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UK riots: Sharma's world came crashing in 20 mins

Last updated on: August 12, 2011 10:00 IST

UK riots: Sharma's world came crashing in 20 mins


Abhishek Mande

The damages following the riots in United Kingdom run into millions of pounds. For many like Sham Sharma from Wolverhampton, the traumatic experience will last their lifetime. Abhishek Mande reports

Sham Sharma, who runs an IT equipment store in Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom, was caught in the riots. Within 20 minutes, he lost everything in the store.

A little around 4 pm on August 9, Sham Sharma began hearing of 'some trouble' in his area, Broad Street, Wolverhampton.

On receiving a telephone call from the local police, Sharma thought it was best to lock up and go home.

He sent off his employees, barricaded the main door with grilles and went to cash up.

And then it happened. Around 4.45 pm, the business he had spent over 300,000 (about Rs 2.2 crore) building up came crashing down before his eyes.

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Image: A traffic cone is embedded in the smashed windows of a shop
Photographs: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

'There were hundreds of them'

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"I was inside the shop," Sharma recollects, his voice sombre. "And an unruly mob just smashed the doors and windows and came in. There were (seemingly) hundreds of them. One of them grabbed me by the neck and demanded money. I opened the till and handed him what he wanted and I ran out of the store to ask for help."

Twenty minutes later, when he returned to his store the display was bare. Every single gadget he sold -- tablet PCs, mobile phones, computers, was stolen.

Sharma roughly estimates his losses were to the tune of '40-50 lakh Indian rupees' and confesses he never thought it would happen to him.

He has been living in Wolverhampton for over 40 years -- he moved there in 1969 -- did his university, taught in a school and then started out an IT equipment store along Newhampton Road.

Image: Looters carry boxes of electronic products
Photographs: Darren Staples/Reuters
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It was business as usual at Wolverhampton before riots hit

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Some years ago, he expanded his business and set up a new branch on Broad Street. This was the branch that was looted as violence spilled from Birmingham to Wolverhampton.


Wolverhampton was once a market town that became an industrial centre after the Industrial Revolution.

The buzzing city boasts of a large aerospace industry and is a major production centre of steel, motorcycles and cars.

In fact on August 5, Superintendent Mark Payne of West Midlands Police proudly shared this news on his twitter handle:

"There has been a further 18 percent reduction in violent crime in Wolverhampton in the last three. Good news for the city."

A day earlier, on August 4 when Tottenham was burning, it was business as usual at Wolverhampton. Michael Gomes tweeted about going there for a job interview in a Megabus coach.


Image: A police officer offers directions to a woman
Photographs: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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They first dismissed the violence as rumours

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On August 6, Ricky Whittle tweeted this: 'Great night in walkabout in Wolverhampton! (sic) Thanku so much for a fantastic time, great peeps, venue, banter & company'

As late as August 8, someone tweeted about wanting to know places to visit in Wolverhampton. "What are its famous landmarks?" someone from SoccerAM tweeted. "Where are the best places to go on a match-day?"

And then it began.

Payne and West Midlands Police first started off by refuting and reports of violence

"Rumours of disorder in Wolverhampton are not true. Don't believe false rumours on social networks," Payne tweeted on August 9.

Image: A woman walks past a broken cafe window
Photographs: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
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'The police were far too stretched'

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Soon after, this appeared on the timeline of West Midlands Police's official twitter handle: "Contrary to rumours there we have not received any reports of disorder in Coventry or Wolverhampton"

Eventually, they began accepting that there was indeed a situation on their hand.

By the evening of August 9, as violence started spreading, Sham Sharma found himself in the middle of the vortex.

As the mob looted his store and Sharma ran out to get help, he perhaps knew that he wasn't going to get any at the time.

"The police were far too stretched and were themselves under attack from (various) mobs," Sharma says.

When he met the PM the next day, Sharma says, he spoke about the cut in public funding and the rising prices that have been affecting the people in the UK.

Image: A riot police officer stands guard
Photographs: Getty Photos
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'People in the UK are far better off than in many parts of the world'

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Speaking over the phone from the UK, Sharma, however, defends the country that has been his home since 1969. 

There is no anger in his voice, no frustration. If at all, there is some disappointment.

"I opened up this store and was providing employment to young people. Now this store is closed."

For now, he is keen to get off the phone and return to his work. Sharma came across to me as the immigrant who'd rather put his head down and go about his business rather than take on the establishment.

"People in the UK are far better off than in many parts of the world and we see that too " he says adding, "The PM assured that he would be strict (on the offenders)."

Days after this assurance, David Cameron went ahead and refused to rethink the 20 per cent cuts on the police in the House of Commons.

And Wolverhampton Police tweeted: "Wolverhampton is fully open for business, show your support and come into the city to shop, eat and enjoy yourself."

Image: Prime Minister David Cameron meets senior officers from the police, fire and ambulance services at a meeting at Wolverhampton Civic Centre
Photographs: WPA Pool/Getty Images
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