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'A lawless land': Inside the illegal Croydon rave

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RIO Andrew collapsed and later died after drinking from a bottle of beer that is believed to have contained the party drug ketamine. But how did the 15-year-old from Notting Hill – and hundreds of other children – end up at an illegal rave in a former Royal Mail delivery office in the middle of Croydon? The schoolboy, or one of his friends, likely signed up to the Facebook pages of Valhalla or Rum and Bass, the two "crews" that organised the event. Those who registered interest knew in advance what date the rave would take place, but not the location. On Saturday night they were sent an e-mail containing three mobile phone numbers they were to call after 9pm for more information. The hotline told guests to head to Clapham Junction and, from there, another voicemail message directed crowds to their final destination. "Please can everyone make their way to East Croydon and walk calmly along the path," the message said. The ambiguous instructions meant many guests walked past the delivery depot in Cherry Orchard Road when they first arrived, even though the music was on and the crews were already inside, along with the squatters who had given them the tip-off. That added to the growing chaos outside, as a small security team hired by organisers attempted to get the crowd, increasing with every train that pulled into the adjacent station, to form a queue to pay the £15 entrance fee. "It was madness, complete and utter madness," said Alice, a 22-year-old who has been to more than 100 illegal raves. "There were about 500 people in the courtyard, and everyone was pushing and shoving to get in, while a guy with a megaphone shouted at them. "Some people were climbing onto the roof. It wasn't like anything I've seen before. The average age of the people around me was about 15. There were so many children there and there was no order to it." It was this throng of activity that attracted the attention of police officers on a routine patrol. When they moved in to find out what was going on – a regular occurrence at illegal raves – the crowd became aggressive. "The police turn up to most of the raves I've been to," said Adam, 26, another guest at Saturday's event. "Us ravers who knew the deal didn't panic because we know that once there are 100 people in a building the police leave it alone. "But some of the people in the crowd were so young and inexperienced that they saw the police, got angry and started throwing things." The officers called for back-up and police in riot gear moved in to shut the event down, only to retreat under a hail of objects, including fire extinguishers, masonry and furniture hurled from the building. A decision was taken to cordon off the area in order to contain the disorder. Inside, the rave – or "free party" (named so because they are free of rules, rather than free of charge) – continued. "It was a horrible atmosphere," Alice said. "It was so badly organised. There were security guards there, but nowhere near enough for the amount of people. "Usually the security is so tight that people wouldn't smash windows because they would be thrown out. Occasionally they would even ask you for ID, depending on who the event manager is. "The biggest problem this time was the rave was in a main location, so it attracted a lot of people who wouldn't normally attend something like that." Some of the chaos was drug-fuelled, as you would expect from an event where balloons of nitrous oxide are sold over the counter, but even the substance use appeared over-the-top. "There were people racking up and shooting lines [of cocaine or ketamine] everywhere," Alice added. "Everyone, including young children, were doing their own thing when it came to drugs. "Obviously there are going to be drugs because they are allowed, but these people were reckless. It was like they wanted to go out and get completely off their faces." Although the results of a postmortem had yet to be released, police conceded this week that it was likely Rio Andrew, who was at the rave with friends, had taken drugs before he collapsed. They are investigating whether he drank from a bottle of beer that contained ketamine, a powerful horse-tranquiliser-turned-party-drug. "A lot of young people are on ketamine now because it's cheaper and easier to get hold of than MDMA (ecstasy)," said Alice. "The problem is, people are forging it and telling them it's ketamine when it's not." Rio's death is the third serious incident involving teenagers at illegal raves in the last six months. Last Christmas, a teenager was stabbed and a police officer injured at an event in Wapping. In January, 16-year-old Daniel Spargo-Mabbs, from Croydon, died after taking ecstasy at an illegal rave in west London. "Children that young should not be allowed in ," Alice continued. "There were never as many before they were arranged through Facebook. "Adults can handle the freedom and know their own limits, kids don't. "The organisers allowed children into a place where they could take all these drugs and they just went wild with it, acting like it was a lawless land. "Well, that's not what squat parties are about. It's about unity. I've been to raves where we sit on the floor and cuddle, even if you don't know the person next to you." By the time police moved in to clear the delivery office at about 8.30am on Sunday morning, revellers had smashed dozens of windows and scrawled graffiti on the walls. Including Rio, eight people had been taken to hospital, including a 16-year-old who had lost a finger while trying to break a fire alarm. "I'm really upset," said Alice. "I'd love for the raves to get the right publicity, but what happened last weekend was horrible. It was the worst rave I've ever been to. "People are dying. We all care about that. If I had seen that young boy on the floor I would have helped him. That's what a true rave is about: love, peace and unity. Not getting smashed and risking your life."

'A lawless land': Inside the illegal Croydon rave


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