Just after 9pm last night, police attended the former Royal Mail building next to East Croydon station after receiving information that an illegal rave was going to take place. They found an estimated 200 people inside and a further 200-300 outside waiting to gain entry. As they sought to secure the building in an attempt to prevent further people from entering, the crowd outside rapidly increased to in excess of 1,000. The police requested and were promised additional officers from across London. However, the crowd continued to increase in size and missiles began to be thrown at the police, including fire extinguishers and masonry from the building.
I understand that at this point the commanding officer judged that his officers were at risk of serious injury and that with the promised reinforcements still on route he didn't have sufficient officers to prevent the crowd dispersing into Croydon town centre and potentially causing serious public disorder. Just before 11pm, he therefore decided to turn the building over to the crowd.
The incident is ongoing. Not only have those living in the immediate vicinity had to put up with noise all night but significant damage has been done to the building; buses and taxis are unable to access East Croydon; trams are not running east of East Croydon station; and once again Croydon is in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Whilst I have every sympathy with the individual police officers who found themselves so outnumbered on the night, this is clearly wholly unacceptable. Once again as in 2011, the police didn't have sufficient manpower in place to put a stop to disorder. At the moment, their focus will obviously be on continuing to deal with the incident, but we need urgent answers to the following questions:
What measures had the owners of the building taken to secure it? I am told there were squatters in there this week - we don't yet know if they are responsible for organising the rave - and that the owners were arranging eviction.
Did the police have any prior intelligence that this event was going to take place? If so, why weren't more officers available?
Was any thought given to stopping trains calling at East Croydon to prevent the crowd from growing further?
Were additional police resources requested quickly enough and were they despatched quickly enough?
And do we now know who organised the event and if so can we have assurances that they will feel the full force of the law?
I will update this blog as and when I get more information.
UPDATE: I am told that everyone has now left the building. Work is now underway to clear up the mess and once this is complete tram, bus and taxi services can resume.
I have been amazed by some of the reactions to my call for those responsible for organising the event to feel the full force of the law. My Labour opponent at the next Election has accused me of being "too macho" and said "youth is about exploration, pushing boundaries, seeking out fun and moulding your personality". We are talking about an event that has caused significant criminal damage, left a number of people in hospital, caused huge disruption and damaged the town's reputation. How can someone who aspires to represent this town in Parliament think it is wrong to throw the book at those responsible? And it could have been so much worse. There was only one entrance to/exit from the venue - if there had been a fire or other emergency, we could have seen a number of fatalities. When people break into private property, damage it, disrupt the lives of those living nearby and endanger the lives of our young people, they should pay a price for doing so. That’s not a macho approach, it’s common sense.
UPDATE 16/6: I have just learnt that a 15 year-old boy from west London who attended the rave has died in hospital. The Croydon Advertiser is reporting that he drank from a bottle of beer containing ketamine. My thoughts are with his family at their tragic and unnecessary loss.
A 19 year-old boy who is believed to have drunk from the same bottle is seriously ill in hospital.
UPDATE 17/6: I now have at least partial answers to some of my questions.
What measures had the owners of the building taken to secure it?
The building is still owned by Royal Mail. There was no permanent security presence - they had employed someone to check the building every few hours. As soon as they were aware that there were squatters in the building, they contacted the police to ask them to assist their enforcement agents in removing the squatters immediately. When their agents tried to enter the building peacefully, they were met with physical threats and one of the security guards was injured (it is not clear whether anyone was arrested as a result). They applied for a court order to evict the squatters but such orders take some time to be granted.
Given events over the weekend, on Monday they sought an emergency court order to remove the squatters and this was granted. The squatters have now left the building and Royal Mail have made the site as secure as they can to try to prevent any further unauthorised access. They are also accelerating their plans to demolish the building.
Did the police have any prior intelligence that this event was going to take place?
The event was being advertised on Facebook. The police received intelligence including the proposed date and venue of the event on 5th June. I am told that the information was reviewed by an intelligence officer but no further action was taken. An internal review of how this intelligence was handled is underway. I am trying to find out how far up the chain of command this information was passed and if the police warned Royal Mail.
Was any thought given to preventing trains stopping at East Croydon to avoid the crowd building up?
The on-scene commander asked for trains to be prevented from stopping at East Croydon. This request was declined because of a fear that those trying to get to the rave would get off at the next station where there was no police presence and/or that there would be disorder on some train services.
Do we now know who organised the event and if so can we have assurances that they will feel the full force of the law?
The police are pursuing the organisers, those responsible for the criminal damage and those who supplied illegal drugs. The Croydon Advertiser is reporting that so far 14 people have been arrested.