BBC riot protest

BBC van on London Road, Croydon with its back window smashed in by rioters

Credit: Paraic O'Brien

As a third night of rioting spread violence across London and other parts of the country last night, journalists found themselves among those confronted by rioters and looters in the capital.

A BBC crew came under attack while trying to drive their van down London Road in Croydon, where shops were looted and a furniture store engulfed by fire.

Producer Paraic O'Brien, who was driving the van, spoke to this morning:

"I've never seen anything like it. I've done my fair share of riots and demonstrations but this was something different entirely, it was apocalyptic. Every shop on either side of the road was smashed in and looted.

"There was all this debris on the road so we had to slow right down. I was driving and my cameraman was in the passenger seat, discreetly filming through a closed window, we had no lights in the car. In the back were two security guards and editing staff.

"Then a crowd of kids gathered round the van and started shouting and chanting, and someone either hit the window with a metal bar or threw a brick through it.

"It was something of immense force, enough to dent the frame of the car, and the entire back window smashed in on the guys in the back.

"You get used to the usual abuse covering these things, and you take it in your stride, but last night they were definitely targeting journalists."

Michael Russell, a reporter for the Ealing Gazette, was having dinner when he heard that there was trouble brewing on Ealing Broadway. It was relatively calm when he got down there, he told, and he interviewed people standing around for a few hours. But then there was a sudden charge of rioters:

"All of a sudden there was a shout and a load of them, around 150, ran up the high street.

"I thought, I'll get some pictures of this, but as I tried to three guys broke away and tried to grab my camera and kick my legs away.

"As I ran they swept my legs out from under me and I went down. They demanded my camera so I just said take it, and as soon as they got the camera they backed off."

It gets very dangerous, anyone here considered to be taking images or recording what's going on is attackedPaul Lewis, the Guardian
Over in Hackney, Paul Lewis, a Guardian reporter, was covering the riots on Penbury Estate. He said in an interview with the newspaper last night that it was "really difficult to report from this area".

"A number of people who have been taking photographs have been attacked, I've seen three journalists attacked, quite badly actually, thrown to the floor and beaten by a group of youths.

"It gets very dangerous, anyone here considered to be taking images or recording what's going on is attacked. So we're having to surreptitiously take photographs and try and blend in with the crowd.

"But it really is quite dangerous."

Lewis was then forced to run himself after what seemed to be an escalation in the action around him.

Alex Hudson, a junior journalist at the BBC, was reporting for his own blog from Hackney Central when he was confronted by rioters.

"[T]hose taking photos find themselves in trouble very quickly," Hudson wrote in a blog post.

He reports that he was threatened and told to delete his images.

"'Delete it right now or we'll kill you'. There are 10 now. Most of the road-full of protesters are taking notice.

"'Put the phone down and run,' says a bystander trying to be helpful.

"I'm grabbed, punched and kicked and my phone is stolen. There is a pause, and I am grabbed by a woman of West Indian descent and rushed towards a block of flats.

"'They will kill you, there is no law here. What the fuck do you think you're doing? Run'."

On Sunday in Tottenham, where the rioting began on Friday, another BBC crew was confronted while filming. Reporter Andy Moore was talking to the BBC studio live when the camera was blocked and Moore pushed and forced to stop filming.

Last night's widepsread violence marked the third night of riots sparked by the death of Mark Duggan, who was shot by police in Tottenham last week. Initial reports suggested that Duggan fired on police after a bullet was found lodged in the radio of an officer, but it is now thought that the bullet came from a police-issue gun.

The International News Safety Institute issued advice today for journalists covering the riots, including:
  • Establish pre-arranged contact points with the rest of the crew;
  • always carry press identification but to conceal it if it attracts unwarranted attention;
  • have a mobile phone with emergency numbers already pre-set for speed dialling;
  • have eye protection on you such as swimming goggles or industrial eye protection;
  • for reporters – you don’t have to be in the crowd as long as you can see what’s happening;
  • for photographers or camera operators – try to shoot from a higher vantage point.

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