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Hundreds join London clean-up as shock turns to anger

By Linnie Rawlinson, CNN
  • Hundreds of volunteers turned out to clean up London's streets
  • Around 400 people cleared broken glass and rubbish in the Clapham Junction area
  • Residents and shopkeepers expressed shock and anger at Monday night's riots

London (CNN) -- Small armies of residents marched onto London's streets Tuesday -- but instead of weapons they carried cleaning equipment.

Equipped with brooms, buckets and bin-bags, communities across the city responded to last night's riots by turning out in force determined to restore their neighborhoods.

In Battersea, one of the worst-hit stretches during last night's violence, people gathered in the morning to share stories of the violence from the night before -- many bemused that the riots had reached this affluent, family-orientated South London suburb.

Joan McAvoy, 72, has lived on an estate in the Lavender Hill area in Battersea her whole life. "I've seen nothing like this in all my life," she said. "I don't understand.

"There were kids aged 10 or 12 years old," she continued. "Where are the parents? Why are they letting their kids out at this time of night?"

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Nearby, a Pizza Express restaurant had had its windows smashed. Behind them lay tables with half-eaten pizzas, apparently abandoned in a hurry by diners.

By 10 a.m., up the road at Clapham Junction station, around 150 people armed with buckets and brushes had gathered for the clean-up.

Sarah Driver-Jowitt, 37, lives in an 18th-floor flat in the area and said she saw fires across south London from Clapham to Croydon the night before.

"I feel really strongly that the only way to respond to disorder is with civil order," she said. "They're just a bunch of people who find it exciting to be destructive."

Others expressed shock at the previous night's violence.

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Hayley Miller, 29, a music promoter from Clapham South, said, "I love this city and I was totally scared in my own home, not knowing how much it would escalate, so to be able to come here and show some support was really important."

Nick Varey, 26, a trainee architect from Wandsworth, said, "I felt powerless last night. What can normal people do against a marauding horde? We want to send a positive message that this is London, we're not destructive and we love our city."

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Some linked the South London violence to the British government's austerity cuts.

Moira Kaminsky, 54, a Lavender Hill resident for four years, said, "It all connects to the cuts. People are too squeezed and the shooting pressed the button.

"They're going to have to pacify the people and say, 'We're not going to be so tough.'"

Others, including Halima Ahmed, 33, weren't so sure.

"Last night in my estate I saw young people wearing hoodies and masks, laughing, carrying microwaves and televisions," she said. "It's just an excuse for freebies."

By mid-afternoon, police forensics teams and the fire brigade had secured much of the Clapham Junction area and the clean-up began.

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Volunteers' enthusiasm turned to anger and disgust as the full extent of the riot damage was revealed.

Broken glass lay inches-thick on the pavement; discarded shoe boxes and rubbish littered the streets; and few shops were untouched.

"I came here because they've just trashed my neighborhood," Battersea resident and clean-up volunteer Jilly Bruce, 40, said.

Bruce said she couldn't believe the rioters had set fire to the Party Superstore in Clapham Junction, a local independent party supplies store that she remembers from when she was six years old.

The only way to respond to disorder is with civil order.
--Sarah Driver-Jowitt, Battersea resident

"It's always been here and for idiots to set it alight ... it's an independent store. It's not a multinational; it's not the root of all evil. It's just people who have been working hard doing their thing," she said.

Bruce said she was heartened by the number of people who had joined the clean-up.

"I got here at nine (this morning) and there was like 30 or 40 people," she said. "I came back at lunch and there were about 300 or 400 people.

"We want to show people that they can't do this to us. We are taking back our community."

Looted shops include JD Sports, a sportswear and trainers store; Starbucks; McDonald's; British department store Debenhams; local card and fashion shops among others.

Shop owners and staff directed some of their anger towards the police force.

Jimmy Kane, 50, was cleaning up his jewelry store alongside his family and staff members. He said police had taken two hours to arrive and stop the looting.

"I've got five shops across London and we pay huge amounts of uniform business rates which ... goes to police protection and police pay," he said. "Where are they on the night we need them? ... What (the rioters) were was teenagers, not hardened criminals -- 14, 15, 16-year-old kids.

We want to show people that they can't do this to us. We are taking back our community.
--Jilly Bruce, Battersea resident

"This is going to put some people out of business, out of their homes and others out of their livelihoods," he added. "It's crazy."

Many people on the streets expressed the hope that their scarred community would heal to become stronger than before.

Aaron David, a Specsavers opticians' shop assistant, said, "Everybody in the community has to be commended (for coming to clean up). After three days of violence, people have obviously said, 'Enough is enough,' and we have to stop it."

James Walker, 31, a Royal Navy helicopter pilot who's lived in the Clapham area for over 10 years, helped liaise with police over the cleanup. Walker was keen to stress that the social networks receiving some blame for the riots had been integral to mobilizing the clean-up operation.

"It's the same system that got people rioting -- Twitter, Facebook and the internet -- that got people here today," he said.

"I was here last night, picking my wife up from the station, and there are more people here now than there were then. That's heartening."

Eoghan MacGuire contributed to this report.

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