Last Night In Manchester
Me and 60 kids are running through a tatty car park near Chorlton Street bus station, just south of Piccadilly Gardens in the centre of Manchester. The police are chasing us, their dogs straining at their leads ahead of them. The crowd hurtle through the alleyways trashing cars as they go, one Toyota getting a particularly strong kicking as lads in sports gear punch off mirrors as they run. Half-drunk wine bottles smash on the floor. Tactical units sweep in, piling out of vans to join the chase.
Several hours earlier the police had cordoned off an inconceivably large section of Manchester town centre and haven't left since. Piccadilly to King Street, down to Deansgate and St. Anne's Square back up to the Triangle, the Arndale and Market Street. From this plan it's clear that the castle they want to defend is the high street; the Topshops and the Vodafones. Up on that street, Diesel, Miss Selfridge, Reiss and Krispy Kreme are already trashed, suggesting the mob prefers food and bootcut jeans to communication and skinnies.
The cordon's so extensive that it encourages small groups to break off in an attempt to find their own way in. The police are like the big kids at the centre of a giant circle pit, and all the kids are plucking up the courage to join in. Which they inevitably do.
By the Shudehill transport interchange are a trio of jewellers; two on Thomas Street, the other down the back of the Arndale. One has been comprehensively ransacked and the other two will be hit later. In the northern quarter (eternally introduced by estate agents as "trendy") the Vans shop has been broken into, and swarms of looters are bartering for trainers: "I need 11s. Has anyone got spare 11s?"
People keep hassling me for cigarettes. At another point, in Abdul's – a takeaway opposite All Saints park, which appears to be the only place in town still trading – a teenager complains that 70p for a can of Rubicon is "a joke". "I'm just saying I can get a bottle for 10p more. 50p mate. Cans are 50." Most of these kids are skint, though I do see one blatantly middle class kid join in with the looting of Dawsons Music Shop. Kids take out guitars just to smash them on the street, and someone toots discordantly on a saxophone.
That said, greed's not the only thing motivating the groups patrolling the city centre. There's something vaguely political in the cry, "Let's trash the courts!" but otherwise it's just a mass drunkenness, one that no one really seems to be in control of. People act at random and there's no real 'mood' to capture. There was a general feeling, though, that each violent, territorial or symbolic act should be followed by something more spectacular.
From what I can hear and see, there's little communication between the mobs in the centre of Manchester and those tossing petrol bombs and joyriding in JCBs over in Salford. Strangely, there's no in-fighting between area gangs, either. There's a celebratory mood, which is summed up during the heavy looting of a deli where Princess Street meets Whitworth Street. The crowd take glugs from bottles of wine and magnums of champagne before hurling them the way of a retreating riot van.
What's happening here is different to what happened on the Pembury Estate or along Mare Street in Hackney. These kids don't live in the areas they are trashing. The high rent prices make sure of that, leaving the gangs cut off in the suburbs. By midnight people are flocking home. Police drive them out, BBC reporters jumping back to keep their ankles out of attack dogs' mouths. Soon everyone will be buzzing on this back home on their sofas, probably planning the next shopping trip.
The remnants of Liam Gallagher's clothing store, Pretty Green.
WORDS: SAMUEL BREEN
PHOTOS: NATALIE MEZIANI & SAMUEL BREEN