2011 London riots: Hackney heroine Pauline Pearce recalls the day she 'risked it all'

In 2011 trouble flared after people took to the streets to demand "justice", after Mark Duggan was s

In 2011 trouble flared after people took to the streets to demand "justice", after Mark Duggan was shot dead by police - Credit: PA Images

Ten years on from the 2011 London riots, "Hackney Heroine" Pauline Pearce remembers the day she confronted rioters and looters ransacking her neighbourhood.

But she warns that the underlying tensions which sparked five days of civil unrest, have still not been addressed. 

"There is a lot out there that still needs to be done and I don’t see that there's been many improvements since 2011 when Mark Duggan got shot and it's sad.

"Because it seems like there are still no lessons learnt."

Mark Duggan was 29-years-old when he was shot and killed by police in Tottenham on August 4, 2011.

Mark Duggan was shot by police in 2011.

Mark Duggan was shot by police in 2011. - Credit: Archant

News of his death, from a gunshot wound to the chest, rippled across London and throughout cities across the UK. 

The shooting, later controversially found to be lawful by a public inquest and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), led to protests which escalated into riots and conflict with the police. 

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Pauline remembers seeing "Tottenham on fire" at a party. She did not expect the riots to reach Hackney, but on the evening of August 8, a decade ago, Clarence Road erupted into "madness". 

Hackney Riots.

The riots in Hackney in 2011. - Credit: Archant

Hackney shop's closed early that day, roads were shut off and trains ceased to stop at Hackney Central.

Looting began on Mare Street in the afternoon and a stand-off between rioters and police followed, with crowds of young people pelting police with stones, bricks and makeshift weapons. 

Clarence Road and Pembury Estate became a centre of unrest and lawlessness for several hours as cars were stolen and set on fire, road blocks raised and businesses stormed.

Pauline said: "It all seemed so senseless. 

"I mean yes there were those that were protesting against what happened to Mark Duggan, and quite understandably, but then when it became looting, setting fire to cars and buildings – I think that’s where I really just lost it."

Pauline Pearce

Hackney Heroine Pauline Pearce. - Credit: Carmen Valino

She said calling out the looters was a "natural response" to the destruction she was witnessing and her anger at the justification that local businesses and car owners had insurance so could afford the damage. 

Pauline's actions that day were recorded and went viral, leading to her being dubbed the "Hackney Heroine".

She was praised as an "unsung hero" by many including then London Mayor Boris Johnson.

In the footage Pauline can be heard saying: "I'm ashamed to be a Hackney person. Because we are not all gathering together and fighting for a cause, were running down to Footlocker and thieving shoes."

A car burning in Hackney Central during the riots

A car burning in Hackney Central during the riots - Credit: Emma Bartholomew

A lesser known fact is what Pauline did 15 minutes later.

She told the Gazette how she "risked it all", and saved junior reporter Alex Hudson from a mob of about 40 people chasing him down the street. 

"Amazingly after 10 years this gentleman contacts me and says: 'I want to tell you thank you for saving my life.' It’s the most overwhelming thing to ever hear down the phone."

The scenes around Hackney Central

The scenes around Hackney Central during the London riots. - Credit: Archant

She adds that the years since the riots have been a "rollercoaster" having spent them fighting for equal rights for Black people, tackling knife crime and campaigning for the Liberal Democrats.

Pauline even ran for office in a Hackney Central ward by-election in 2012. 

But the Hackney resident and grandmother says the death of Rashan Charles in police custody in 2017, the ongoing Windrush scandal and more recently, the racist abuse aimed at England footballer players after the Euro 2020 finals have left her deeply concerned. 

"There is a lot of unrest and I can't honestly put my hand on my heart and say I don’t think there wont be another riot of some sort," Pauline said. 

Pauline Pearce and Brian Paddick (right) chat to shopkeeper Siva Kandiah, whose store was looted dur

Pauline Pearce and Brian Paddick (right) chat to shopkeeper Siva Kandiah, whose store was looted during the riots - Credit: carmen valino - freelance on shi

She wants to see Black people protected from violence and abuse, adding: "We need to know that people can't just verbally or physically attack us because they don’t agree with our colour or our culture.

"I think its up to the government to make a more serious stand and stance on this and make sure that everyone understands that if you use words that are offensive to people of colour you will be punished and you will be held to account."

Hackney Riots.

Hackney Riots. - Credit: Archant

"Its been going on for too many years now and when is it going to stop?"

The Hackney Heroine says racism is "taught in the house" and that "people need to understand we are all the same being". 

"You have to go back to basics because there are people who don't understand we are all the same."

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