Hollow promises made in wake of Croydon riots exposes on anniversary of report
THIS week marks a year since an independent panel produced its report into the riots of August 2011. But, as Gareth Davies discovers, any analysis of whether its recommendations have been acted on must start with the dozens of families and businesses who have still not received compensation.
AMONG the 24 recommendations made by the independent review panel, set up following the disorder in the summer of 2011, stands a call for a reform of how compensation is paid out under the Riot (Damages) Act.
The inquiry, led by retired judge William Barnett, QC, had heard or been sent evidence from 191 people, many of whom were struggling to reopen their businesses or find new homes because of the painfully slow and bureaucratic process; both of claiming under the Act and from insurers.
Boris Johnson described the situation as "not good enough" and, since then, other politicians have called for insurance companies to act and for riot compensation to be reformed.
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But the rhetoric has proved empty, the promises hollow.
Eighteen months after the disorder, there are people in Croydon who are still waiting for their cases to be settled.
Steve O'Connell, London Assembly member for Croydon and Sutton, said he was aware of "35 to 40 cases" where compensation or insurance payouts had to be settled.
"It's patently unacceptable that after all these many months there are still outstanding cases," he added.
"People expected it would take some time but now they have lost faith in the system. We have to try and move it on."
Bushra Ahmed has heard it all before. Her family's launderette and dry-cleaners, Crystal Clean, in London Road, was burnt down but her claim under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, which allows people to seek damages following a riot, even when uninsured, has not been settled.
"The police have told me that will top off whatever it takes to rebuild but construction work can't take place on an assurance," she said. "No one's going start building without the money being in their account."
Mrs Ahmed, who founded the West Croydon Community Forum, knows of at least 12 other cases that have yet to be settled.
Last week she handed the list to Mr O'Connell, who now plans to meet with deputy mayor Stephen Greenhalgh to discuss the issue, as well as working alongside Labour politicians.
"I think people have been let down by the system, whether that be the insurers, the Home Office or Mopac [the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime]," said Mr O'Connell.
"It's a complicated picture because there's a lot of bureaucracy, but I don't think any individual part of the system is at fault.
"Its clear there's a lot of damage out there and it's up to politicians on both sides to press the issue and get things moving."
Pastor Damian Luke, chairman of Croydon Churches Forum, sat on the independent review panel. He said: "It has taken far too long for these payments to come through, especially for families who are running into financial difficulty.
"I am aware of about ten cases that still haven't been settled. It's extremely difficult to accept. When we look at the reasons it's pure bureaucracy.
"If you know you are going to pay out a claim for £10,000, and the police have to pay £7,000 and the Home Office has to pay £3,000, why don't they pay the money first and then get together later to work it out, rather than waiting to sort out who is going to pay what fraction?"
London Road is to receive more than £9 million, the biggest single amount of the mayor's £23 million regeneration fund. This includes £5 million for business support and £4.6 million for the area around the station.
"The council talks about hope, but how hopeful can is it for people who still can't rebuild their businesses, pay their mortgages or face bankruptcy?" said Mrs Ahmed.
"Those people, and most others who live or work here, would struggle to notice a difference from 18 months ago.
"They've been too busy trying, with very little help, to rebuild their lives."
Almost 100 families lost their homes and 250 businesses were damaged during the riots.
Those affected were left to seek left to seek compensation from the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. It proved a drawn-out and painful process and, amid widespread criticism, the Home Office announced a review.
However, reform of the legislation stalled in December because discussions on amending the Act had 'produced a range of contradictory views'.
Police forces argue they should not have to pay compensation for riots while the insurance industry says scrapping the Act would penalise poorer areas where alternative cover would be harder to find.
While the regeneration of London Road remains on the drawing board, crime and unemployment – the two biggest issues in the north of the borough – have worsened.
Every ward in the north has seen a marked increase in robberies. In Broad Green, the number of offences per 1,000 of the population increased 20.4 per cent in one year, from 16.5 in 2011 to 19.8 in 2012. Offences increased at a similar rate in Upper Norwood and Norbury.
In Bensham Manor, the number shot up 54.8 per cent in a single year, from 5.2 offences per 1,000 people to 8.1.
Across Croydon North, robberies rose 20.9 per cent, compared with to a 15.5 per cent increase across the borough as a whole.
One of the key aims of the West Croydon Improvement Plan – £2 million-worth of social investment from the mayor's £23 million regeneration fund – is to create 200 jobs over the next two years. It is specifically aimed at Broad Green, Bensham Manor, Fairfield, Selhurst and West Thornton, where people were most affected by the riots.
Action is urgently needed. Long-term unemployment (those claiming Jobseeker’s Aallowance for longer than 12 months) has risen by 51 per cent across Croydon as a whole since August 2011.
In the north of the borough the increase is even more pronounced, at 62 per cent.
RIOT REPORT: HIT OR MISS?
The Advertiser analyses how much progress has been made towards meeting some of the report's key recommendations.
- Recommendation 3: The Met should increase the number of Level 2 public order-trained officers across the service.
The review panel discovered all 60 of the borough's level 2 public order officers were deployed elsewhere in London on the night the riots came to Croydon. and the remaining police could do little to control the crowds. Chief inspector Mark Nanji said the officers at his disposal were 'pretty much anyone we could round up'. Figures released to the Advertiser under the Freedom of Information Act show that as of January 10 there were 116 level 2 public order-trained officers in Croydon.
- Recommendation 8: The panel called on the police to reduce the number of stop and searches that were 'not intelligence-based' and to ensure 'as far as reasonably possible' that searches are undertaken in a 'dignified manner'.
In March 2011, police conducted 1,818 searches, some 58 a day. Only 115 (6.4 per cent) of the procedures lead to an arrest. Met Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe ordered an overhaul of stop-and-search policing in London last January. Changes included limits on issuing section 60 orders, which allow searches without suspicion. In January 2013, 1,075 people were stopped and searched in Croydon and 153 (14.2 per cent) were arrested, suggesting police are scaling back use of the policy. VERDICT: HIT
- Recommendation 9: The council's policy of promoting internal shop shutters be implemented.
The riots prompted debate about the use of security shutters to protect businesses. The council's planning policy had favoured see-through shutters placed either inside or outside shop windows. However, many shopkeepers felt metal grilles, seen as an eyesore, would have protected businesses from being looted. The council agreed to review the policy in January 2012.
- Recommendation 10: The council should develop or extend shop security networks such as Safer Croydon Radio.
Safer Croydon Radio sees businesses such as pubs, clubs and retailers issued with a handset which they can use to communicate with the council's 24-hour CCTV control room, which has a direct link to the police and other businesses. More than 200 businesses are signed up to the scheme, which covers Purley Way, New Addington, Norbury and Thornton Heath. The council announced in November that the radios will be made available in London Road, but the system is not yet in place.
- Recommendation 20: The Met should consider the 'potential benefits of more visible presence both in West Croydon and New Addington, possibly through the provision of full-time police stations in those areas'.
January's announcement by the Mayor’s Office for Policing & Crime (Mopac) of the intention to close all but one of Croydon's six police stations looked likely to dash any hope of new bases in London Road or New Addington, if it were ever a realistic possibility. Since then, however, senior Met officers have lined up to distance themselves from such extensive closures. VERDICT: MISS