because we can now go. So all you “Camberwell/Peckham Has Got Talent” lot — get in touch with


    to book your unplugged act on the Oxjam acoustic no-mike stage in Lucas Gardens. Come along, let’s join in with the “Big Society”! Perhaps David Cameron will visit us on the day, eh?

    We would certainly cut short our holiday if we knew he or other effete Etonians were visiting there for any reason! “Gawd bless yer, yer Eton-straight-thru-to-Oxford-then-Carlton-TV-PR-wonk, sir!”

    Talking of which, a funny old wise woman down here covered in tattoos, aged about 19, who lives on a surfboard, said something strange. She said Boris Johnson has been upended and turned into something useful.

    A broom, she says!

    You know what these witches are like, they live in their own world.

  20. Hi Dagmar. How’s the surf?

    Great blog from Motown. I feel much better informed having read it.

    The riots were bloody awful. Funny that Clegg is unable to enjoy predicting them though. If he’d been in opposition now he’d be loving it like Vince Cable after the financial crisis.

    As it is he’s left saying that he meant different riots. Not like that. More students and swampy types. Probably in May…

  21. With regard to the riots I fear that once again Camberwell will be overlooked and miss out — regeneration/rebuilding money will be channelled to Walworth, Peckham and Brixton not peaceful Camberwell.

  22. Not sure where I should start with commenting on the riots, really. I’m shocked by the reports of the sheer numbers of young people out in Peckham on Monday, participating in it (500, I heard). I’m shocked by the hysterical reaction in the press (evict council tenants have any association with offences over last weekend). And equally shocked by the response of the traditional left (I was in Peckham today and the university lecturer wing of the SWP were out asking that I blame the bosses, not the “community” for what has happened). I only wish I knew which way to turn, but I don’t.

  23. Go to poundland on Rye Lane.

    The post-it note collage is moving.

    I feel extremely privleged to live here.

    It’s like when Ben Kenobi let Darth Vader whoop him. You can strike me down… and all that.

  24. While London was almost burning last week, Jay Rayner did the Crooked Well — and well they did — in the Guardian. And in ES The Sun and Doves got best pub in London for its quiz from an interview with Simon Bird.

    Off to see the Wall of Love.

  25. @mumu/all

    Not necessarily…if some lateral thinking is applied

    The riots were extremely dissapointing but I have to say that I wasn’t surprised at all in any way shape or form. It’s been brewing for quite some time.

    One of the main reasons for my belief in the Cinema/Camberwell Village Hall campaign at the ex-Gala Bingo was precisely to engage the whole community — particularly the dissaffected youth — in the reltively neutral central location of Camberwell for the entire borough.

    This is one of the most unequal countries in Europe regarding the gap between the rich and poor. The Gini co-efficient measures income distribution — the higher the percentage the more unequal the society.

    Only Portugal surpasses the U.K in this respect — closely followed by Italy,Greece and Spain. 30% of all the income in the U.K goes to the top 5% of earners. The only other nation in the western world which surpasses this is the U.S.A where 33% of total income goes to the top 5%.

    Greece and Portugal’s current fiscal problems are well documented and Italy and Spain are not far behind.

    In all these nations there is an extremely biased media with a distinct agenda through press,radio and TV which either totally ignores or demonises the social underclass and poor.

    How many times in this nation have we heard over the past 20 years of unpleasant phrases like “Chav Scum” or “Benefit Scroungers” and every social ill seems to be blamed on this section of society — but nobody EVER questions the aggressive economic system which causes all these negative social side-effects. As previously mentioned, the top 5% of earners cream off 30% of the nations entire earnings and this figure is rising all the time — but every other reason is trotted out to justify this ignorant, selfish and totally insane system other than the truth.

    There are many other historical reasons which also play a factor — break down of social cohesion, family unit and the appalling social housing based on the brutalist architecture of totatalarian regimes — but the main one being that the U.K and the E.U have over the past 20 years — fully embraced the post WW2 U.S economic model — (which of course was based on the U.K & European Empirical economic model before the social justice movement) and if you embrace that model then you have to accept the same negative social side-effects — that all it really comes down to.

    I don’t want to live in an aggressive, unregulated, free market jungle nor do I want to exist in a claustrophobic totatalarian zoo — but it seems to me that we are taking the very worse excesses of the latter to prop up the very worst excesses of the former — without question and that is a very dark place to be in indeed…

    There IS a third way (if we really want it)

    I will recommend some books — these are not the bottom line or gospel…but offer some interesting ideas and theories to help get a grasp on the situation…

    The Spirit Level



    Prosperity Without Growth


    The State We’re In


    Thank you all

    I drink my tea

  26. By the way. Went down, probably UP actually, to the river yesterday for a spontaneous walk along the southbank. Whatever happened to ‘being English’? Where did all the stuffy unimaginative boringness and ‘close everything at dusk’ mentality go? It was great along there — wonderful ambiance, lots to look at, busy, lots of people, happy and having fun — no tension, all very civilised and very cafe society.

    I had a great time. An inquiry should be held.


  27. That should be ambience, not ambiance. Ambient music, right, not ambulance music. Shouldn’t this blog take a deep breath, step away from its old yarns and just change? Let’s see.

    Hello, Camberwell, long time no see.

  28. Anyone know the cheapest way of getting a taxi to Luton, early in the morning? i.e. arriving there by 6am? Cheapest so far is Camberwell Cabs at £60.

  29. Coach services are cheap, guys. easyBus goes from Victoria every 20 mins round the clock, book online, takes 1 hour 20. Swift, quiet, nice ambience.

    Let it rain. Rain brings change.

  30. @ J Mark Dodds

    I was reminded of that fine word whilst watching most of our prominent politicians strut around, go through the motions and bury their head in the sand with banal, spirit-crushing knee-jerk predictability that was so depressingly inevitable.

    Good call on the Peckham Space project…I’m more than happy to donate £20 to such a valid cause.

  31. Peckham Space got their £2000. AMAZING!

    Only two days ago they were £980 short of their goal — that’s what they needed for art materials or else none of the money pledged could have been, ahem, drawn upon…

    Anyway, in the last two days, there must have been a giving rush.

    Thanks eusobiovic!

  32. @Eusebiovic/All,
    I accept the arguments on how unequal the society we all inhabit is and would like to see the rich paying their share of the bill to rescue our economy (which would be a very big share). I’ve never subscribed to the “we’re all in this together” austerity cry, because I know we’re not.
    I am, however, a little tired of St Camila of Batmanghelidjh and her ilk in the charity sector. Go and stand outside Wedge House on Blackfriars Rd for a couple of hours and watch “those of us who work at street level” arriving & departing in chauffeur-driven cars and taxis. You think I’m joking or that I have a personal axe to grind? I’m not and I don’t, but it does make me feel that personal appearances on the riot special edition of Question Time or articles for The Independent are probably little more than a funding bid. I actually support the work that Kids Company do, but it has started to look more any more like a business to me in recent months. Notice how carefully Camila chooses her words so that they do not offend the dominant political class (whichever brand that is). And, regrettably, I don’t reserve this feeling for Kids Company alone — I see it in Shelter, Thamesreach, Wateraid — the list goes on.….

  33. @Mushtimushta, My own feeling is that if there is any weakness in Camila’s set up it is that people on the outside don’t get to know the scope of what Kids Company is up to.

    Camila’s organisation is extraordinary and its spread is huge. She works day and night and has two shifts of PA’s and office support to keep up with her schedule.

    They deal with many thousands of young people on a continuing, rolling and expanding basis that is truly impressive. They coordinate the activities and efforts of thousands of volunteers, interns and work placements across a wide geographic area, placing them with schools and work programmes all over the show. They run mentoring programmes, one to one counselling, dozens of workshops and loads of other stuff.

    It demands a lot of administration which is what part of Wedge House is about… A lot of the building is actively used as counselling and therapy rooms.

    Why not ask if you can visit and and get shown around? You might be surprised.

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