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Bankruptcy, ruin and broken promises: The forgotten victims of Croydon's London Road

"WE will help you repair the damage, get your businesses back up and running; and support your communities." These were the words of David Cameron the day after the 2011 riots but, more than 18 months on, the Prime Minister stands accused of failing to keep his promise. In this special report, Gareth Davies speaks to Croydon's forgotten riot victims. "I AM on the brink of losing everything," says Kanagaratnam Paramanathan, as he unfolds a letter from his bank.

"It says I have 30 days to pay off my loans and overdrafts. If I don't they are going to force me into bankruptcy, meaning the last 25 years of my life will have been for nothing."

Kanagaratnam Kanendran, sitting on the opposite side of the room, nods. "All my life savings are gone," he says. "I have been borrowing money from wherever I can – the bank, from friends and from family.

"I am hoping to survive but if nothing changes in the next six months then I will have to declare bankruptcy as well."

Mr Kanendran owns the Londis convenience store in London Road, which burned down during the riots. His friend Mr Paramanathan lost £450,000 when his jewellery store, JK Gold & Fashion House, was ransacked.

That was 18 months ago, at the height of the disorder in August 2011, and they are still trying to claim compensation.

The Advertiser revealed earlier this month that politicians are aware of as many as 40 outstanding cases in Croydon, even though government minister Damian Green insists that 98 per cent of uninsured claims have been paid.

This week some of the people who make up that two per cent attended our meeting at Praise House in London Road, organised with the help of Bushra Ahmed, whose family's launderette and dry-cleaners, Crystal Clean, was destroyed when Royal Mansions was torched.

Each person's story follows a similar path, beginning with the struggle to rebuild their lives after the loss of their home or business. Most of their insurance claims have been settled. Where they were not covered they claimed under the Riot (Damages) Act (RDA).

They describe meetings with police and loss adjusters, being asked to produce long-lost receipts for destroyed furniture or clothing, and then being offered a sum far below the original estimate. Some, like Mr Kanendran, stood firm and now face ruin.

Others felt pressured into accepting, such as single mum Charlene Munro who lost everything she owned but received just £2,450. She is in now in the process of declaring bankruptcy.

All of their accounts are punctuated by periodic promises from politicians that their cases would be dealt with. There is one pledge each one remembers clearly.

"I give the people affected this promise," said Prime Minister David Cameron in the aftermath of the disorder. "We will help you repair the damage, get your businesses back up and running; and support your communities."

Mr Paramanathan, who met with Mr Cameron when he visited Croydon the day after the riots, wrote to him last December to hold him to his word.

He wrote: "A number of promises were made by you with regards to getting the community back to the position it was prior to the riots.

"We have received some of the payment from my insurer but have yet to hear anything more than a cursory acknowledgement of our claim submitted (to) the Metropolitan Police. We were able to get short-term loans to reopen but these are now in need of repayment. The money (from the RDA) is vital to our survival.

"As one of many businesses that must be in a similar situation, we are simply looking for some help to get back on our feet, rather than to be turned away when we need help the most."

Mr Paramanathan has yet to receive a response from the Prime Minister, whose office said this week it had not received the letter, even though a similar message to Prince Charles met with immediate reply.

When the Advertiser e-mailed a copy to Number 10, we received a reply from the Home Office including a statement from Police Minister Damian Green. He said: "Due to the complexity of some cases, it has taken longer than we hoped to resolve these claims but we are working closely with all interested parties in Croydon and aim to make progress on their claims shortly.

"We are reviewing the RDA to ensure it protects the most vulnerable."

"They are just words" said Mumtaz Hassan, the leaseholder for Crystal Clean, who has yet to receive any of the £265,000 he has claimed under the RDA.

"After the riots the politicians told us they were going to help us reinstate our businesses, but nothing happened. We've been given hope before. I don't believe them anymore."

Since he was elected last November, new Croydon North MP Steve Reed has taken up the residents' case.

He used his maiden speech in Parliament to highlight how victims of the riots were "abandoned" by the Government, saying: "These are hard-working people. I want to make a plea on their behalf, and on behalf of so many others like them, that the promises made to Croydon North after the riots must be met in full.

"The people who live and work there deserve nothing less."

A number of the outstanding cases highlighted by the Advertiser are linked to the lack of progress made toward rebuilding Royal Mansions. The terrace, at 256-272 London Road, had to be completely torn down after it was devastated by fire, taking with it homes and businesses. Croydon Council says a 'complex mix of tenancies and ownerships' was the reason no construction work has taken place at the site. A spokesman added: "We have been working hard to coordinate the approach to insurers and the Mayor's Office for Police and Crime (MOPAC) and agreeing a way for the various freeholders to act together and redevelop the site," a spokesperson said, adding that the 'vast majority' of the claims had either been settled or an offer had been made." The council added that a 'letter of intent', confirming compensation would be paid under the Riot (Damages) Act (RDA), had been issued by MOPAC. "This should enable owners to have some clarity as to when and how they will receive top-up payments for the uninsured element of their assets," a spokesman explained. "We have also engaged with architects to work on designs for collaborative redevelopment of the site, with a view to presenting this to owners when we meet to discuss the next steps." For those who continue to pay mortgages on property that no longer exists, this meeting cannot come soon enough.
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Bankruptcy, ruin and broken promises: The forgotten victims of Croydon's London Road

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