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Looting the Iceland store in Rye Lane, Peckham

Posted by IMR on 08 August 2011

THE SMELL OF burning plastic drifted a mile east from Rye Lane. Peckham had just spawned its own crop of rioters to add to what was flickering across London like stirred embers.

I set off at 8pm to see and hear what was going on. The park end of Rye Lane was sealed by riot police:

Peckham riot aftermath

A devious route by backstreets and alleyways emerged not far south of the train station. The Lane was empty of traffic. A crowd of people had formed under the railway bridge, their excited voices echoing.

The Iceland frozen food store had had its windows smashed in and a knot of girls and young women milled around outside. Now and then one would dart into the unlit and dank-looking shop interior, egged on by her companions, while another would emerge clutching a carrier bag bulging with stolen food. Signs in what was left of the windows read £1! £2!

A larger group of all ages had adopted the role of spectators and formed a ragged line a few yards in front of the shop. I joined them and made this recording:

Some politely affected looks of shock, others were openly enthusiastic. The atmosphere there and nearby was strangely nonchalant in the riot’s afterglow. A few other shop windows had been stoved in by energetically-hurled street furniture and the rest had their steel shutters down. Further along Rye Lane a fire engine sprayed water inside a building. The smouldering interior boiled it into dirty steam.

The police stood silently, bulked out in their flameproof overalls, knowing the real action had moved on.

It sounds so weirdly low-key and as you say nonchalant compared with the frightening imagery of burning buildings on the TV.

There is almost an air of excitement and incredulity in the recording… the sounds of plastic bags, people not quite believing what is happening or what is going on, and the banter of a crowd that is both frightened and adrenalin-fuelled.

Posted by Felix on 09 August 2011

It all sounds so civilised - like people are just standing around chatting. It could be people waiting for some entertainment, a concert or something, to start.

The echo under the railway bridge makes it sound a little eerie.

Posted by Nicola Albon on 17 August 2011

Thanks for your comments, Felix and Nicola.

The atmosphere was indeed a strange one, but not threatening as I presume all the real bad boys had long since legged it.

What was left was a brief glimpse of the Land of Do-As-You-Please. No police, no traffic, and apparently free food.

In one of the newspapers today there’s a short article about someone who’s been convicted for pilfering items from that Iceland store.

Posted by IMR on 17 August 2011