A HORSHAM woman has spoken of the ‘heart-breaking’ moment she saw her former home burn to the ground during this week’s unrest in London.
Liz de Cruz, aged 59, of Redford Avenue, was married to Trevor Reeves, and spent ‘a couple of years’ living above the Reeves furniture shop in Croydon, a family-run business set up in 1867, which was reduced to rubble in Monday night’s riots.
She said yesterday: “My daughter phoned me on Monday night absolutely devastated, about 8.30pm. I could hardly hear what she was saying. I immediately turned on the TV and saw the shop on fire.
“I was heartbroken, and extremely concerned for Trevor because I didn’t even know where he was.
“My daughter managed to tell me he was down by the parish church watching the shop burn.
“I went up yesterday [Tuesday] and spent the day with them, which was total madness.
“I went up with the intention of helping them talk to customers and tell them what had happened from their admin office down the road - which did not catch fire - but we were just totally in the middle of a media storm and it was absolute madness. We just had queues of people waiting to interview us.
“Everyone was there, national newspapers, Sky, and London mayor Boris Johnson came down and shook my hand and apologised.
“It was so exhausting, and Trevor was so busy that all I managed was a huge hug.
“This morning [Wednesday] watching the footage of Trevor being interviewed by the BBC crew and seeing the rubble of his shop being cleared was just another heart-break.
“He is managing to show incredible resilience and he stood there and watched his life burn to the ground.
“It’s not just a shop, and it’s not even just a family house, it is a part of Croydon’s heart. It’s a big part of old Croydon.
“We’re still good friends, we consider Trevor and his wife best friends of ours, we’re determined that the family will survive this, we all very much want the business to keep going.”
The Metropolitan Police have arrested 768 people and charged 105 in connection with the violence in London, including a 21-year-old man who was arrested on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life following the fire which took hold of the Reeves Furniture store in Croydon on Monday night.
Meanwhile, Sussex Police officers were among the reinforcements called to scenes of destruction and violence in the London riots this week.
Around 50 officers specially trained in public order policing, including three from Horsham, were drafted in to assist the Metropolitan Police on the third night of unrest on Monday.
The South East Air Support Unit’s two helicopters - based in Sussex and Hampshire - also assisted the Metropolitan Police.
Sussex forces were amongst the extra 1,700 officers deployed in London on Monday night as shops were looted and buildings set alight across Croydon, Lewisham, Clapham Junction, Peckham, Woolwich, East Ham, Hackney, Ealing and Camden.
A police presence of 16,000 officers in the capital on Tuesday night was reported to have calmed the situation there, while trouble erupted in other towns and cities across the country.
Back in Sussex, police were monitoring the situation in the county after ‘rumours and concerns’ that trouble was brewing in towns like Crawley.
Yesterday, Nick Wilkinson, Sussex’s Assistant Chief Constable, said: “Although we sent support yesterday [Tuesday] to our colleagues in the Met, it was equally important for us to make sure that the people of Sussex knew we were putting local needs first when considering this support.
“Throughout yesterday and overnight the county was carefully monitored and we were prepared for any disorder relating to the national unrest as well as serving Sussex as normal.
“It was important that we acted quickly and accurately to any rumours and concerns, particularly those that continued to come via social media sites.
“It is very heartening to see so many positive and appreciative messages coming back to us from communities across Sussex, particularly on Twitter, and shows that such information sources can be used as a power for the good.”
The support by Sussex officers was provided under a routine mutual aid agreement between forces, in which assistance can be given to help police large incidents.
ACC Wilkinson was speaking after rumours of unrest in Sussex circulated via social media sites throughout Monday evening and the early hours of Tuesday.
Hundreds of messages on Facebook and Twitter stated that the riots had spread to Crawley and premises such as Asda, the Metrobus office, Bar Med and parts of County Oak were the scene of violence and looting.
Police said that small groups were seen gathering in areas throughout the town but were quickly disbanded by a heavy presence of officers.
After hours of repeatedly stating that no incidents had been reported in Crawley, Sussex Police used Twitter to state: “Shame to see that some people are spreading rumours and causing worry. No incidents reported in Crawley.”
They later released a statement saying they were not called to any related incidents of violence or disorder in the county throughout the week.
However events during the week prompted a West Sussex county councillor to say they were a ‘warning’ for the county.
Brian Hall, Independent councillor for Haywards Heath Town, said yesterday: “Like many I have been thinking about the riots and looting in our cities. It seems a salutory lesson and warning for West Sussex County Council which has just removed £2m from the youth services budget and is further undermining the service.
“It also seems to point out the relatively low level of effectiveness of CCTV cameras in assisting the police in real time during rapidly evolving situations.
“Many people in the UK have very decent and indeed prosperous lives. It seems though that a substantial underclass exists that has no identity other than appearance and negativity. Getting people out of that cycle is an issue that needs to be addressed. This is a multi dimensional problem for which the powers that be seem to have no real understanding or solution.
“The role models who have been promoted by the media generally have no self awareness or deeper substance and it seems that for many, their beliefs endorse greed and consumption at all costs. In many ways their public lives have the appearance of substance abuse and addiction.
“Maybe the solutions of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous should be looked at to see if the 12 steps can be applied for the people who seem hell-bent on destruction of both self and society.’’
The riots in London forced Horsham FC to cancel Tuesday night’s friendly at Whitstable Town.
The Hornets management team had planned to use the game to get a better look at their squad for the new season but with concerns over players and management having to travel through the capital after the game, when further trouble was feared, the game was called off.
Assistant manager Hugo Langton said: “With all the social unrest after dark at the moment it is going to affect a number of us, including myself and (manager) Justin (Luchford) along with about eight of our players.
“It’s not a problem getting to Whitstable, it’s that getting back we would have to travel through places that have been affected and it’s not fair to put people in that situation for a friendly.
“People’s safety comes first of course but it is a bit annoying because Justin and I know their manager well and it would have been a good game. It now means this Saturday’s game against Whyteleafe is our last before the season starts so it’s going to be even more important.”
Police from Sussex returned safely to the county on Tuesday morning, ready to deploy again that evening.
Two Horsham officers, different to those who attended Monday’s incidents, were nominated to assist Tuesday night.
In the wake of unrest, a comment was posted on the Horsham Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon urging people to join a ‘protection group’ in fear that police support in London would leave the town vulnerable.
‘Vik Gill’ replied: “I seriously hope that our youth have compassion, empathy, and respect for their neighbours, our homes, and our businesses. I also assume that they are intelligent kids with enough self-respect to avoid ruining their futures and their parents’ lives by getting caught up in the mindless criminal mindset of damaged people.”
Messages from distressed from Croydonians residents now living in Horsham paid tribute to The House of Reeves furniture store which was reduced to ashes by a blazing inferno on Monday night.
A ‘Liz de Cruz’ posted: “Please all ex-Croydonians support Reeves of Croydon, we did not deserve this the family have had the heart ripped out of us. I watched my first home burn to the ground last night, we need the support of people to keep the business going.”
‘Davey Pearson’ responded: “Ex Croydonian here, shed a tear when saw Reeves on fire, got loads of family still up there, our thoughts are with the Reeves family x”
Throughout Tuesday evening Sussex Police kept close contact with concerned Horsham residents via Twitter.
Messages of encouragement and praise were posted by locals. One user under the name ‘@elliethompson_’ said: “Well done! You are doing an amazing job!! and we all thank you for what your doing to help!”
A post by the police at around 3am Wednesday morning read: “Rumours of disorder but all quiet. Serving Sussex as normal. Thanks to everyone for Tweets of support.”
Neighbouring county Surrey also responded to the outbreaks of turbulence by drafting police to the scenes.
Footage of fire engulfing a Sony distribution centre at an Enfield site was posted on YouTube.
Smoke is seen bellowing from the plant, which holds CDs and DVDs manufactured at Sony’s Southwater factory in a business park off Worthing Road.
The electronics giant did not comment on the matter.
Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs, Nick Herbert, whose constituency takes in part of the Horsham district, is also Policing and Criminal Justice Minister in the coalition Government.
Mr Herbert’s response to the week’s events appears in the County Times on page ten.