Behind the Cardiff riot: a community failed by police and politicians

Following the tragic death of two young people in Ely on Monday and the riot that followed, the police’s version of events has unravelled. But, as Ann Marie Zogina reports, the area in west Cardiff has not only been failed by the police, but the politicians who claim to represent it as well.

Ely disruption on Monday night, via Facebook.

Tragedy has again struck in Ely, with two young teenagers killed in a road traffic accident on Snowden Road, at around 6.00pm on Monday. 16-year-old Kyrees Sullivan and 15-year-old Harvey Evans lost their lives in the most painful of circumstances.

The two were close friends, and Harvey Evans had been at home with his mum before he went out. “Harvey was such a young boy, a sociable boy, he had loads of friends and he loved motorbikes and football,” a friend of the family told BBC Wales.

The tragedy happened in the same month as Keely Morgan, a 15-year-old girl with a beautiful smile, was killed after a day out with her family. She was struck by a fast moving car while on a pedestrian crossing.

Straight away, speculation was rife as to why South Wales Police and the Police and Crime Commissioner, Alun Michael, took so long to report the deaths of Kyrees Sullivan and Harvey Evans.

He denied the two boys were being pursued by police, saying “rumours became rife of a police chase, which wasn’t the case.”

But CCTV footage then showed a police van chasing down two boys on a bike, just 4 minutes before the police say they attended the scene where the two boys were killed.

Yet Alun Michael has refused to admit that he lied or misled people, or even apologise, instead saying this morning that a “question has to be asked of whether there is a connection between earlier events and the road traffic accident itself.”

He then doubled down on his previous comments, saying he is “still assured” by South Wales Police that the boys “were not being chased by the police at the time of the road traffic accident.”

But how can we believe this, and what about the added pain it must be inflicting on the victims’ loved ones to see the police story unravel?

Residents have also told the PA news agency that the police were chasing the boys at the time of the collision, and various posts on social media have repeated this as well.

Now even more footage has emerged showing a chase.

But instead of a political outcry and demand for answers, we see Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip, Jane Hutt MS, telling the Senedd that she is being ‘briefed’ by Alun Michael and calling on people to “support the police.”

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, who is also the Senedd member for Ely, has said barely anything at all. And seeing Rishi Sunak getting involved, when his party has spent 13 years doing everything they can to destroy places like Ely, is sickening.

I live in Canton, just outside Ely, and visit friends there frequently. The area has a warmth and strength, with a strong working class ethos, and diverse communities that live together.

On Tuesday morning, the same residents who will be slandered in the media spent their time cleaning up after the disruption of Monday night.

Many of my friends in Ely are from my time when I trained at Cardiff Women’s Training Centre, some 30 years ago, a place where we taught women practical skills including brick laying, tiling, wallpapering and plastering.

Women from disadvantaged backgrounds, including women from Ely, would learn these skills. They were really proud of the homes they had worked on after the training, and I loved seeing the transformations.

But when writing job applications, the women would routinely change their addresses to Wenvoe or Caerau, knowing full well that if they wrote Ely they would not be considered for the job and be routinely stereotyped as lazy and untrustworthy.

Things haven’t changed and Jason Mohammad, the BBC presenter who is from the area, backs this up, recalling on Tuesday morning how a taxi driver recently joked that he’d need to watch his wallet around the presenter.

In 1991 there were riots on Wilson Road in Ely, in what became known as the bread riots. Speaking 30 years after the riots ahead of his S4C documentary Trelai, Y Terfysg a Fi (Ely, the Riot and Me), Mohammad said this: “I feel angry that the Westminster government and the Senedd government haven’t addressed the needs of these people. They’ve cried out for help for years. Sometimes I think no one has listened.”

One resident shown on the programme gave this warning: “We could be one night away from that [riot] happening again.”

Mondays’ events were not on the same scale, but sadly, they are right. Very little has improved for the area since, in fact poverty especially hunger has got worse, years of Tory austerity have sucked the hope from the community. Ely features highly on tables of income deprivation, deep poverty, food pantries and providing for local people is vital.

Of the nine Ely areas in the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation, a staggering six are within the top ten most deprived in Cardiff, out of a total of 214.

Ely has more children eligible for free school meals – 59.1% – than any other community in Wales. The Census also showed around 10% unemployment in the area amongst those of working age and economically active, around twice the city average.

Three Labour councillors, including the former Lord Mayor, Russell Goodway, have not delivered for the area, and have voted through cuts and austerity that have seen the area asset-stripped. People feel cheated.

The community secured funding for Archer Road community centre and used local trades to refurbish it.  Unfortunately, after the pandemic, the council ran down the centre just as they did in Canton and now there’s no real youth provision at all.

The library and boxing clubs were closed. Canton community centre, a former very busy resource that borders Ely with a popular basketball pitch, is soon to be demolished and replaced by a much smaller provision.

Russell Goodway, who controversially lives in the much wealthier Vale of Glamorgan, not Ely, which he claims to represent, has been a friend to rich developers whilst the area is left to suffer.

And his prize arena – a new bus station – is yet to materialise, meaning the city has been without a bus station for nearly ten years – making the lives of residents living in outlying areas like Ely much more difficult.

But it’s not just one set of bad politicians, the whole system has failed the people of Ely.

Trust in the police nationally and locally is at an all-time low. A car crash that killed three local young people was not found for two days, the families felt ignored with their pleas to search for the youngsters. South Wales Police have still not accounted for the death of Mohamud Hassan in Cardiff in early 2021, who died after spending just one night in police custody, telling friends that he’d been assaulted by cops.

Reports and videos of heavy-handed behaviour against young children in Ely on Monday have circulated on social media. A large number of residents were barred entry to their homes and given no information about when they would be allowed back in. Others report a lack of respect shown to the families of the boys.

Is it at all surprising that the anger escalated very quickly on Monday night?

We must ensure that Ely and other communities like it are not left in this situation for another thirty years.


Ann Marie Zogina is a Cardiff-based activist and health worker. This article originally appeared on voice.wales. Republished with permission.

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