London's Long Burn

An outbreak of arson, looting and lawlessness caught Britain and its leaders by surprise. Why they should have seen the troubles coming

Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

The venerable house of Reeves furniture store has stood in Croydon, South London, since Queen Victoria was in her pomp. It came through two world wars unscathed. But on Aug. 8, it was smoldering, a symbol of the wantonness and waste of the London riots. Outrage over its destruction flickered everywhere, from the BBC to the broadsheets. The Daily Mail offered a tabloid's eulogy, with the headline BLITZED. 140 YEARS OF BUSINESS GOES UP IN FLAMES. Mayor Boris Johnson, after rushing back from his summer holiday, delivered a clipped statement in front of the ruins. "It's heartbreaking to see what good,...

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