May 24 2013 Latest news:
Saturday, February 25, 2012
The owner of a family-run furniture shop today said parts of him “had died” after a blaze razed the business to the ground during the riots last summer.
Maurice Reeves spoke outside the Old Bailey after Gordon Thompson, 33, admitted starting the fire that destroyed 144-year-old House of Reeves.
Images of the inferno that ripped through the shop in Croydon, south London, and spread to buildings on the other side of the road were some of the most dramatic from last year’s unrest, on August 8.
Mr Reeves said the blaze was so traumatic, “parts of me have died”.
“It’s difficult to describe because it’s been such a traumatic time for us. The building’s been there all my life. I worked in there every day and when I go into work now the building’s not there.
“You can appreciate it’s still sinking in and today brings all the memories back.”
He added: “It’s with tears in my eyes when I think about it.”
Thompson pleaded guilty to arson, being reckless as to whether life was endangered, at House of Reeves in August last year.
He also admitted one count of burglary for stealing a laptop from the shop on the same night.
Thompson’s trial for starting the blaze had started at the Old Bailey earlier this week, but at the end of the prosecution opening he decided to admit certain charges.
Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow told the court he had consulted members of the Reeves family about accepting the guilty pleas.
Thompson had already admitted burglary of two shops in Croydon - Iceland and House of Fraser - on the same evening.
Jurors were ordered to find him not guilty of two other charges of violent disorder and arson with intent to endanger life.
Judge Peter Thornton QC warned that Thompson will face “a long sentence of imprisonment”.
The court had already heard that Thompson, of Waddon Road, Croydon, “ran riot through the streets” that day.
When he saw other rioters smashing the front window of Reeves, he climbed into the shop to steal a laptop, and after he left, decided to burn it down.
Mr Glasgow said: “On leaving the store, he asked another of the rioters for a lighter and, as soon as he was given one, went back to the shop and set fire to a sofa inside the shattered window.
“The ensuing fire razed the building to the ground. Such was the ferocity of the blaze that embers and heat from the flames set fire to property on the other side of the road and numerous residents were forced to flee their homes for their lives.
“Indeed one young woman became trapped inside her flat and was forced to jump from a first-floor window into the arms of rescuers waiting below.”
A photographer captured a dramatic image of Monika Konczyk as she hurled herself from the building to escape the fire.
Thompson will be sentenced on April 11.
After the plea Mr Reeves’ son Trevor said: “It’s a momentous day for everybody in Croydon to know that these people can be apprehended.”