Retailers still nervous despite Cameron’s return


Rioters have brought the PM’s holiday to an end, but has he quelled the city’s fears?

Last night, shop keepers in Dalston, predominantly from the Turkish community, lined the streets armed with baseball bats in an attempt to protect their businesses. Feeling unsupported by the police they took matters into their own hands and fought off would-be looters.

They were praised for their bravery and the diminished damage to Kingsland High Street may well be down to their actions. But is this really what London’s retail community needs to do to protect its livelihood?

As the prime minister emerged from Number 10 this morning he looked suitably angry. His tan from his Italian holiday reminded onlookers of the severity of the situation. Parliament has been recalled, all police officers have had annual leave revoked, London is in crisis.

But did Cameron’s speech go far enough to reassure a nation of shopkeepers who spent a third consecutive night under threat from out-of-control mobs? Hundreds of businesses across the capital have been ransacked, staff have been threatened and, in the worst cases, their premises burnt to the ground.

The 6,000 police on the streets last night were clearly not enough. The PM announced today that an extra 10,000 police will be on the streets tonight ensuring that last night’s apocalyptic scenes of destruction are not repeated.

“Being forced into a state of paralysis with the fear of looting hanging over you is hardly the tonic that London’s small business community needs right now”

Jonathan Elliott, managing director of Make It Cheaper

However, suggestions of using water cannons, rubber bullets and of getting the army involved have all been brushed off in the belief that a reinforced police force will be able to bring peace back to London’s high streets.

“People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to make Britain’s streets safe again. Businesses that have seen their premises smashed, their products looted and their livelihoods destroyed need to be reassured,” said Cameron.

But have they been reassured? We spoke to The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and they expressed the general feeling among retailers in the city. Issues surrounding advice for business owners and the repercussions for rioters are very much at the forefront of their minds:

“Retailers are concerned that the police and fire services have adequate resources and that they are reassured that the people who are committing these crimes will be properly prosecuted,” a spokesperson for the BRC told us.

“They need to send out a message to the perpetrators that this will not be accepted and some retailers feel that in the past this hasn’t happened. Retailers need immediate support in protecting their properties, including intelligence lead advice.”

People loot a shop in Hackney, east London.

Source: Lewis Whyld

People loot a shop in Hackney, east London.

The police and the prime minister have made strong assurances that those involved in instigating the violent attacks will be brought to justice. The Met has already started to issue images of those captured on camera in the hope that members of the community will identify the looters so they can be brought to justice.

Officers on the inquiry, codenamed Operation Withern, will interview witnesses and review hours of CCTV footage to identify rioters.

“Being forced into a state of paralysis with the fear of looting hanging over you is hardly the tonic that London’s small business community needs right now,” Jonathan Elliott, managing director of Make It Cheaper, told us this afternoon. “However, local communities are very good at helping one another – particularly in times of need.”

We should be slow to judge the police, the BRC advises:  “It’s not up to shop owners to make detailed judgements on how the law should be enforced. The police force have been trying extremely hard but it hasn’t been working and so they need to adapt what they are doing and try another way.”

I spoke to Hackney Council – Hackney being one of the worst affected areas of last night’s riots. They assured me that they were talking business owners in the area to find out how they could help.

“We are giving advice from the Metropolitan Police to local businesses. The Mayor of Hackney [Jules Pipe] and the council chief executive, Tim Shields, have been to meet residents this morning in Clarence Road where some of the worst disturbances took place.

“They have been listening to their concerns and have sent police safer neighbourhood teams to talk to them further about safety issues.”

David Gordon, who runs a legal practice close to Clapham Junction, told us that he will be closing early today to ensure he and his staff are able to collect their children and get home safely before another night of destruction ensues:

“It’s the insouciant disregard for private property which makes me both mad and also disturbed,” Gordon fumes. “These were not so much riots as gatherings of individuals devoid of moral and legal norms.

“Wielding the baton won’t fix that in a hurry.”

Some of the scenes of looting and attacking are unbearable to watch. Is this the future of Britain? Will David Cameron be able to regain control of the streets?

Rumours have already started to fly that riots are planned for Oxford Street tonight. The heartland of British retail, already struggling from the tough economic times, could be facing much more perilous threats.

“If you will excuse me, there is work to be done,” stated the PM confidently this morning before striding back through the famous black door.

If another night of violence kicks off, there certainly will.

This isn’t the first time parliament has been recalled.

 The house has been recalled 24 times since 1948.

Unfortunately for our cabinet they have already been disturbed this summer. On 20 July 2011, having risen for the Summer Recess the previous day, the House was recalled to discuss “Public Confidence in the Media and Police”.

Events such as the first Gulf War, the Northern Ireland agreement in 1998 and the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 all brought the parliament back from summer recess.

Read the full list of recalls here.