“Grab your camera, they’re looting shops just down the street”. I grabbed my Sony DSR-570, it’s not small and weighs about 8 kilograms, and a rucksack containing microphones and spares.
The BBC in Birmingham is housed in the Mailbox, a shopping centre in the heart of the city. It didn’t take long for us to meet up with our security guard and get across to where trouble had started. We joined a line of riot police as a group of masked youths began smashing the windows of Marks and Spencer a hundred yards up the road. The police charged and we followed, but the kids ran leaving broken windows and the objects which they’d used to break them, bottles of spirits.
A short while later we wandered around to Moor Street station to find a burning car. There were a lot of kids around but the atmosphere wasn’t threatening and I started filming. Within a couple of minutes I got a tap on my shoulder from our security guard who suggested we get out of there. I looked round to see that the kids had been replaced mainly by masked youths. The kids, in hindsight, probably were the masked youths. We got out as quickly as possible to see that the police line had moved back and we had suddenly, briefly, found ourselves right in the thick of it. As we headed back toward the police line the officers shouted at us to get back. The big camera came in useful (along with a press pass) to wave at them to say that we were press. As we approached the line we realised that there were bottles flying from around the corner they were ensconced at.
I got a shout of ‘Bottle!’ as a Smirnoff Vodka bottle, complete with optics, came flying over our heads, landing just behind the police line we were approaching. We ran through the line and retreated out of throwing distance before commencing filming. The kids were now turning their attention toward the police so we decided it best to retreat back to the safety of the Mailbox.
BBC Ten o’clock news lead story, Birmingham riots
The next day I was awoken by a phone call to get to Winsom Green, a segment of the Birmingham metropolitan sprawl. Overnight, three men had been hit by a car as they stood on the street to defend of their neighbourhood from looters. Sadly, they had all died that night, and now the police had opened a murder investigation. When I arrived the scene, the forecourt of petrol station on a usually busy street, was quiet. A few members of the community stood outside shops, but the majority of people there were police and press. The forensic teams examined the scene and gathered evidence. People started laying flowers and gradually, throughout the day, the community gathered, many of them had been up all night outside the local hospital waiting for news. The father of one of the dead men spoke to the press. He spoke for everything that was wrong with the events of the past few days, and brought it back into reality. I believe that his words had more effect in ending the riots than anything else. As much as the media had it’s part to play in spreading the troubles across England, this event demonstrated the power of the media in spreading the message to stop.
BBC Ten o’clock news lead story, Winsom Green murders
I eventually returned home late that night having worked somewhere close to 35 hours in 2 days. My work had led the national news bulletins for nights and the experience is something I won’t forget quickly.