London riots five years on: Islington bike shop owner recalls being looted...on his birthday
- Credit: Archant
This week five years ago, Jeremy Corbyn was a backbench MP little known beyond his Islington North constituency. Campaigners launched a petition to cut the borough speed limit to 20mph. New Arsenal signing Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain dreamt of developing into the next Thierry Henry. And riots erupted – literally – across London after police shot dead Mark Duggan in Tottenham Hale on August 4.
On August 7, copycat mobs vandalised two police cars in Islington. But the worst of the destruction came on the evening of August 8.
Among the victims was Muhammad Naz, owner of Food City supermarket in Essex Road. He was forced to watch as his shop was ransacked by 30 yobs.
Hi-Tech Enterprises in Stroud Green Road was torched. People in the flats above were evacuated. As they stood in the street, a group of 20 youths gathered and laughed at them.
And Matthew Hilton, owner of the Micycle bike shop in Barnsbury Street, had a 53rd birthday to forget as hammer-wielding thugs made off with £15,000 of stock.
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“I was at home when I got the call that my shop had been looted,” he told the Gazette this week. “How did I feel? P***** off, I’ve got to be honest with you!
“Obviously at the time, the riots were all over the news channels. I actually said to my wife: ‘Do you think they will have a go at our shop?’ Then half an hour later, I get the call.
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“The looting was only sporadic in Islington. But I didn’t think for one moment it would spread to the shop. I suppose we were one of the unlucky few.
“All this on my birthday, as well. Unbelievable! It’s not as if your 53rd is very special. You move on from birthdays being important. But still...”
Government statistics show there were 58 crimes relating to disorder in Islington between August 6 and 11 – compared with the likes of Hackney (172), Haringey (303) and Croydon (430).
Even so, a sense of dread appeared to hang in the air.
Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry told us at the time: “We haven’t seen the [levels of] violence that has happened [in boroughs] around us in Islington, but in another sense people are very frightened that it could break out at any moment.” As it turned out, the trouble came to a halt. But it was people like Matthew who had to deal with the consequences.
“It was a difficult time for us,” he said. “We lost £15,000 of stock.
“They only went for the expensive bikes, so to a degree they knew what they were doing. But it’s like stealing cars: it’s obvious which ones are expensive.
“But we did get so much help from the High Street Fund [a charity set up in the immediate aftermath of the riots to help small businesses affected].
“We got an immediate grant of £2,000 to get us back on our feet, and a few months later got another £10,000. It really did save our business.
“It was about six weeks before we were able to get back to normal: getting stock back in, repairing the shop and so on.
“But in a really nice way, we actually had a lot of people coming to the shop as a direct result of the incident. Many of them didn’t know about the shop before that. It certainly gave us some exposure.”
Five years on, what does Matthew make of the riots now? “I think it was that classic thing of not enough education. Youths without a stake in society, and that remains the case today. They saw what was happening on TV, got charged up and copied each other.
“It was a real shame.”