An eye witness view of the riots – a contribution from Jellyfielders

11 Aug

This week has been a strange old week – not just in London, but across England the rioting has dominated every conversation and even most of the tweets in the HTC timeline. So as you will have noticed, we’ve dedicated the blog this week to thoughts and views of these happenings.

On Monday night, we heard that our fantastic producers and filmakers Jellyfielders were placed right at the heart of one of the worst hit areas. Here Chris (@geektothechic) from Jellyfielders Studios gives his eye-witness account of what he saw.

Having seen the news over the weekend, we had heard through Twitter that something was said to happening in Woolwich on the evening of 08/08/11. After the weekend’s riots, I think everybody was naturally nervous about further disturbances, dismissing the rumours as just that: rumours.

I was walking through the town centre at around 5:30pm on Monday. I had only nipped out to get some cash and do a bit of shopping. I was on the phone to fellow contributor Eleni Cashell when I suddenly became aware that over thirty hooded youths were about 10 ft behind me. When a single police car pulled up at the end of the road, the crowd behind me started to run towards it, throwing missiles at shop windows they ran through the town shouting. Other members of the public got out of their way and could only stare on, appalled that the trouble had found its way here.

Everything quietened down for a little while and police started to leave the area. We heard through Twitter that the high street had been raided and badly damaged. This was sadly just the calm before the storm.

The view outside our living room window looks out onto Thomas Street. This includes the Great Harry pub, that until that evening, fellow Jellyfielder Lu had worked in for a number of years.

Mike, the final member of Jellyfielders, was standing on the balcony with some of the other residents and he filmed the now infamous footage of the eight riot officers backing away from the throng of rioters. Before the fires broke out, myself and Lu were filming as much as we could from out the window, there were times when rioters had spotted us and threatened to throw objects, so some footage had to be shot behind the glass. It’s important to say this now: filming a riot isn’t big or clever, but as clearly no news crews would be able to get here, we in part felt obligated to film the unfolding events. Obligation, and healthy mix of stupidity and gusto all round.

The riot in Woolwich started with just two individuals trying to get into Cash Convertor (no class); violently kicking the heavy metal shutter, which drew the attention of other rioters. It wasn’t long before a large crowd had amassed and started on the other shops. We live in a ten-storey apartment block, and below us are shops and a Wimpy restaurant on the corner.

It took parts of the now hundred strong mob fewer than three minutes to smash their way into the jewellers shop a few doors down from us. Using a shopping trolley and brute force, they decimated it as quickly as they broke in.

I can only describe it as something out of a zombie movie. Hordes of people everywhere, shouting, screaming and laying waste to everything in their path. Feverishly grabbing at handfuls of stolen goods as though it were human flesh. I’ll admit that at this point, the fear really started to kick in. It was pure chaos, the police were outnumbered as the streets were overrun and without sounding over-dramatic, it felt like the end of the world. Fires started to be break out on the ground, law enforcement powerless. It was anarchy. That’s when a thought ran through my head that stopped me cold in my tracks: they are burning the businesses they break into and we live above a string of shops. We were all becoming genuinely afraid for our lives as there was no safe way out of the complex, we were essentially surrounded with no chance of the police or fire brigade reaching us.

More rioters joined them and shortly after they turned their attention on the Great Harry pub, it took them no time at all to smash through the windows and doors. One rioter punched the glass on the entrance door until it smashed, once inside they started taking the alcohol and shared it around. Laughing, joking and posing for pictures, they were all utterly blasé about the surrounding carnage.

The rioters inside the pub set fire to menus and left them on the tables, when this failed to ignite they poured spirits over chairs and set them ablaze. Within a few minutes the fire was spreading throughout the pub and out of control. Rioters continued to drink and take pictures of the pub being consumed by flames.

I could feel the heat from the fire against my face, growing hotter and hotter. The mob’s attention then turned to the burger restaurant next-door. Smashing through the windows with ease, a fire broke out almost instantly that was hard to see from our window. People in the crowd below shouted “Your building is on fire”. My heart sank. Not only does the restaurant have gas cylinders, it’s directly below the corner or the tower block. If it went up, it could take half the building with it. It’s an indescribable feeling: the town ablaze; lying in ruins; people shouting at you to leave the building; screaming from the residents echoing throughout; panic setting in and people fleeing to the car park.

We grabbed a handful of belongings, Mike took a backpack of things as Lu rounded-up the ferrets Grub and Daphne, and beloved pet rat Mr Smith. I grabbed a few family photos, my MacBook, iPad, video-camera, my lucky penny (my priorities are all fucked up) and a roll of toilet paper. Now, I can’t explain exactly what was running through my already tired brain at this point. Maybe it was a subconscious way of expressing just how much I was shitting myself (not literally, I can’t stress that enough), or that if the world was ending, at least we had loo roll.

Residents packed up their cars and clutched onto hastily packed bags and suitcases. Others called friends or family and a few struggled to comprehend what was happening. This sort of thing doesn’t happen on your doorstep on a Monday. It still ceased to feel like it was real. You watch it on the news or in a movie, you don’t live it.

Through another resident it was suggested that the building wasn’t on fire, and it was looters trying to get into their now empty and unguarded homes. We received a tweet from a gentleman the day after, who was not a rioter, but just a citizen trying to get somewhere safe. He was one of the people who entered the building, knocking on doors to raise the alarm. As suspicious as events may have been that evening, it was genuinely an act of kindness by these people to take it upon themselves to help.

The rioters moved on to destroy the newly opened Wilkinsons store, burning the precinct out entirely. also, a poundshop and branch of Barclays bank were badly damaged. It’s believed that they then returned to the main high street and set fire to clothing store Blue Inc. They broke more shop windows while they were at it as well.

In this time the police and fire brigade were able to get to the fires and thankfully extinguishing them. Returning to the flat to see what was going on, I was so relieved to see police standing where rioters were a few minutes earlier. I asked one of the officers if the building was on fire or at risk. I was told the fire was out and the building was safe. In the car park I told the residents what the police officer had said and slowly most of them returned to their homes or ventured out to speak to the police themselves.

As you can see from these exclusive screen stills, Woolwich was hit just as badly as other areas. It was left off maps published in the Telegraph, on BBC and in the Metro newspaper. We suffered just as much destruction as other areas.

I don’t wish to throw in my two pence worth about why this is going on, and I don’t mean to trivialise any of these events, but the film Super, which I watched recently, contains a brief monologue, of which the words are not that applicable, but the sentiment is more than fitting:

“YOU DON’T BUTT IN LINE. YOU DON’T SELL DRUGS. YOU DON’T MOLEST LITTLE CHILDREN. YOU DON’T PROFIT ON THE MISERY OF OTHERS. THE RULES WERE SET A LONG TIME AGO. THEY DON’T CHANGE.”

Chris Suffield

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4 Responses to “An eye witness view of the riots – a contribution from Jellyfielders”

  1. Sophia August 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Hi there, I found this blog by searching for ‘Woolwich’ on Twitter. I live in Thamesmead and my boyfriend worked in the Great Harry pub (he has now been moved to a Wetherspoons in Bexleyheath) and I am seriouslystruggling to comprehend how and why our little bit of London seems to have been forgotten by just about everyone. The media, police, politicians – no one seems to have even yet acknowledged the utter destruction that has occurred in Woolwich. It seems to be among one of the worst hit areas for damage and I am glad there are blogs and people such as yourselves that will step forward and report these things when no one else will. Thank you for this piece! And a huge thank you to the Riot Clean Up that happened in Woolwich – with people willing to do these kinds of things in the community, it gives you a bit more faith in humanity especially at a time like this.

  2. Penny Camish August 14, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    Wow!! Listening to it on the phone whilst you, Lu and Mike were filming was scary enough!!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Taking pride in Woolwich: The forgotten town starts again « 853 - August 15, 2011

    […] So, just like citizens of distant Middle East cities reporters can’t get to, locals took to the web. Danny Mercer had the phone slammed down on him by the Daily Telegraph. Instead, he penned his own account of The Forgotten Corner of London and Chris Sutton shared his eyewitness view of the riots. […]

  2. Eye witness account by Christopher Suffield « woolwichriots - August 17, 2011

    […] Blog Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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