Croydon’s other riots, ten years on

By - Tuesday 4th March, 2014

Anthony Miller considers Croydon’s lesser known riot in 2004

An officer during student protests in 2010. Image by Eric Hossinger and used under Creative Commons licence.

Is riot a language? Owen Jones of the Independent thinks so and tell us so in an article on water cannons. He is, of course, quoting Martin Luther King’s second most famous soundbite: “Riot is the language of the unheard”.

The water cannon is a very bad thing that can lead to activists getting a bit wet… So Owen presses more buttons than Matt Smith when pretending the TARDIS console propels a fiberglass box to all corners of universe (don’t trust the popo, police state, blah blah blah). But do rioters actually have anything to say worth listening to?

Well, let’s talk about the riots. Not ones where large sections of Croydon were burnt to the ground, five people were killed nationwide and fifteen people were seriously injured in 2011. But the EURO 2004 riots (ten years ago this year) in which my old office building lost eight plate glass windows for which anyone has yet to receive any compensation, a bus driver friend of mine was rocked about in his bus and Portugal deported eleven people. I say riot, but according to the police this was not a riot, just a ‘disturbance’. So no one gets a payout. Not that I’m bitter. We just claimed on the insurance and moved the office out of Croydon. But more than £250,000 of damage was caused to property and at least ten men were jailed for a total of 22 years.

If there was a political message it may have been Tramlink + SkyTV makes off-pitch hooliganism more easy

In 2004 “serious disturbances” broke out in Croydon, Birmingham, Wakefield in West Yorkshire, Boston in Lincolnshire, and a number of towns in Hertfordshire on 14th June. The bout of “serious public disorder in Croydon” lasted for an hour, between 10:15PM and 11:15PM and involved 400 people including judge’s son Matthew Carroll, aged 19. In mitigation Anthony Heaton-Armstrong, for Carroll, said his client had argued with his girlfriend that day and drunk six to seven cans of lager, six to seven bottles of beer and three to four tequilas. So if there was a political message it may have been Tramlink + SkyTV makes off-pitch hooliganism more easy.

I expected academia to be able to make some sense of it all. But Crowd Psychology, Public Order Police Training and the Policing of Football Crowds by James Hoggett and Clifford Stott simply boasted that “the success of the tournament in terms of the absence of collective disorder among fans is now widely acknowledged in policy circles throughout Europe.” Which is good, because otherwise CJ Scott would have to do a rewrite of Preparing for Euro 2004: Policing International Football Matches in Portugal, which was commissioned by the Portuguese Public Security Police. Suffice to say, most of these documents are about how to separate hardcore hooligans from the easily led – which is about as easy as proving Tommy Robinson guilty of mortgage fraud.

Also facing prison was Terry Kevin, whose family “wept as he was led from the dock at Croydon” after he was caught throwing bottles at the police. Judge Cedric Joseph said sternly that “deterrent sentences have to be passed to make clear that behaviour of this kind is utterly intolerable” and other empty clichés repeated almost word for word in 2011 to a new generation. Kevin was banned from watching football in pubs for six years and had previous convictions for assault.

The 2004 ‘not riots’ were also international. Twenty UK football fans were held after a punch up in Portugal on 16th  June. Alan Walker, 29, was banned from matches for three years. His doting father commenting to the Croydon Guardian “he’s a nutter when he’s had a drink. He’s a lager lout and can’t handle his drink. He’s very easily led – you can tell him to do something when he’s had a few drinks and he’ll do it”. As Martin Luther King might say “nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”.

There must be a sociological reason. Otherwise, what would the political class have to do if acts of mass violence were simply incoherent?

A more mature contributor to the fun in Portugal, Garry Mann, was finally extradited back to Portugal in 2010 to do his two years. “The Labour government and Crown Prosecution Service have betrayed me,” he bemoaned to the BBC. Mann claimed he was arrested, tried and convicted within 48 hours and had appealed to the European Court of Human Rights… who rejected his application. “I wasn’t even there. It’s a stitch up” he’s claimed since 2004 when he was deported by Judge Filipe Marques who identified him as a “ringleader” along with eleven others.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a youth crime story without some parents insisting in the teeth of the evidence that their child is a nice boy really. Step forward Linda Jackson, the mother of David Jackson, 28, from Peterborough. “He is being made to look like a yob and a hooligan and he’s nothing like that at all”, she insisted. The judge, however, decided he was. He sentenced Jackson to seven months in jail, suspended for three years.

The question is why? Unemployment was at 5%. The UK economy grew by an estimated 3.1%. 2004 was actually the best year since economically since 2000, well ahead of the 2.2% growth recorded in 2003. But England lost 5-6 in a penalty shootout, and these conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in attention-seeking violent rebellions.

Euro 2004 was the language of the unheard. So what were they saying? Perhaps not everyone shared in the prosperity? Or maybe some people are ****s. Or both.

There must be a sociological reason. Otherwise, what would the political class have to do if acts of mass violence were simply incoherent? Or, as Martin Luther King might put it: “the limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility”.

Anthony Miller

Anthony Miller

Anthony is the Managing Director of London's 2nd worst comedy club, Pear Shaped.

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  • Tom Black

    Good article, Anthony. Darkly witty at times and making some very good points. The 2004 ‘disturbances’ are, in some ways, a far harder occurrence to explain than the 2011 riots. Of course, the latter were far more damaging and deserve more of our attention, but I would hope that lessons have been learned in the decade since ‘the first time I’ve felt frightened walking to my own home’ (to quote my mum).

    • Anthony Miller

      Well, I noticed they had “riot and you wont be able to watch football again” posters round Croydon for Euro 2012….