London riots: Gordon Thompson jailed for Reeves store arson
A looter has been jailed for 11-and-a-half years for starting a fire which destroyed a family-run furniture shop in south London in the summer riots.
Gordon Thompson, 34, stole a laptop from the House of Reeves in Croydon on 8 August before setting fire to a sofa.
The Old Bailey trial in February heard that he told another man "it was me" as he walked away from the blaze.
Thompson, of Waddon Road, Croydon, changed his plea to guilty at the end of the prosecution case.
He had previously looted two other stores, Iceland and House of Fraser, before turning on the Reeves furniture store, the court heard.
Following Thompson's guilty plea jurors were ordered to find him not guilty of charges of violent disorder and arson with intent to endanger life.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the sentence given to Thompson was the longest to date in connection with the riots.
Forced to jump
The fire caused an estimated loss to the 144-year-old Reeves business of £3m, 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.
One woman, Monika Konczyk, who lived opposite the Reeves store, was forced to jump from the building where she lived to escape the flames.
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.
In a victim impact statement, Trevor Reeves said: "The total destruction of the site has been a bereavement to me, I just can't understand what I have done to make someone do this to me.
"I wonder with despair what my father and grandfather would make of the situation."
He added that the sentence "will not bring it back" and added: "My father built that store up. That store was his baby.
"I lived there as a child, played there as a child, I lived there as an adult, I worked there for most of my adult life, and when you lose something like that it's like a bereavement."
After sentencing, owner of the store, Maurice Reeves, 80, said: "He's [Thompson] done tremendous harm for everybody, but we have to fight back and that's what we will do. That's the typical Reeves family.
"He has apologised and it is accepted by the Reeves family and me."
The court heard Maurice Reeves had worked at the store since the age of 16.
Judge Peter Thornton told Thompson: "This day was a bad day for Croydon and the people of Croydon.
"Perhaps the most shocking event was that the House of Reeves was set alight and burned to the ground, putting lives at risk."
He said the shop "had stood on the site for over 140 years, proudly giving its name to its location, Reeves Corner. You were about to bring all that to an end".
The judge added: "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."
In mitigation, Adam Davis QC, for Thompson, said the defendant had been depressed following his divorce and had not intended to cause the damage.
He said Thompson wanted to apologise "to all those involved and in particular the Reeves family for what happened as a result of his reckless actions and apologise for the loss that he has caused them".
Following the sentencing Jenny Hopkins from the Crown Prosecution Service said Thompson's "callous actions had recklessly endangered the lives of many innocent people".
"Few will forget the terrifying ordeal of Monika Konczyk, whose flat overlooked the store.
"She had to throw herself from her blazing flat into the arms of those same firefighters after she had become trapped by the flames.
"Members of the public, both in Croydon and elsewhere, were shocked at the television footage which showed the extent of the damage caused by Thompson's actions."
Thompson, who has 20 previous convictions, including one for violent robbery, was filmed on mobile phones and by CCTV cameras during the arson, the court heard.