« Previous | Main | Next »

Reporting the Riots

Post categories:

Chris Mason Chris Mason | 16:10 UK time, Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Arriving in Hackney at around half past six on Monday evening, it felt like the pause button had been pressed on the violence and rioting of an hour or so earlier.

But what we encountered was a mood I had never come across in the UK before.

The atmosphere was intense: intensely nervy, intensely twitchy.

Mutual suspicion reigned supreme. The local people were suspicious of the police and the journalists. The police were suspicious of the local people and the journalists. And the journalists - me included - were suspicious of the local people and the police.

There was nothing to puncture the suspicion, and if you allowed yourself to forget it for a moment, there would soon be a reminder. When a policeman accidently dropped his riot helmet, people near us turned round instantly, their facial expression screaming nervousness.

Suddenly smoke could be seen rising into the evening sky. A car had been set on fire in a nearby street. Far from suspicion being punctured, it was inflated. The riot had begun again, on Clarence Road. Fireworks arced towards the police lines, officers on horseback and with dogs rushed past us. The dogs later returned, and were thanked for their work as water was poured out into a series of bowls set out in the middle of the closed road.

The fluidity of the situation was as frightening as the friction: the violence, thuggish behaviour and yobbery switching rapidly from street to street. But as locals, the police and reporters began to hear the violence was worse elsewhere, there was another change. Most of the police in Hackney had to move elsewhere.

As the looting of a convenience store continued, most of the police left. The atmosphere changed again. The main focus of the rioters' anger, the police, had all but gone. What remained was a pent-up mob, helping themselves to bottles of wine from the shop and bikes padlocked to fences. Bins were upturned, bottles were smashed.

It wasn't just the police that had moved on. In crude news terms, the news had too. To Croydon, to Peckham, to Woolwich, where the rioting was worse.

The news value of where we were was falling, the danger was rising. Witnessing lawlessness all around you, with not a police officer in sight, is frightening. There were intense pockets of arbitrary lawlessness. And it was time to leave.

Chris Mason is 5 live's political reporter.

5 live has ongoing coverage and reaction to the riots. You can hear a selection of clips on our Best Bits page.

Related Links
BBC News Online - UK riots live coverage


  • Comment number 1.

    5 live coverage has been very good.

    Shocking that Manchester city centre now being looted with shops on fire. How is this going to end, curfews and water cannons borrowed from France?

    How can the government go ahead with 20% cuts to the police budget?

  • Comment number 2.

    Can 5 live please stop calling these people protestors as they are looters and rioters. Also I am interested that Chris Mason was "suspicious" of the police and wonder if he would explain why that is...

  • Comment number 3.

    It is quite difficult to listen to Ms Burden because of her voice, but I want to hear the full coverage so needs must. Her questioning of guests, in direct contrast to Jon Sopel's, seems to be very disrespectful which in a time of actually no-one really knowing anything about quite alot of this, is totally unnecessary. Quite a few of her listeners are living in the thick of this abject breakdown of law and order, including me, and it would be good to hear answers rather than accusatory statements from her in response to what guests are saying.

    Chris's report above shows not only the importance and danger of reporting to the public, but also how really fluid this situation is/was. However the tone of it, as commented in @2, is a bit worrying and goes beyond reporting in to personal opinion, which I do not approve of from the BBC.

  • Comment number 4.

    Victoria's programme is amazing and she is doing a great job with difficult contributors, but why didn't she ask the guy who said Duggan was carrying a gun 'to protect him from his own' why anyone should get in to that life anyway so that a gun is needed for self protection. Millions of people lead lives where they don't need anything to protect them - just get a proper education, a proper job, and lead an ethical and moral life (ie not a criminal one).

  • Comment number 5.

    I agree with Pastiche regarding VD today.

    With government cuts to local authority budgets, scrapping of the EMA, youth unemployment, 20% police cuts, closing Connextions and cuts to youth services these problems are not going to go away. Judging by the aggressive and angry way Michael Gove responded to Harriet Harman on News Night last night the government is going to do its best to close down the debate by accusing them of making excuses for the rioters.

  • Comment number 6.

    I hope the "free" trainers and "free" tv's are worth the 3 deaths, all the injuries and damage to property. I wonder how the poor people feel that lost their homes and business's? These yobs (and thats all they are!) have no consideration for any of this! If they wanted any sympathy at all they went about it the wrong way! I don't want to hear any sob stories! The police have done the best that they can and I support them all the way. If my sons ever did this, I would take them to the Police Station myself! Everyone knows the difference between right and wrong!

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Amysmythe and Pastiche. Cheers for your comments. We were suspicious of the police because we were suspicious of everyone. We didn't want to get hurt. The police would never intentionally cause us any harm, but the situation was very fluid and we had to be very careful about our movements. In our experience, the police dealt very well with the journalists who were there.

    Pastiche - I completely share your nervousness about reporters giving opinions. I have been a broadcast news reporter for ten years, and on my first day as a trainee at ITN was told "congratulations, you've made it through your opinion-ectomy operation." In other words, the central ethos of broadcast news reporting in the UK is telling the story straight.

    The aim of my blog pieces is to offer a bit more than the 'what's happening now' reporting, to try to give you a very human sense of what it's like to be there. The suspicion I referred to-from the reporters, the local people and the police-was motivated primarily, on all sides, by a desire not to get hurt.

  • Comment number 8.

    Chris, good to hear from you. I enjoy your input. I was amazed you were in pre-mod!

  • Comment number 9.

    Can i just add my comment whether agreed with or not

    Just look at the situation, we have youths out of control something that has to be dealt with.

    We have also a government that turned up yesterday increasing the police presnenc because and make no mistake about this, their future plans were in jepordy .

    This is the same government that only a few months ago recommended police numbers should be cut .

    This is also the same government that has cut poor peoples income to the bone.

    While i condone no violence i can understand what's happening.

    its not the police to blame except the ones who shot and killed the young man in tottenham for which as usual will never face justice. Name me one police officer in prison for murdering a member of the public ? never happens and they wonder why the public get angry?

    All Cameron and his failed government are interested in is this is being shown all over the world and its not good for the Olympics where billions are riding.

    If Mr Cameron and his government are so concerned about this country, then why do they place such emphasis on Libya and waste billions trying on a failed mission to depose its leader. isn't it about time they looked at what's going on in their own back yard and the billions they could save .

  • Comment number 10.

    Jon Sopel has made Breakfast's contribution to the coverage a serious and very professional job. No jokes.

    Can we have more blogs by Chris? His reflections are interesting and he doesn't get time for them during ordinary reports.

  • Comment number 11.

    So, a little bit of rain and the savages retreat to their caves. Well at least we know we don't need water cannon to disperse the cretins, just arm the police with watering cans and sprinkle the vermin with a little bit of water and Bob's Your Uncle, off they scuttle with their filthy tails between their loathsome little legs.

  • Comment number 12.

    We here in my area had our own mini riot. 1 works van (complete with tools) was torched as were 2 other cars. Cretinous scumbags.

  • Comment number 13.

    YES jimmyhou21, lets bring back labour, they'll save the day , NOT !

  • Comment number 14.

    I'd like to second post # 10 by Pastiche. Jon Sopel's presence has been a most welcome change on 5 Live this week.

  • Comment number 15.

    Another vote for Jon Sopel - balanced and informative without sensationalising.

  • Comment number 16.

    Thank you for replying Chris which is something I hope that will spread as a principle.

  • Comment number 17.

    Sorry zeldalicious but I'd like to lodge a complaint about your comment. Surely you meant "disgusting, loathsome, uneducated, amoral, cretinous scumbags"?

  • Comment number 18.

    I stand corrected Johnny Red. (shamed face and slowly walks away.....)

  • Comment number 19.

    @Jasmine and Pastiche and others
    Some people criticise 5 live. I would certainly say that I am no expert. However may I just give this reference (which should please everybody)?


  • Comment number 20.

    How remiss of me zeldalicious, I forgot to add the word "vermin" to my criticism of your entry, and according to the definition:-"Various small animals or insects, such as rats or cockroaches, that are destructive, annoying, or injurious to health", I think it is entirely relevant.

  • Comment number 21.

    Rob a bank and you get 10 years The Bank robs you and they get a seven figure pension.

    Factors that contribute to rioting are population size, the breakdown of respect for social order, poverty, the lack of opportunities for personal advancement and Debt.

    Today the people that led the world into debt by their corrupt practises within the Banking, Insurance, and Financial sector have been reappointed by President Obama to head his financial team. No one has been brought to justice for the debt all the world is now paying and rioting about.

    All the banks had AAA status just before they collapsed from Standard and Poor the same people who have just downgraded USA economy?

    University Professors who advised the governments were working without declaring their paid interest for these corrupt banks etc. just before the crash.

    If you check the facts you will find a transfer of wealth from the poorest to the top one percent and these crooks are still running all our economies.
    This was achieved by getting companies like standard and poor to give false assessments of bad debt which was then sold to our pension funds as triple A.
    Whilst ever these crooks go unpunished and are rewarded by huge golden handshakes and top government jobs, riots will get worse.

    We all have a remedy it is our vote and a free press.
    Make sure you give your vote wisely and all the politicians who supported crooked bankers, insurance companies, are swept from power.
    To the press it is time to expose these crooks. Name and Shame


More from this blog...


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.