Looter Jailed For 11 Years Over Riots Blaze

Ian Woods, senior correspondent

Gordon Thompson has been sentenced to 11-and-a-half years in prison for setting fire to the Reeves furniture store in Croydon during the London riots.

Thompson, 34, was sentenced at the Old Bailey for arson, being reckless as to whether life was endangered and burglary.

He was part of a mob which had rampaged through Croydon town centre, looting Iceland and House of Fraser, before turning his attention to family-run House of Reeves.

The blaze was so fierce that buildings on the other side of the street and tramlines in the road caught alight.

Judge Peter Thornton told Thompson: "This was a deliberate, wilful act of shocking, dangerous vandalism."

"The Reeves family lost their historic business, something they and generations before had lived and worked for all their lives.

"Their loss is priceless. The trauma they have suffered is inestimable."

The business had begun trading on the site in 1867, and became such a part of the South London area that the road was named after the store.

Initially Thompson stole a laptop from inside the shop, then borrowed a cigarette lighter from another rioter and stepped inside what had been a display window, and set light to a sofa.

As the flames spread he boasted to a passer-by : "It was me. I did that. I burned Reeves Corner."

The inferno lit up the South London skyline, attracting the attention of the Skycopter which beamed live pictures which were seen around the world.

It became one of the defining images of the riots .

And the flames were so intense they leapt across the road and threatened nearby flats.

Members of the Reeves family were at the Old Bailey to see Thompson sentenced.

Outside the court Maurice Reeves, the owner of the furniture shop, said it was a "fair judgement".

"It has to be a deterrent," he said.

Earlier, his son Trevor told Sky News: "He (Thompson) just seems to be a person who's got caught up with the riots and has done something really stupid.

"I can't possibly imagine what goes through someone's mind to make them do that, especially as you're local and probably know what the place is, and what the place means to people.

"It's beyond my comprehension."

Although Thompson was the only one to be charged in connection with the arson, 450 people have been arrest and 300 charged with offences related to the rioting in Croydon.

The court heard that the total financial loss to the Reeves family was an estimated £3 million.

During the inferno, Monika Konczyk was inside a nearby flats. She had only moved to London from Poland three weeks earlier.

She saw Thompson start the fire, but told Sky News she did not think that within minutes she would need to flee for her life.

"I never thought I'd need to jump from the window because the fire was coming, never," she said.

But with a policeman inside her flat and others on the ground waiting to catch her, she was eventually persuaded to jump.

The moment was captured by a photographer and it became one of the iconic pictures of the summer riots.

The image led to the shy supermarket worker becoming famous for a few days; friends and family in Poland contacting her to make sure was safe.

Now she just hopes that the jailing of Thompson will be the end of the story.

"I'm very scared, I'm very nervous. Sometimes I'm upset and I'm thinking I only want to forget everything that's happened to me," she said.

She refused to carry on living in the flat because of the memories, but it did not make her leave England.

She said such incidents could happen all over the world.

What remained of the Reeves building was demolished within a few weeks of the inferno, and the site remains empty.

There were no plans to rebuild it until the economy improves. Instead the Reeves business continues in a smaller building across the road.

And the history lives on in photographs on the fencing which surrounds the vacant site.

There are pictures showing the Reeves store at the start of the 20th century as well as pictures of it ablaze on August 8, 2011.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes