Man admits torching historic UK store during riots

AP News
Posted: Feb 24, 2012 12:30 PM
Man admits torching historic UK store during riots

A man has been jailed for setting fire to a historical south London department store during Britain's riots last summer.

The photographs and TV footage showing the 144-year old House of Reeves department store ablaze on a summer night became one of the most memorable images of the violence that hit Britain's streets as gangs of rioters looted shops and trashed vehicles. The store was run by the same family for five generations.

On Friday, 33-year-old Gordon Thompson admitted setting fire to the store, a landmark in the Croydon neighborhood, at London's central criminal court. Thompson, who is also from Croydon, also pleaded guilty to stealing a laptop from the store.

Members of the Reeves family were in court when Thompson admitted the charges.

Maurice Reeves, who was 80 when the store torched, said the blaze was so traumatic "parts of me have died."

"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," he said.

The Reeves family says they will rebuild on the same spot.

Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow told jurors that Thompson had "ran riot through the streets" all day on Aug. 8.

Prosecutors said when he saw other rioters smash the front window of the House of Reeves, he climbed in to steal the laptop. As he left, he set fire to a sofa in the store with a cigarette lighter. The blaze he started was so strong it destroyed the entire building and set fire to buildings on the opposite side of the road, prosecutors said.

Glasgow said several residents living nearby also had to flee. One of them was a young woman who had to jump from a first floor window into the arms of rescuers.

Thompson will be sentenced on April 11.