Visual artist Niamh O’Doherty was returning home to Donegal yesterday in a trip that was planned before the London riots spread to her Peckham neighbourhood.
“I was very relieved to be able to leave, to be able to go somewhere else,” she said.
Niamh was heading home to Peckham at about 5 pm on Monday when the bus she was travelling on was diverted.
“We didn’t know it at the time but it was because of the riots,” she said. “Then the bus came to a stop and it wasn’t going anywhere.” She disembarked and walked up to Peckham High Street, passing dozens of buses that were also stopped along the road.
Approaching the top of the street, she saw a large group of people talking and jeering, some holding bricks, bottles or other projectiles. And when she reached the top she saw that across from the crowds, police in riot gear were blocking the high street and the Rye Lane.
“I could see up ahead there was smoke in the distance,” Niamh said. “I wanted to get out of there before it kicked off.” She later learned the smoke came from a bus that had been set on fire on Peckham High Street.
Walking through back roads to her home at about 5.30 pm, she found scenes of confusion. There were people from stopped buses who were left stranded, and pedestrians and cyclists unfamiliar with the backstreets trying to negotiate the unexpected diversion.
“There were a lot of very scared people trying to get around the riot,” Niamh said.
Once home -- she lives on the second floor -- she looked out from the balcony to see up to 40 teenage boys running away from the direction of the high street. They were wearing hoods, bandanas and balaclavas to hide their faces, and carrying bricks and police batons, she said.
“For about an hour people were running back and forth,” she said. It quieted down around her place then -- she’s about 300 metres from the high road -- though the looting continued on the high street. Niamh saw women walking through her estate with bags of items that appeared to have been looted.
Originally from Donegal Town, Niamh has lived in London for five years and in Peckham for two. “I quite like it as a place to live,” she said of Peckham. But she was alarmed by what she saw earlier this week.
“I was very afraid,” Niamh said. Her boyfriend, Andrew Bass from Convoy, was more relaxed, she said. But Niamh checked Twitter for updates.
“There were reports of looting of houses in the area which was very scary, because I hoped they wouldn’t get as far as us,” she said. She was most concerned by the thought that police and emergency services would be unable to respond to calls because they were tied up elsewhere.
“It just felt like it was complete lawlessness, like there was no control at all,” she said. “That’s why I was glad to be leaving. If something had happened in other areas, there were no police to respond to the problem.”