12 Aug 2011

New footage shows start of Croydon furniture store fire

As footage emerges of the fire that destroyed Reeves furniture shop in Croydon, the man who shot the film tells Channel 4 News how the scene developed and how the police could have done more.

Reeves Corner fire in Croydon (Maciej Prokop)

These YouTube videos show how the fire that destroyed the Reeves furniture store started in a sofa, set alight in the store on 8 August.

The footage was filmed using a mobile phone by 31-year-old Maciej Prokop, who is from Poland. He now lives close to where the riots occurred in Croydon.

He arrived at the scene and saw a damaged, empty bus. Police had blocked the main roads leading to Croydon town centre.

Two properly equipped police officers could have stopped the small groups of troublemakers and the main damage. Maciej Prokop

Mr Prokop told Channel 4 News: “There were not many people wandering around. Some of them were smiling and cheering, some were scared. I saw small groups of covered-up rioters.

“A bus was set on fire and more people were attracted to the smoke. 90 per cent of the crowd were watching in confusion, but some of these were happy at how the situation was developing.

“Soon after, really active rioters appeared and started an undisturbed attack on the furniture store.”

He describes how most of the rioters were young people, but says there were also some disabled people involved.

“The situation was really confusing,” says Mr Prokop. “There were by far more spectators than active rioters around the furniture store.

“All that time police were seconds away from the scene of the fire. They stepped in to guard the fire brigade when the fire started spreading to buildings on the other side of the road.

“However, the fire brigade started to tackle the fire at first unguarded.”

Prokop said that, in Croydon, “everything is back to normal. In the light of day it’s like nothing ever happened, and at night everything seems to be empty and quiet”.

The videos show rioters attempting to break the windows and doors of Reeves by kicking them and throwing bricks as crowds of people stand and watch. A bus fire, which completely destroyed the vehicle near Reeves Corner, can also be seen.

A fire engine arrives in the final video as the fire grows and the destruction of Reeves progresses towards its devastating end. This is the only clear sign on the film that the emergency services are on the scene.

The family business, which had survived two world wars and was almost 150 years’ old, burned to the ground. Graham Reeves, the owner of the landmark south London furniture store, told Channel 4 News this week: “It is a tragedy. Five generations of family and our business has absolutely had it. Mindless violence. I don’t know how we’ll get over it.”