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Going off in Birmingham?

F | 08.08.2011 18:58 | August Riots | Birmingham

Any news from Brum?

The BBC is starting to report some 'disturbances' in Birmingham, near the Bullring. Any comfirmation of this?



First-person report

09.08.2011 00:29

I’m a mile or so from the city centre, and having seen a report that the unrest had spread to Birmingham, I went with a camera to grab some pics. I came into Victoria Square, and already there was a great deal of tension; a wave of youths came flooding into the square from New Street. I was on the bicycle at this point, and one rioter launched a flying kick at the bike – buckling a component. I thought I was going to be lucky to just lose the bike, but I calmed him down in a few words whilst pedalling away hard. At this point the square was filling quickly with people, and I discover it is not advisable to rely on the faster speed of a bike when a lot of angry people might be inclined to deliberately get in the way.

I doubled back several streets away, where I could safely lock the bike, and came back into the city from the direction of Snow Hill. Corporation Street was looking a bit of a mess, and the Square Peg pub, which would normally be reasonably busy, was closed completely. From here I was able to get into the Bullring via New Street, and also around the back via Union Street. However after maybe 21:45, sporadic riot-police lines were being thrown up to check the flow of rioters.

A lot of the police response felt like whack-a-mole, as some lines were set up, and people were only allowed to pass through one way, and then a commanding officer would shout his team’s code and they would run to the next flash-point. There were several charges from riot police going out of the centre on Corporation Street, into mixed groups of mainly black youth, but the latter would disperse in all directions quickly, and often the police would have to stand their ground to avoid rioters slipping back into cleared streets behind them.

As you can see from the pictures, a number of shops were damaged; the Orange mobile phone store on High Street was missing one of its doors, rioters had clearly been inside, but police had their hands sufficiently full protecting the main Bullring, or forming spontaneous riot lines, or chasing after possible offenders. There were a lot of intrigued passers-by, who snapped pictures of various instances of damage on their mobile phones.

However, having an SLR camera – and intending to looking like a photographer – was not entirely risk-free. I had hoped to blend in with the large numbers of professional media photographers there, but it seemed they at least were smart enough to know when to keep a sensible distance. On Corporation Street, going out of town, past Old Square, the tension increased noticeably, and one (white) thug snarled that “if this was a football match, we’d have had your f*cking camera off you already”, to some laughs of one or two of his (presumably equally violent) friends. I had threats from two separate individuals shouted at me regarding the taking of pictures – it seems any lone photographers at the scene of a looting were at risk of being attacked and deprived of their equipment, presumably with a view to removing sources of evidence.

There were a number of flash-points, and one arrest in the Bullring garnered several popping lightbulbs' worth of photographer attention. No broadcast camera crews were in evidence, so I’d guess that the assembled media were local BBC, local papers and assorted freelancers [though I later found that BBC footage from earlier is available on their site]. To non-rioters, the police ranged from extremely friendly to hostile and jumpy; one PC said that if I didn’t hot-foot it out of the city immediately, my camera would be confiscated as evidence. Normally I’d be inclined to challenge this on the spot, but I didn’t want to lose the pictures I already had, nor have my equipment impounded out of spite! I will see if I can get a badge number, but the low light made some of the pictures quite grainy.

At some point past 10pm, I decided that it wasn’t safe to remain, and disappeared back to the bike.