THE BLOG
09/08/2011 12:28 BST | Updated 09/10/2011 06:12 BST

Senseless Violence Pervaded Much of Clapham Last Night

As a Northerner who regularly teases family and friends back home for their misconception of the capital as a dangerous, violent place, it was a shock to find myself feeling afraid of London for the first time.

Unlike many, I managed to escape most of the violence that engulfed my home borough of Clapham last night. But in the incongruous sunshine of this morning, what I did see proved pretty hard to believe -- let alone forget. Beyond the TV cameras and the hot spots, senseless opportunist crime seemed to be everywhere.

The first sign the riots were heading our way came when we were asked to leave a pub just off Clapham High Street shortly before ten o clock after a warning from the police.

Twitter -- the online community that played roles both good and bad in last night's hysteria - was reporting that the road was ablaze, McDonald's smashed, the high street to be avoided at all costs. As I made my way cautiously down it preparing to take a back route, it became clear this wasn't true. Shops, bars and takeaways were all closed early and few sullen kids in hoods wandered around looking agitated, but otherwise it seemed fine.

It turned out Tweeters who didn't know the area very well were confusing Clapham High Street with Clapham Junction, which we would all later watch being looted and burned on the news. As I got near Lavender Hill -- the straight road that connects the Junction to our home -- the atmosphere darkened considerably.

Streams of people clutching looted goods passed in the opposite direction to the sound of sirens and helicopters. In the middle of the road I saw one of them stop to mug a kid for his bike, trying to pull it out from under him as he pleaded to be left alone. When I walked over, the looter shouted at me to stay away because he had a knife. Thankfully, residents in an upstairs flat shouted and distracted him, allowing the kid to ride off. The mugger just picked up his bag of goods and carried on casually down the road.

Then when I turned onto my street to get home, three teenagers ran out onto the road chasing another kid with a baton. They caught him and smacked him to the ground. He screamed, scrambled back to his feet and ran away. They didn't bother chasing him again, but hung around the street instead. Reporting them to the police took almost half an hour, the lines were so busy.

By this point, I found myself wandering around the streets surrounding my own home, trying to find a way back that felt safe. I found another guy on his way back from work doing the same thing. Turned out we lived on the same road.

Together we walked past another gang who eyeballed us as we walked by. His door was closest, and he kindly waited by it until I reached mine. Two of my neighbours were outside scanning the street, and when the police showed up later, we did our best to help them together. In a bizarre sort of way, it felt like we were operating as a community for the first time.

Later, as we sat glued to the television, we heard more voices from outside. A group of mothers from the estate at the end of our road were padding around in their dressing gowns and slippers, shouting out for their errant sons and daughters. They were still out there when we finally went to bed.

As a Northerner who regularly teases family and friends back home for their misconception of the capital as a dangerous, violent place, it was a shock to find myself feeling afraid of London for the first time. But it wasn't the extent of the violence I saw that disturbed me, but how cynical and senseless it felt.

From what I saw, there was no moral or political motive behind any of it. No cries against cuts, or Tories or capitalism. Not even any warped sense of fun. Just misguided bravado, ugly greed and a London I didn't recognise at all.