London shopkeeper laments lifetime's work wrecked

by Robin Millard, Reuters

Posted at Aug 09 2011 11:55 PM | Updated as of Aug 10 2011 07:55 AM

LONDON, England - "Everything is gone. My life is gone," said shopkeeper Sivaharan Kandrah as he surveyed the wreckage of his convenience store on Tuesday, looted and gutted by a rampaging mob in a vicious night of violence in London.

From northern Sri Lanka, Kandrah had made the Clarence Convenience Store on the edge of a public housing estate in Hackney, east London, his life, working 90-hour weeks at the counter for 11 years, never taking a holiday.

Now it lies in ruins, its stock looted and its fittings smashed to pieces by hooded rioters who stripped it bare. It was ripped apart in a frenzied orgy of violence, leaving so much detritus strewn around that he can barely enter his own front door.

A shop, and a life, wrecked.

"What can I do? I'm helpless and hopeless," he told AFP.

"My livelihood is gone. A lifetime's work is gone. Eleven years of my life gone. Everything, everything gone. There's nothing left."

Kandrah reckons £50,000 ($80,000, 60,000 euros) of damage has been done. He had building insurance but not contents insurance.

"They should have burnt this place to the ground and then I wouldn't have to see anything. Rather than this mess I have to clear up," he said.

The shopkeeper came down three times on Monday night but was held behind the police lines as looters attacked his premises during the savagery on the edge of Hackney's Pembury Estate. A car belonging to a woman living above the shop was torched outside.

Well-meaning neighbors turned up with brooms, cups of tea and biscuits on Tuesday but there was no hiding the sadness in Kandrah's eyes.

He waited outside in his van for hours before facing up to going inside and witnessing what had been done to his livelihood. He unlocked the shutters and creaked open the glass front door as far as he could.

Inside, in the unlit murky gloom, was a grim scene, the floor invisible beneath layers of wreckage. The place reeks of alcohol spilled from smashed bottles.

Treading carefully in his flip-flops, he began to pick his way through the shelving units strewn across the floor.

"They even took out the ceiling," he said, looking at the plaster covering the filth and the wires hanging down.

He makes his way to where his counter once was. Receipts litter the floor, while his invoices and statements are strewn everywhere amidst the wreckage.

"They had plenty of alcohol, this was full of alcohol, wine and beer, about five meters long," he said, pointing at his shelves. "They even had the back stock."

Some butter, some birthday cards and the odd soft drinks bottle are among the few items left.

Kandrah said he had not slept at all.

"How could I sleep? I cried all night because I could see what they were doing to my shop. They pulled the ceiling out. The lights. Why? What have I done to you?

"They should get the gun and shoot all of them."

A black youth in a yellow t-shirt wanders in and scans the detritus, offering Kandrah some words of comfort.

"There's a lot of us, innit, that's willing to help. When you're ready, let us know," he says.

We're here all night, don't worry, boss. This is our Clarence Road."

A middle-aged woman pokes her head through the doorway, adjusting her eyes to the light. "This is devastating. It looks like a war zone," she said.

"It's disgusting. These people live here," she added, referring to the suspected culprits.

"There's plenty of good people for support," Kandrah says as he leans against one of his cleaned-out shelves.