London riots: Man admits starting furniture store fire

The House of Reeves furniture store in Croydon on fire
Image caption The building was demolished after the fire

A man has pleaded guilty to starting a fire which destroyed a 144-year-old furniture shop in south London during last summer's riots.

Gordon Thompson, 33, changed his plea during a trial at the Old Bailey.

The court had previously heard that Thompson told another man "it was me", as he walked away from the burning House of Reeves in Croydon on 8 August.

He stole a laptop from Reeves before asking around for a lighter and setting fire to a sofa, the court heard.

The blaze was so fierce buildings on the opposite side of the road caught fire and tram lines in the road were damaged.

The burnt-out store has since been demolished, but the company - which has been in the Reeves family for five generations - is still trading from refurbished premises across the street.

Judge Peter Thornton QC said Thompson, of Waddon Road, Croydon, would receive a lengthy sentence. He will be sentenced on 11 April.

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Media captionMaurice Reeves, of Reeves Furniture, said he had seen the CCTV footage of Thompson lighting the settee in the shop

Thompson had previously admitted burglary of two shops in Croydon - Iceland and House of Fraser - but had denied the charge of arson in relation to the store.

At the end of the prosecution opening he decided to admit certain charges.

'Ran riot'

Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow told the court he had consulted members of the Reeves family about accepting the guilty pleas.

Jurors were ordered to find Thompson not guilty of charges of violent disorder and arson with intent to endanger life.

He admitted one count of burglary for stealing a laptop from the shop before the fire.

During the trial, the court heard that Thompson "ran riot through the streets" on 8 August.

Image caption Gordon Thompson will be sentenced on 11 April

When he saw other rioters smashing the front window of Reeves, he climbed into the shop to steal the laptop.

After he left he decided to burn it down.

Jurors were shown an image of local resident Monika Konczyk throwing herself from the building where she lived after becoming trapped by flames. Her flat overlooked the burning House of Reeves.

This image was shown around the world as news outlets covered the riots.

Speaking outside the court, the store's owner, Maurice Reeves, said: "I never thought in a month of Sundays that they could catch that person, there were so many people.

'Leave us alone'

"The Croydon police, and whoever caught them, have done a magnificent job."

He said the CCTV footage of the moment when Thompson set light to the shop was heart-breaking.

"Today is just a day when it brings back all the flood of memories - difficult," he said.

Mr Reeves revealed that last week his office was burgled.

"Please leave us alone and let us serve Croydon as we have been doing for all these many, many years," he said.

Det Supt Simon Messinger said: "People across the country were appalled and shocked at the level of violence and destruction that was committed on 8 August 2011.

"The images of Reeves Corner are probably some of the most iconic from that day."

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