The prince and the pawnbroker

Note: This article is from the Guardian.



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The prince and the pawnbroker who lost his livelihood in the riot rubble” was written by Fiona Bawdon, for The Guardian on Tuesday 24th April 2012 18.33 UTC

When Paradise Gems was ransacked and burned to the ground during last summer’s riots in Tottenham, north London, owner Steve Moore expected to be back in business again quickly.

Eight months on, the jeweller remains out of work. Of the 50 or so mainly family-owned businesses on the High Road damaged by rioters, his is the only one not to have started trading again.

Moore, 57, says it was not the damage done in the riots that left him unable to pick up the pieces. What devastated the business he ran for 20 years with his wife and daughter was the loss of six safes, which survived the looting and fire intact – but were emptied afterwards as they lay in the rubble of his building.

Last week, police arrested a 27-year-old man concerning the theft and issued CCTV footage to encourage witnesses to come forward.

About 90% of Moore’s stock was in the fireproof safes, including £500,000 worth of jewellery, held as security for customers of his pawnbroking business. For weeks after the riots, Moore was confident of getting the contents back. “The safes had been sitting on wooden floors and I expected them to have collapsed into the basement. I just thought they would still be sitting there underneath all the rubble and it would just be a case of digging them out,” he says.

When Moore was allowed back on to the site where his building had stood, he was in for a shock. The doors had been ripped off two safes and another four were missing altogether. Of his 12 safes, he recovered the contents from six.

“I was already on the floor, with losing the business, and I didn’t think I could have gone much lower at that point. I don’t think I was a very well person for quite a while,” says Moore.

He reported the theft to Tottenham police station on 5 September 2011, but claims he could not convince them to treat the case as a priority. It was only when he explained his plight to the Prince of Wales, during a royal visit to mark six months since the riots, that things began to change.

“It felt like police were dragging their heels. I think they had so much on their minds with trying to catch the rioters and everything else, they probably looked at it and thought, ‘he must be insured; let him get on with it’,” Moore says. Police, he claims, initially failed to grasp that most of what had been lost was not easily replaceable stock but the often treasured pieces of jewellery he was holding for 200 customers as security for short-term loans.

Soon after the meeting in February 2012, one of Prince Charles’s aides phoned Kay Horne, at the prince’s charity, Business in the Community, asking her to take up Moore’s case and saying that the prince wished to be kept informed of progress.

Horne, who works with riot-affected businesses, says Moore’s story clearly struck a chord with the prince. “In the seven months I have been working in Tottenham, I have seen an awful lot of people who have suffered very badly from the riots. Businesses are still suffering from major loss of trade because people are afraid to come into the area. However, as far as I’m aware Steve is the only trader not to have been able to find alternative premises and return to the High Road. Everyone else has managed to get their businesses up and running. He is stuck in limbo.”

Moore says the loss of the safes cost him not just his business but his good name. “My reputation on this high road is destroyed now completely, along with my pension and everything else. It’s gone. I was a pawnbroker and I’ve lost £500,000 of customers’ goods.”

Initially, police told Moore not to tell his customers about the thefts for fear of compromising the inquiry, a silence that allowed damaging rumours to circulate. “The police said keep quiet, so I didn’t say anything – so I had my customers and other people saying I had run off with the stuff.”

Moore has worked in Tottenham for 35 years – all his professional life – but says he became nervous of returning to the area because of the hostility he faced: “A lot of my phone calls are people being quite nasty to me. I don’t hang around there too much.”

With news of the recent arrest and continuing police investigation, Moore hopes things will return to normal. Less easy to resolve is the fact that many customers will be left out of pocket because they are too late to apply for compensation from the government’s riot damages scheme. Moore says they missed the 42-day deadline through no fault of their own and an exception should be made. “It’s the only fair thing to do,” he says.

Last summer was not the first time Paradise Gems had suffered. On average, Moore’s shop was robbed about once a year, the worst time being about seven years ago, when two men trussed up his wife and stabbed him in the leg with a samurai sword.

Whereas Moore has always bounced back before, this time he is not so sure: “I would love to open up again, but it’s impossible.” Having been out of work for the first time in his life, Moore has some sympathy with the rioters. “I know how they felt … with the frustration of never having a job, I can now understand that. I would give my right arm for a job.”

The interest shown by the prince has left him feeling more optimistic. “It knocked me away, what he has done.”

A spokesman for Clarence House said that during their visit to Tottenham the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall had been “touched by the experiences of those they met, including Mr Moore, and have encouraged their charities to support them wherever possible”.

A Metropolitan police spokesman said: “We can confirm several officers were present at the community meeting that Prince Charles attended in Tottenham in February.

“Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne spoke to the owner of Paradise Gems about his concerns. Following the meeting, Chief Superintendent Sandra Looby, Haringey borough commander, was able to confirm that this was very much an active investigation. A 27-year-old man was arrested on 5 April in connection with the theft and is at present on police bail.”

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