UK riots: A yell, then the stampede...

By Jacobina Plummer

It started around 7pm - with 20 or so kids gathering at Clapham Junction, each staking out their corners of the intersection.

They looked like bored teenagers on their summer holidays, 13 or 14, white, brown, black ... but they were peering out from scarves covering their faces, waiting for the "fun" to begin.

Police had gathered too, but they watched from afar, wary of fuelling the chaos seen in London over the weekend.

Gradually, the normal hustle and bustle of the railway station turned sinister. Commuters looked surprised to come out of their regular stop only to be greeted by thugs with masks and balaclavas. Then there was a yell, and a stampede began - people started kicking in shop roller doors.

Shouts erupted: "It's started!"

I followed - just metres in front of me kids hurled bicycles through mobile phone shop windows, dozens climbing in and grabbing what they could.

The riot police took more than half an hour to arrive. With suburbs such as Peckham and Croydon burning, the "thin blue line" was more stretched than ever. And after a few brief attempts to quell the chaos, they packed up and left, surrendering power to the criminals and leaving us to fend for ourselves.

I finally retreated to my sister's house nearby - on the way there a kid tried to mug me for my iPhone, but let me go because "it's only a 3G".

Once safe in my sister's, we turned off the lights and watched in terror from the top floor, as the rioters created a barricade at the end of the street.

People cycled past, weighed down with plastic bags of loot. Kids sat in the gutter outside our house and refuelled on alcohol, their behaviour getting increasingly aggressive. A neighbour shouted abuse at one, who responded with a threat to burn the house.

After four hours stranded by the violence, I was reassured by television reports that the police had finally returned and some sense of "order" had been restored. I decided to attempt to head home. Someone had ditched a box full of looted New Zealand wine on our doorstep - we took it in to return to the shop, but also to take it out of the hands of the troublemakers.

The normally bustling intersection was now a war zone. Thugs on bikes circled me, shops gaped open, windows smashed, coat-hangers bare and boxes robbed of everything.

Dozens of masked men poured out of my local off-licence's window, all of them laden with spirits and beer.

An emergency siren sounded, and kids quickly ditched their loot in nearby bushes. But they quickly reclaimed their haul when they realised it was a fire engine.

What is so sad is that Londoners did this to their own community. With no obvious pattern, there's no sense to it, only shame.

Jacobina Plummer is a former New Zealand journalist now living in London.

- NZ Herald

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