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East Ham Tube Station: An appallingly sadistic crime took place near here (photo: Ewan Munro, via Flickr)

Crime—who’s doing it, why and to whom—so consistently forms part of London’s news agenda that for many of us it barely registers.  All part and parcel of the great metropolis, etc. But occasionally one reads of an incident so awful, so disturbing, that just for a moment one’s mental moorings are shaken, as though jolted from below by something menacing but unseen. 

This particular case of a few weeks ago certainly wasn’t headline news and on the Richter scale was just a tremor, but it hovered in my mind for days. At around 11 o’clock on a Saturday night in East Ham, a fortysomething man was approached outside the Tube station by two younger men, who asked him for cigarettes. When he replied that he didn’t have any, they attacked him, punching him and stealing his backpack, ID card and bankcard. They then frog-marched him to a cashpoint to force him to take  money out.

When he couldn’t, they attacked him a second time. They then dragged him to a nearby park, where they beat him with a metal pole. They then forced him to perform a sex act on them. This they filmed.

The man was eventually released from his ordeal when somebody heard his cries for help and called the police. Nevertheless, 11pm on a Saturday is not exactly the dead of night, so much of this must still have happened in full view of passers-by who (to be charitable) might have been too afraid of getting involved. The brazenness of the two men suggest they fully understood this collective fear, which of course is bad enough. But it was the randomness of the attack, its prolonged nature and the sheer humiliation they then wanted to heap on this poor man, presumably a total stranger, which was so chilling.  

As I said, this is far from being an epoch-defining incident. The case of the Central Park jogger in New York in 1989 was one such, in which the horrendous beating and raping of a young professional woman who was left for dead became emblematic of a city seemingly spiralling out of control—and which ushered in the zero-tolerance era of Rudy Giuliani. If we are to believe the statistics (and many increasingly don’t), crime in London has fallen; certainly there are fewer knife killings then five years ago.

The 2011 riots might well have been the capital’s biggest one-off crime wave in generations, but memories of them have faded remarkably quickly. Nobody, it seems, is waiting to declare this or that case as the last straw; the situation doesn’t appear bad enough to warrant it.

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observer
March 26th, 2015
7:03 AM
Having had a fair few confrontations with yobs during my time in London I can confirm that they despise law enforcement, despise the law abiding and do not expect to be hindered very much in their criminal behaviour. In one incident I was set on by three yobs after interrupting their attack on another man. This was on a busy street at 6pm in the middle of a bus queue! Nobody intervened to help or even raised their voices while I was being held and punched about the face. The old adage about evil prevailing because good men do nothing is certainly being proven true in modern England. Living on their past glories the English have degenerated into a cowardly people always ready to appease (or ignore) wrong doing if it will give them a quiet life.

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