It wasn’t so much a gang war as a communal scuffle. Although as fifty-three people wound up dead you could say that was just arguing semantics. They really didn’t mean for things to escalate so fast though, no one did, things just kind of worked their way up from a civil discussion to gun play in the streets without anyone thinking to step back in the intermediate steps.
Really, no one could have predicted it, not on that fresh, crunchy Autumn evening. It was nice, the air was chilled but cutting, not yet settled into that grey London freeze that puts a concrete lid on the passions of the human experience and as they settled down for a quiet evening the notion of violence couldn’t have been further from their minds. Which just goes to show, even the most innocuous of situations can carry the nucleus of conflict where humans are involved.
It was unfair when the police called it a warzone though, even more so when the tabloids referred to Croydon as the ‘Most Dangerous Place on Earth’ and it was bang out of order when questions were asked in Parliament about whether or not to deport the entire population of the borough to a deserted island in the mid-Atlantic as a warning to others. Locals took offence at all of that, they’re proud people out there after all, what with the Croydon tram and the big Ikea – who wouldn’t feel a certain swell of pride when surrounded by such urban bounty? And if they, apparently, had a slight tendency towards the psychotic then who was anyone to judge? Especially those high faluting snobs from the center of the city. What did they know about assembled a fifteen piece Scandinavian storage unit? Nothing, that’s what and who can really say they’ve lived if they haven’t ridden the rails of the tram line down to the Whitgift shopping center, to which the tube is, by comparison, about as worthwhile as a hat on a man with no head.
The truth was, one witness attested, that there’d been a small disagreement about the borrowing of pens at the Bingo hall. These things happen, tempers flaired, a bit of pushing, shoving and shouting ensued. Others corroborated the story, that was the trigger they agreed, no doubt about it and it had all been over in a flash, a minor side note to an otherwise alright evening. That they fell strangely silent about what came after that was a matter for some discussion by the investigating officers. Serious police who’d dealt with drug dealers, gangs, Yakuza hitmen, Mafioso Capos, ‘Ndrangheta assassins and Cartel drug smugglers, they all agreed that when it came to sticking to a story and not grassing anybody up there were none more reliable than the members of Croydon’s Bingo going fraternity.
Not one person admitted to bringing along the baseball bats, Stanley knives and boards with nails through them that evidence suggested were the first tools of escalation after the seemingly innocuous disagreement about pens. And nobody even hinted at who’d handed out the AK47s and Glock 9mms, although there was no doubting that someone must have seen something as the crates were cracked open. Even the CCTV turned out to have been wiped when tired inspectors sat down to look for clues as to where the Chieftain Tank and the surface to air missile launchers had come from. Every question was met with a blank look, whether the witness was a hefty barmen or a little old lady.
The final report, released long after the funeral processions, memorials and recriminations had died down, was vague. As with all government investigations those in charge had agreed that, in the public’s best interest, it should be as long as possible, as incomprehensible as possible and as late as possible just in case anyone looked at it with strange ideas about truth being seen and justice being done. What did emerge from it though was the curious fact that, of all those killed on that fateful night, only one person was actually from Croydon. They were also the only casualty listed to have died from apparently accidental causes as they managed to fire an RPG the wrong way round and blow themselves away while setting up a fortified position at a bus stop. Everyone else though was from beyond the borough. No one could have known that at the time though of course. From what the crime scene investigators could figure the two battling sides, each claiming that the pen had been theirs in the first place and that they’d have won £250 and a bottle of whisky but for those bastards, were completely random in their composition. It really wasn’t Croydon versus the world, they said, although admittedly it did look suspiciously like it.
In the end no charges were brought, no one was exiled and Croydon wasn’t subjected to high altitude bombing, as some residents of neighbouring Bromley had loudly demanded. It wouldn’t ‘serve the public interest to pursue prosecution’ the government said, while the locals who’d been facing charges just nodded serenely and lent meaningfully on unmarked packing cases that seemed to have been delivered to just outside the court. The police agreed too, as they stood warily behind armoured vehicles the officers had paid for out of their own pockets. It was after all, they told rubbernecking journos, just a bit of a slagging match and nothing to be concerned about really. Plus, they whispered later, off the record and after a few pints, it was Croydon and for everyone’s good what happens in Croydon, stays in Croydon.
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