House of Reeves arsonist Gordon Thompson jailed
HOUSE of Reeves arsonist Gordon Thompson has been jailed for 11 and a half years for setting fire to the Croydon furniture store during last summer’s riots.
Gordon Thompson, 34, stole a laptop from historic furniture store House of Reeves before setting fire to a sofa in “an act of cynical cowardice”.
The blaze was so fierce it destroyed the building and spread to flats in Church Street, sending families fleeing for their lives.
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At the Old Bailey this morning (Wednesday) he was sentenced to 11 years and six months for arson being reckless to whether life was endangered and three counts of burglary.
Judge Peter Thornton QC told Thompson: "You knew that with each click of the lighter there would be a risk that lives were put at risk, but nevertheless you went ahead.
"This was a deliberate and wilful act of shocking vandalism.
"The fire was devastating, as you must have known it would be."
The judge added: "It was extremely good fortune, and no thanks to you, that no one died or was seriously injured, but they will be emotionally scarred for a long time."
Judge Thornton sentenced Thompson to 11 years and six months for arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, two years for burgling House of Fraser, two years for burgling Iceland and three years for burgling House of Reeves.
The judge ordered the sentences to be served concurrently.
Thompson apologised to the Reeves family through his defence counsel Adam Davis.
"He regretted what had happened, and would do for a long time," Mr Davis said.
The defendant was going through 'personal difficulties' at the time of the fire, his lawyer said.
He was unemployed, going through a divorce and having difficulty gaining access to one of his children, Mr Davis said.
Thompson was, the defence barrister said, 'completely frustrated and down in general'.
"The only way he [Thompson] could explain his actions was that he got caught up in the madness that was going on," Mr Davis added.
"He felt he was showing off to the crowd gathered in the store.
"He did not intend to cause the huge damage that followed."
The Old Bailey heard that Thompson had a string of previous convictions from 20 separate occasions, including a robbery in North London in 2000 when he was part of a gang armed with knives and a machete.
Thompson, of Waddon Road, Croydon, initially denied setting fire to House of Reeves, claiming he had entered the store to stop the looting, but dramatically changed his plea during his trial last month.
Minutes after looting two neighbouring stores on August 8 Thompson watched as others started to smash their way into House of Reeves.
“As soon as the glass was broken he ripped the glass from its housing and was one of the first to enter the premises,” prosecutor Oliver Glasgow had told the court.
“He stole a laptop and on leaving the store he asked another of the rioters for a lighter.
“As soon as he was given one he went back to the shop and set fire to the sofa inside the store window. The ensuing fire razed the building to the ground.”
The blaze quickly spread to flats in Church Street, forcing families to flee their homes.
A photograph of a young woman leaping from the window of one of those properties into the arms of rescuers below became one of the most iconic images of last summer’s riots.
Monika Konczyk, 32, who featured in the famous photograph, had been due to give live evidence, having filmed Thompson outside the furniture store just minutes before she was forced to leap to safety.
In the minutes before the blaze, witnesses overheard Thompson asking “Who has a lighter?” and yelling: “Let’s torch the place.”
Later witness Jonathan Davis, who lives nearby, saw Thompson jogging towards him and boasting: “It was me, I did that, I burned Reeves Corner.”
Shortly before he targeted the Reeves Corner store, Thompson had been part of a mob which looted Iceland, in Surrey Street, and House of Fraser in Centrale shopping centre.
The painter and decorator was caught on camera by Croydon Advertiser reporter Gareth Davies and freelance photographer Greg Mack clutching bottles he had stolen from the supermarket.
Thompson was arrested after the photograph was used on the front page of that week’s paper, leading a reader to call the police after she recognised him as he walked down Surrey Street.
House of Reeves was founded in Croydon in 1867 and survived two World Wars. The street on which it stood was named after the family business.
Initial estimates put the damage Thompson caused at £1 million, not including the £330,000 it cost Transport for London to repair nearby tramlines. He also caused £105,000 of damage to House of Fraser.
Thompson admitted burglary and arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered. He had earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of burglary.
Judge Thornton ordered the jury to return not guilty verdicts in respect of an alternative charge of arson with intent to endanger life and a further count of violent disorder.
Mr Glasgow said Thompson’s guilty pleas were enough to reflect the criminality of his behaviour and it would not be in the interests of justice to proceed with the remaining charges.