Met commander 'turned away nine vans full of police while Croydon burned during riots'
NINE vans full of police officers were turned away from Croydon while the town burned during the riots because they were not Met resources, an explosive report published today has claimed.
Metropolitan Police commanders allegedly refused help from the convoy as it arrived at House of Reeves furniture store, which was destroyed by fire during last August's disorder.
Croydon North MP Malcolm Wicks has called on Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe to investigate the allegations made by a police officer within one of the vans and contained within Reading the Riots, a joint study by the Guardian and London School of Economics.
The 36-year-old sergeant told researchers he was part of a contingent of nine vans of officers from Thames Valley and Hampshire police turned back from a burning House of Reeves.
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"He was able to hear the conversation on the police radio system between his controller and the Met supervisor," states the study.
"The controller said: "You've got nine vans coming down the hill from Thames Valley and Hampshire.' And he said: 'Cancel'. (Meanwhile) we can see Croydon burning.
"When the controller questioned the Met supervisor about his decision, the supervisor said it was because he did not have communications with the officers.
"The sergeant, listening in, was perplexed: "We obviously have, because I can hear you on the radio. Somebody else questioned it and (the supervisor) said: 'I want Met resources.'
"And the controller said: 'You're not going to get Met resources for a few hours.' (But he repeated) 'I want Met resources.'
"So we get deployed back to the city centre. And Croydon burned."
The Guardian's report goes on to describe how the sergeant and his colleagues felt "absolute bloody disgust" about the command to cancel, and it had a "massive" effect on their morale.
"At that point the (Met's) bronze commanders were pretty much hated," he said.
Mr Wicks called the decision to refuse help from the officers an "absolute disgrace".
"According to the testimony it appears these much needed police reinforcements were sent away simply because they were not police from the Metropolitan Police Service.
"If this is true, it beggars belief and is an absolute disgrace.
"For that reason I am calling on the Commissioner to investigate whether the allegation is true and, if it turns out to be true, to explain this extraordinary action to the people of Croydon."
The Met has been widely criticised for its handling of the riots, particularly in Croydon which was arguably the worst-hit area in the country, with 28 buildings set on alight, 252 businesses damaged and 100 families made homeless.
A report published in February revealed all of Croydon's 60 specially public order officers were deployed elsewhere in London on August 8, the night of the riots.
After the officers left behind came under attack in London Road, Superintendent Jo Oakley, in charge of the policing effort, waited 35 minutes to call for reinforcements, a decision described by Croydon Independent Review Panel as an "error of judgement".
That report stated riot-trained officers arrived in Croydon at 9.15pm, nearly three hours after the looting had begun and, at the same time, the Met sought help from neighbouring forces.
It is unclear from the Guardian's report as to when the convoy of vans arrived in Croydon and how this ties in with the subsequent request for help.
The Met's own inquiry into the riots, Four Days in August, revealed the police wanted to use plastic bullets against the crowds but could not deploy specially trained teams fast enough.
It quoted chief inspector Mark Nanji, who described the paucity of manpower and equipment at his disposal when the disorder first began.
He said: "My initial resources were a mix of local response teams, safer neighbourhoods officers and pretty much anyone we could round up, including CID officers...only a very small proportion of these officers were public order trained, most were wearing regular uniform and for the CID officers it was a case of grabbing whatever was available."
Croydon suffered sustained disorder on a considerable scale and at various points the Met's report describes "scenes of carnage" and "relentless displays of violence".
The Guardian and LSE study also contains allegations that officers complained about the Met's use of its own radio channels which made receiving messages from Met officers difficult.
A 30-year-old constable from Cambridgeshire police arrived in London on the Monday afternoon and found that his unit could not be deployed to hotspots such as Croydon because "we couldn't access the channel that (the Met) were operating on".
For more on this story see this week's Croydon Advertiser, out Friday (July 6)