How the Croydon Advertiser helped bring House of Reeves arsonist to justice
HOUSE of Reeves arsonist Gordon Thompson is facing a lengthy jail term, largely thanks to the efforts of the Croydon Advertiser and our readers. Reporter Gareth Davies, who came face-to-face with Thompson on that fateful night, takes a closer look at the man responsible for causing the inferno that shocked the world.
ARSONIST Gordon Thompson claimed to be "on the run" from police just months before burning House of Reeves to the ground, the Advertiser can reveal.
The father-of-two has been warned to expect a lengthy sentence after he admitted starting the fire which destroyed the historic furniture store during last summer's riots.
A few months earlier the painter and decorator boasted on his Facebook page that the police were looking for him in connection with another incident.
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"I am on the run from the cops. **** them all. Thug life baaaabe. Up one min and next ya down. **** the world we live in," read the post, written in April.
The Met were unable to confirm whether there was an outstanding warrant for Thompson's arrest at the time he started a blaze so fierce it spread to flats in Church Street, sending families fleeing for their lives.
Now justice has finally caught up with him, the Reeves family, who owned the 144-year-old furniture store, have called on Judge Peter Thornton not to flinch when sentencing Thompson for his "cynical act of cowardice".
Trevor Reeves told the Advertiser: "Whatever punishment is meted out needs to be met in full. The judge said he will be given a considerable time and I hope he gets exactly that.
"After the riots a lot of people said the sentences were too tough but I hope the judge doesn't back off and go soft."
Thompson, who had denied arson, dramatically changed his plea during his trial at the Old Bailey last Friday.
After starting the fire on August 8 he boasted to witness Jonathan Davis: "It was me – I did that. I burned Reeves Furniture."
Thompson initially claimed he had entered the store to stop the looting, a claim Graham Reeves described as "comical".
He said: "When the barrister made his statement, the evidence was so damning he had to change his plea. He had no defence."
Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow said Thompson's actions had placed lives in "real danger", adding: "He watched others start to smash the glass in order to force their way in through the doors and windows of the furniture shop.
"He stole a laptop and on leaving the store he asked another of the rioters for a lighter. In an act of cynical cowardice he went back inside the shop and set fire to one of the sofas inside the window.
"The effect was catastrophic.
"The sofa went up in flames, as did other pieces of furniture in the showroom and within minutes the inferno was raging out of control."
Thompson was caught on camera by Advertiser reporter Gareth Davies and freelance photographer Greg Mack when the disorder first started in Surrey Street earlier that evening.
Posing as looters, the pair recorded him leaving Iceland, clutching stolen alcohol.
His grinning, remorseless face was the main image on that week's front page.
A reader called police after seeing Thompson in Surrey Street the next day, bragging about his crimes.
The arsonist claimed he intended to turn himself in after seeing the picture.
Thompson had already admitted looting Iceland and House of Fraser before the trial, but confessed to arson after jurors were shown CCTV footage of him appearing to start the blaze.
Trevor Reeves, 56, praised the police and our role in the arrest and trial of Thompson.
He said: "It was top work. Everyone with a decent bone in their body pulled in the same direction and the efforts of the paper, the police and the community were fantastic."
Thompson, of Waddon Road, admitted burglary and arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered. He will be sentenced on April 11.
Mr Glasgow said those pleas were enough to "properly reflect the criminality" of Thompson's behaviour and it would not be in the interests of justice to proceed with the remaining charges of arson with intent to endanger life and a further count of violent disorder. The judge subsequently ordered the jury to return not guilty verdicts on these charges.