It was perhaps unsurprising that Like Tottenham and Hackney on previous successive nights, the riots that have broken out in various areas of London (nationwide as I write) reached Peckham. Rumours had emanated from a number of sources, some shops closed early and police sirens wailed from late afternoon into the evening. I noticed a crowd of mostly but not exclusively young people at Peckham square their gazes and kino eyes of their camera phones pointing towards Rye Lane. A thin police line in full riot gear formed a barrier from just beyond number 3 Rye Lane, the old Jones and Higgins store clock tower on one side and to the pawn brokers on the other side of the road. On Peckham road in the direction leading towards Camberwell stood a small number of hooded youth. Younger boys rode through in what I can only describe as “ride by rioting” which involved randomly throwing objects whilst riding away at speed. Where the police stood their ground, the rioters dispersed, but went on to choose a new target. The lack of police numbers meant this game of cat and mouse went on for a number of hours. The controversial “kettling” police tactic would not have been effective due to lack of police numbers and the fluidity of the rioters. Some rioters had managed to break in and loot the clothing store Blue Inc located underneath the clock tower of the old Jones and Higgins store that police had earlier formed a line just beyond. Some rioters attempted to set fire to the store a few times, but luckily others extinguished it. Having seen the sad sight of the massive fire that destroyed the House of Reeves store in Croydon, I dread to think what would have happened if they had succeeded. The clock tower, albeit underused is an important building in the history Peckham.
Further down rye lane rioters looted Iceland and Clarkes factory outlet store. By the time the police had caught up some others had broken the glass of the Santander bank. It was easy for the rioters to evade the police, regroup and attack a new target, darting and diving down roads leading off Rye lane.
Amongst the youths a middle aged woman urged people to regroup at Peckham police station, as she still had no answers about the death of her son after ten years. The attempted gathering at Peckham police station whether at her behest or not was met by lanes of police cars and a procession of armoured vehicles.
Whilst this was going on, further down Rye Lane a shop had been set on fire, helicopters paused overhead and once the fire had been extinguished the cat and mouse games continued well into the night with youths throwing fireworks at the police.
This was a tragic but surreal experience, amongst the small number of rioters and looters I noticed tourists amongst the spectators joking about the ammount of people that stopped to take pictures of a damaged “ATM”. In one barber shop it was business as usual, the metal grilling down but a gentleman getting a short back and sides. Wheelie bins were set alight and placed on Peckham Hill street by the library, cars and buses drove on to the pavement to avoid hitting the bins. Excited youths, a lot of them not rioting nor looting narrowly avoided being ran over by motorists too frightened to slow down or stop at red lights due to the youths running towards any “action” and running away once the police charged.
As night fell the Giselle boutique was broken into, a fracas developed as some girls ordered fellow rioters to return what had been taken before preventing anyone else getting in. Unfortunately this didn’t last as later in the evening the shop was again looted this time according to press reports with no restraint shown.
In the last couple of day,a project initiated by Chicken Shed theatre has become the go to “something positive, feelgood story” tv news programmes ardor. The idea is to leave a message reaffirming Peckhamites love of Peckham.