A man with 20 previous convictions was today jailed for 11 and a half years for starting a massive fire that destroyed a 140-year-old furniture shop during last summer’s London riots.
Gordon Thompson, 34, was jailed at the Old Bailey for causing the huge blaze at House of Reeves in Croydon, south London on August 8 last year.
The fire was so fierce that it spread to buildings on the other side of the road, leaving residents there to flee for their lives and with their homes destroyed.
In total the Reeves family have lost an estimated £3m and today a judge told Thompson the trauma they had suffered was “inestimable”.
The blaze came at the height of last summer’s unrest, and images of the enormous fire were some of the most dramatic of the riots.
Thompson has 20 previous convictions, including one for violent robbery, but said he became involved in the riots because he was depressed about his divorce.
In a victim impact statement, Trevor Reeves said: “The total destruction of the site has been a bereavement to me, I just can’t understand what I have done to make someone do this to me.”
Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow said of Mr Reeves’s father Maurice: “He had worked in the shop since the age of 16. It was his life and, as he regarded it, his life had now been destroyed.”
The shop had been in the family for generations, and Mr Reeves said: “I wonder with despair what my father and grandfather would make of the situation.”
Thompson went on a rampage through Croydon on August 8, looting Iceland and House of Fraser before turning on Reeves.
He brazenly posed for a photographer during the crime spree and ended up on the front page of a local newspaper.
Thompson was given 11 and a half-years for arson, two years each for two counts of burglary, and three years for a third count of burglary, to run concurrently.
Judge Peter Thornton told him: “This day was a bad day for Croydon and the people of Croydon.
“Perhaps the most shocking event was that the House of Reeves was set alight and burned to the ground, putting lives at risk.”
He said: “This is – was – a landmark store, a furniture store of the Reeves family business which had stood on the site for over 140 years, proudly giving its name to its location, Reeves Corner. You were about to bring all that to an end.
“This was a deliberate, wilful act of shocking, dangerous vandalism.”
The judge continued: “The Reeves family lost their historic business, something they and generations before had lived and worked for all their lives. Their loss is priceless. The trauma they have suffered is inestimable.”
Thompson followed other looters into Reeves and stole a laptop, before deciding to set fire to a sofa in the shop window.
As the blaze caught hold it spread to the opposite side of the road, and one woman, Monika Konczyk, had to throw herself from a building to escape the flames.
Thompson admitted starting the fire on February 24 – shortly after the start of his trial.
He had been filmed on mobile phones and by CCTV cameras as he attacked the shop.
The court heard that those who witnessed the enormous blaze were left traumatised.
Ms Konczyk, who lived in a building opposite Reeves, was too scared to go out and could not go to work without her sister accompanying her.
Others escaped with their young children and felt they were lucky to be alive.
In mitigation, the court heard that Thompson had not intended to cause such huge damage by setting fire to one sofa cushion.
Adam Davis QC, for Thompson, said: “He wanted me on his behalf to apologise to all those involved, and in particular the Reeves family for what happened as a result of his reckless actions, and apologise for the loss that he has caused them, a loss that he could not have foreseen.”
Speaking outside court, Maurice Reeves said he accepted the arsonist’s apology.
He said: “I think that’s accepted by the family, it’s accepted by me and good for him.”
The 81-year-old added: “He’s done so much harm for everybody and we have to fight back and that’s what we are doing. That’s the typical Reeves family.”
Son Trevor, 56, said: “My father has built that store up, that store was his baby. I lived there as a child, played there as a child, I lived there as an adult, I worked there for most of my adult life, and when you lose something like that it’s like a bereavement.”
He went on: “The justice system now has to do its job. It has now got 11-and-a-half years to rehabilitate a repeat offender and to stop him doing it again.”