A rioter throws a rock at riot police in Hackney. Photograph: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Police profiles: ‘there was nothing else to attack at this point apart from us'” was written by Raekha Prasad and Paul Owen, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 2nd July 2012 06.00 UTC

Ade Adelekan, chief inspector in Tottenham

One of my roles for the day was to be the police match commander at the Spurs v Athletic Bilbao game. While the game was going on, the duty officer informed me there was a crowd that had gathered outside [Tottenham] police station and he was dealing with it, at which point I said I’d make my way … just to assist the duty officer, not thinking too much about it really. This was another march and we were going to deal with it in the way I said that we were going to deal with it, which was to facilitate a peaceful protest. And that was the right sort of thing to do in terms of the reasons why people were protesting, which was due to the death of Mark Duggan.

I made my way towards the police station to be met by a crowd of people and they started to chant “Murderer! Murderer!” at me. I didn’t want to be the source of inflaming a situation so I walked into the station and started to put a plan together. We managed to broker a deal fairly early on that the deceased gentleman’s partner [Semone Wilson], I believe, just wanted to have a conversation [and] she was going to come into the police station and tell me what she wanted and I would facilitate that process as best as I could.

It soon became quite apparent that they weren’t going to come into the station. She was quite willing, I think, to come into the station but she was told by other members, I later found out, that I wasn’t senior enough for her to speak to. So I came out of the police station and made a beeline for her and we had a conversation, and if my memory serves me correctly, they wanted a more senior officer. I said: “Well, give me some time. I can do that. That’s not a problem.”

While getting feedback from [the senior officer] I was informed that the lady was about to leave. And I could see her walking away from me when the first wave of street furniture came flying at us. And that was the beginning of the major disorder.

I have reflected. I’ve reflected an awful lot. I have to live with what took place. And I don’t live with that lightly. I’ve reflected almost to the point of resignation. But, you know, could I have done anything different? All I can tell you is I did everything I possibly could to reassure the family that we would try to deliver all of their wishes and concerns on that night. I will leave you with another question, because I think the people who were surrounding that family should ask themselves whether they did the same. And that’s all I will say in terms of that.

A 28-year-old PC from Liverpool

My partner, where she works, they all know what kind of work I do, so people are quite nosy, naturally, if anything’s going on: “Has there been a car crash? Am I going to be home late?” I’m like: “I don’t know, I don’t have a clue. Leave me alone, I’m trying to work.” But she got in touch with me and said people had contacted her saying there’s rumours on social network sites that it’s going to kick off in Liverpool this evening. I found it a bit annoying that other people knew before we did. I’d like to think that if that kind of information was out there on the social media then we should be the first ones on top of it. It took us three days essentially, didn’t it, to get back on top of things.

There was large groups of youths on the Lodge Lane, which is round the corner from my flat, which wasn’t too reassuring. [My sergeant] said in the van basically en route that there was potential for some disorder. So as we’re driving up Lodge Lane everything you can think of starts hitting the van. Just bricks, basically, and any kind of debris that’s lying around in the road like cans, bricks, everything.

The return journey we were attacked again. This time [there] seemed to be more people because, you know, they’d done it the first time and we’d not responded. There’s no way we’re going to get nine people out of a van when you’ve got upwards of 30, 40 [rioters].

[They were throwing] whatever they could get their hands on. I mean, in the rear of the carrier it’s smoked, darkened glass but due to the loudness of what was hitting us … whatever they were throwing, it certainly weren’t small stones or anything. The only clear view was in the front and there was definitely large bits of masonry and concrete being thrown. I thought, if someone managed to rip the door open out of my grasp, and there’s 15 people, 20 people pulling on the sliding door, I’m not gonna be able to hold it.

The thing that annoyed me about the end of it was the debrief because [there is] a chief constables’ forum, so if you’ve got an issue or a question you can type online and the chief constable answers your question, and this senior officer’s like: “I don’t want anyone typing things on the chief con’s forum in three weeks’ time, so if you’ve got anything to discuss, we’ll discuss it now.” And I was like: I’ve been stood up on my feet for all that time, I started work two o’clock yesterday afternoon, my head’s mashed, I want time for things to sink in before I pass you any kind of advice or recommendations. I thought it was quite rude, to be honest, to say that to us afterwards, after what we’d just done. I thought it was bang out of order.

A 38-year-old PC in Birmingham

We are in a marked police van [and a group of rioters] threw stones at us, so we’ve gone round, we got them into a cul-de-sac. I mean they wasn’t kids, they were like 21, 22, 24 years old. I said [to one of them]: “Mate …” And he was like: “Oh, sorry officer.” [I said:] “We’re in a dark cul-de-sac, there’s quite a few of us here. If we wanted to, I could give you a bit of a slap. I’m not that sort of person, but if you were in Spain or Germany you’d probably be getting a bit of a kicking now.”

But we’re not like that. None of us did that, so I think we should take a bit of credit. I’m just not that sort of person. I’m going to sound a bit cheesy but if he just thinks: oh, you know, maybe that one night when the copper could have done it but he didn’t – maybe that’s changed his view. It probably changed it for 10 minutes.

I knew the area. Some of the people that got arrested. We’re the team that used to work in that area – we sorted a lot of issues out, and then to find out when you’ve left and something like that [the riots] happens, it’s a bit, not upsetting, but you know all the hard work you did …

[We would take them] on courses and [take] them away from the area and things like that. And we used to take them canoeing and have camping holidays. But we wouldn’t tell them until the end we were police officers, and then it was like: “Aw, man.” [They thought we were] just support workers and stuff like that. It was always the same reaction … They got on with you the past three days and all of a sudden you tell them you’re a copper and they’re like: “Yeah, you’re all right, you’re all right.” Grudgingly, you know: “You’re OK.”

I think at the time if you’d asked me I would have said that, yeah, anyone involved with it deserved to get the [harsh] sentences, and then you look back and some of the jobs I’ve dealt with, non-riot-related, [were] 10 times worse than what somebody did in the riots. [They’ve] got half the sentence that someone in the riots got for pinching a bag of crisps. But hopefully because of those sentences people might decide not to do it [again]. Hopefully we won’t find out.

A 33-year-old senior officer in Hackney, east London

There was a taxi there, and they’d managed to break into the taxi … and that ended up in the middle of the road in front of us. And at that point I knew what they wanted to do: they’re trying to send a vehicle down here towards us.

And then they started on a different car, and they’d break into that one and they actually managed to get that one facing us and they set that alight, actually on fire, and by this point, luckily, I suppose, I’d thought about what to do if it came towards us. And at that point I was quite worried because I was thinking: a burning car of whatever weight coming towards us – OK, if we move out of the way where is it going to end up?

So they started pushing this burning car towards us but the steering lock was on, so they were pushing it and it started coming towards us and then it went into some gates and you could smell the burning rubber – and from this point there was glass everywhere, there was bricks on the roads, from the missiles … these groups with face coverings on, and I felt this is absolutely unbelievable. You feel you could be in a film or … you cannot believe this is actually happening in an area of Hackney where people go and have a cup of coffee in a coffee bar. This is London, it’s not Beirut. The lawlessness was just absolutely unbelievable. And there just seemed to be this anti[-police] feeling, even from people in the street whose property we were trying to protect.

We had a call over the radio saying there was an elderly lady who’d been crossing the road, who’d been hit by a brick in Clarence Road. So we went through a residential street to try to get to the top of Clarence Road and there were just youths on all sides, and in the distance I could see that in this road they’d built barricades and there were these smoking barricades and fires. I started to think to myself: oh my goodness, we are just going to drive straight into the eye of the storm. And as we started getting near the barricades, which is where this woman was, there was a big group, say 50, and I remember shouting to the driver of our carrier: “Whatever you do, do not stop.”

Eventually we got into Clarence Road and this elderly woman was on the floor, and we got out of these carriers and there was this crowd that was very, very close and I said: “Just surround her.” So we surrounded her, and as we did they obviously had no decency, throwing bricks at us, everything else. She had a son who was standing with her, he got hit by a brick, and there was probably about 50 or 60 of them, and I said: “Right, we need to do short shield charges at them,” so I directed that and we managed to get this crowd back. We got the woman away and there was an ambulance turned up, managed to see to her, and they looked absolutely terrified, the ambulance staff, absolutely terrified.

A 41-year-old PC from outside London drafted in to help tackle the riots in Lewisham, south-east London

We realised that there were people [looters] still in the casino, and they’d broken into the roller shutter at the bottom, so one of our sergeants said we needed to get people in there and have a look, and I went in there and it was like a movie. It was unbelievable, there was slot machines on the ground and they were still playing their music and the lights were flashing. There was smoke, there was all kinds of stuff and we had to go in and have a look and see if there was anybody trapped in there or anybody injured. So we went in there and I remember clearing through this place, sort of hundreds of pound coins lying all over the floor. Smoke and lights and noise and shouting and all kinds of stuff and it was just, phew, mindblowing.

It was just like a film. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Some of the most exhilarating jobs out on division are [when] intruders [are] on the premises, and they’re just incredible. You get to somebody’s house, the front door’s open and you have to go in the house. The house is in darkness, you’ve got a torch, you have to wander round and there could be people anywhere. I mean it’s like opening the cupboard and waiting for somebody to jump out at you and all this kind of stuff. And that gets your heart racing.

But this one, going into the casino, we’d already had a little bit of hostility from the crowd, we already knew that these people were involved in criminality, we knew that they’d broken in, we knew they were potentially stealing, certainly criminal damage, they didn’t really want to speak to us. How far would they go to get away from us? So all these things are going through your head as I’m on my belly crawling to get underneath this shutter.

The only light was coming from the machines, and they were on the floor. There was smoke, there was the music from the machines. It wasn’t quite right, they were slightly off. I remember the notes were slightly off cos the machines had fallen on the floor. And then sweeping through and at any moment you were expecting somebody to jump out, and you’re thinking [he groans]. But, yeah, that was scary.

A 52-year-old senior officer in London

[In] Tottenham I sustained in about the first seven or eight minutes a blow to the head from what must have been a piece of dense masonry. The force of the blow was so strong it split or caused a crack in my public order Nato helmet. There was no prospect of another [senior officer] just turning up to take over from me, so although I was conscious, after a short period of being out – I was aware I had a splitting headache – there was no other option but to remain on duty and do my duty. I was at the sharp end for just over four hours, no respite.

Those bricks were flying in relentlessly and I’ve got to say they’ve got people there that should be in cricket teams because there were some very, very accurate throwers. At one point they were resupplying their own frontline, if you like, [laughs] with supermarket trolleys full of bricks, which were coming, I now know, from a nearby building site. They were starting to get fairly well organised. Learning quite quickly, I think, themselves how to do a riot.

I think they worked out we weren’t going to follow them off down the alleyways, and for me that was a complete no-no, as the one thing I wanted to avoid was another Keith Blakelock [the officer killed in the Tottenham riot of 1985]. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that if a police officer had become detached from the main body and taken off on their own they would’ve been killed.

Certainly I thought, you know, this is Tottenham, a member of their community has been killed, rightly or wrongly, and because of the gestures and the threats that were shouted out – I mean that was what, if you like, provided the evidence, you know, with Keith Blakelock, as something I can remember. Not all junior police officers can necessarily remember it that well. But we were receiving gestures from the crowd of the people making their hand into a gun and a trigger movement with their thumb, pointing them like this, added with people lifting up the top of their sweatshirts and T-shirt, shirts, whatever tops they were wearing, and showing the handles of items which you couldn’t clearly distinguish. Either it’s a replica gun, a real gun, possibly a knife.

A 31-year-old sergeant in Birmingham

All you could see in front of you were cars overturned on fire, and they were exploding where the petrol tanks and the tyres were obviously burning to the point of exploding. They’d taken the street lighting out and barricaded the road, and they were just intent on attacking the police. There was nothing else to attack at this point apart from the police in the middle of the road.

My wife is a police officer. My wife was at home that night watching all this on the news and she rang me about 15 times trying to make sure I was OK and I couldn’t answer her. The first chance I got to phone was at four o’clock in the morning … She burst into tears, and she’s got 12 years’ service as well. She used to work in this department and she was frightened, and I wouldn’t say I was frightened but it was the first time I’ve felt fear about my safety in a van when I’ve been driving, because it’s the first time I’ve had a brick come through the window and hit me in a van. These were quite clearly out to hurt a police that night.

People weren’t talking, they weren’t laughing and joking … People just wanted to make sure that they went home in one piece. My colleague took one in the shoulder between where she’d got her shoulder pads and her stab vest on and it took her clean off her feet. She’d separated part of her shoulder from having this missile hit her in the shoulder, and we felt desperate, you know, you felt like it was your fault: why should someone else be injured when you were stood next to her? But it was just the luck of the draw.

[Do I think the riots will happen again?] Yeah I do, [because of] police cuts. We didn’t have the numbers to deal with it effectively when there was numbers on the streets, and now they’ve taken all those numbers away from us, with the redundancies or the threat of redundancies, which I think is absolutely ridiculous. And I think the way the communities are being policed now, the tensions are again building up. I think in relation to the fact you’ve got the Olympics coming in the summer, I think there’s plenty of scope there to do it again, and especially with the cuts that the government are making. I can see them happening again, certainly in my lifetime. I never thought I’d say that again after what happened last year.

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