The High Court has ruled that the London Mayor’s Office For Policing And Crime should be liable for the losses caused by the fire at the Sony DADC centre in North London, which was destroyed during the riots of August 2011. As previously reported, amongst the materials lost in the fire was the physical stock of numerous independent labels, because distributor [PIAS] used the storage centre.
Two insurance companies saddled with many of the costs relating to the destruction of the centre argued that under the Riot Damages Act the police should pay. But reps for the Mayor’s Office For Policing And Crime argued that, although the raid and fire at the Sony DADC Centre took place during the riots, it was actually a “planned criminal enterprise”, and not a direct result of the unrest occurring at the time elsewhere on the streets of London. A small group strategically planned the raid in an otherwise “quiet industrial area”, the police overseer argued.
But the judge hearing the case, Julian Flaux, did not agree. He noted that the Sony centre had been raided by “25 youths” who had earlier congregated on a nearby housing estate, and that once they attacked “the whole incident took no more than just over three minutes”. Once on site the group “ran through the property looting it of a certain amount of the stock held there” before “two of them then threw petrol bombs into the stacking within the warehouse and they all made their escape, some carrying what had been looted, and left the warehouse to burn”.
Noting that police had been warned by numerous people about a local gang causing problems the previous day, but that they had failed to act, Flaux ruled that the attackers had acted “riotously” because it involved a large group of people behaving in an “excited, volatile manner”. All of which means, in the court’s opinion, the Riot Damages Act can apply, meaning the insurers can expect police authorities to cover many of the losses incurred as a result of the destruction of the centre (though not all the costs the insurers were suing for, including so called consequential losses such as lost rent).
Responding to the ruling, a spokesman for the London police body said: “While we are pleased that the court has recognised MOPAC is not responsible for covering consequential losses, it is immensely disappointing that they have ruled this was a riotous act. There is an important point of principle and public money at stake here and we have sought leave to appeal”.
Numerous artists and independent labels lost stock in the Sony DADC fire, though [PIAS] quickly established an alternative hub for its distribution network, and various players in the indie community rallied around to help others hit by the incident.