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Ealing, where I live, is usually described as a leafy, middle-class and inherently safe suburb of London. It’s an uneventful sort of place.
Or it was. Last Monday everything changed.
Ealing, in no way connected with the original incident that had sparked rioting and looting in North London, was targeted that night by a mob aptly described by a local shopkeeper as “feral rats”.
Shops were broken into, looted, burned. Cars were set on fire, innocent people lost their livelihoods and accomodation. Others were assaulted and badly injured. And one, brave, brave man, lost his life.
Richard Mannington Bowes, 68, suffered head injuries when he came under attack as he tried to stamp out a fire. He died on Thursday.
A 22-year-old man was arrested the following morning on suspicion of his murder, rioting and burglary.
Yesterday I walked the streets of my erstwhile safe, middle-class neighbourhood. Life was proceeding very much as normal; most shops, restaurants and bars had re-opened for business, even though some (pictured) showed the effects of the riots.
An impromptu floral tribute area (above and below) had been set up for Mr Mannington Bowes. Many of the messages of solidarity and gratitude from fellow residents were intensely moving.
But what’s normal anymore? How can an allegedly modern and responsible society behave like this? Monday night’s scenes reminded me of William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, which tells the story of how a supposedly civilized bunch of schoolboys, stranded on a remote island, descend into depravity and inhumanity.
Ralph, the hero, tries to keep order, but is overwhelmed by the sheer force of evil of others. Mayhem and finally murder (of a lovable character called Piggy) ensue. Unlike Richard Mannington Bowes, who too tried to keep order, Ralph is saved.
At the end of the book, Golding writes movingly, “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy.”
In Ealing (and indeed in much of London) last week we saw the end of innocence. We were confronted by the darkness of man’s heart. And all of us who live here lost a true wise friend who deserved better.