6.35pm, Monday. Lee High Road. Lewisham: 15 policemen are lined up on the south side of the street dressed in riot gear – full-face helmets, shields and truncheons. A large group of mainly young people are packed on the pavement on the north side, staring and shouting at the police across the road.
Cars, buses and cyclists nervously cut through this tension as they crawl along the busy A20 – one of south London’s busiest arteries.
A teenage girl hysterically shouts at a press photographer, who is by the police line: “Get out of my f***ing face. Don’t you f***ing take my photo you w***er.” Someone from the pavement side throws a full drinks can in the direction of the police, falling short by a few metres.
In this brief, highly-charged, moment there is no looting or violence (although later in the evening cars were torched, buildings vandalised and there were reports of theft). In full view of Lewisham Police Station, this standoff is largely phoney, with many onlookers taking photos on their camera phones to be posted on Facebook later this evening.
But as we sit in Chislehurst or in other parts of the relatively leafy borough of Bromley – where the sound of the wind rushing through the trees replaces police sirens – we should not turn a blind eye.
While many BR7 residents like to kid themselves that they live in Kent, we are very much part of London. Lewisham is our neighbouring borough and its town centre is just six miles away.
This evening’s stand off shows that something is wrong in the capital. We can’t ignore it.