Gordon Thompson pleads guilty to starting fire that destroyed House of Reeves furniture store during London disorder
A man has admitted smashing his way into a Croydon furniture store during last summer's riots and starting a fire that destroyed the building and put residents and firefighters' lives "in very real danger".
Gordon Thompson pleaded guilty to arson and being reckless as to whether life was endangered on the third day of his trial at the Old Bailey on Friday.
Judge Peter Thornton said the 33-year-old would be sentenced on 11 April and warned that he would face "a long sentence of imprisonment".
Thompson used a cigarette lighter to start the fire that engulfed the House of Reeves furniture store in the south London town in August.
The blaze was so fierce that it spread to properties on the opposite side of the road, forcing residents to flee for their lives. The court heard that a photograph of a young woman who escaped by jumping from a first-floor window of a flat became one of the defining images of the disturbances.
Thompson, a painter and decorater from Croydon, had grabbed a laptop from the House of Reeves store before asking another rioter for a lighter. He then set fire to a sofa just inside the window. Moments later, the court heard, he boasted to a passerby: "It was me. I did that. I burned Reeves Corner."
Thompson had already admitted looting the nearby Iceland and House of Fraser stores.
Oliver Glasgow, prosecuting, said: "Having vandalised and looted the store, the defendant was still not satisfied. In an act of cynical cowardice, he went back inside the shop and set fire to one of the sofas that was stood inside the window.
"The effect, as anyone would realise and as he plainly intended, was catastrophic. The sofa went up in flames, as did other pieces of furniture in the showroom, and within minutes the inferno was raging out of control."
The heat was so intense that tram lines caught fire and the building ? one of the oldest in Croydon ? was reduced to a "smouldering pile of rubble".
The jury was shown images of Monika Konczyk, who escaped from her first-floor flat as the fire spread.
"She realised the building she lived in was on fire and she had become trapped inside," Glasgow said. "Eventually, she had no option but to climb out of the window and to climb down on to the parasol of the shop that was below her, and once there jump into the arms of police officers and members of the public who were stood beneath her."
Konczyk and another witness, Craig Street, had filmed the moment the store was set alight.
"She saw a man run into the shop and place something square on a piece of furniture, which he then lit," Glasgow said.
Street filmed the moment the fire started and alleged he heard Thompson saying "let's burn the place" or "let's torch the place" and asking: "Who's got a lighter?"
The trial heard that Thompson had been part of a mob that had run amok through Croydon on the afternoon of 8 August.
He was caught on camera clutching bottles of alcohol he had stolen from the Iceland supermarket. He then helped others prise open the security shutters at the House of Fraser store in the Centrale shopping centre, enabling looters to get inside.
A short time later, Thompson was at the forefront of a group of rioters who attacked House of Reeves. After starting the fire he was caught on mobile phone footage shot by a cyclist "in an unguarded moment when he chose to cheer and wave at the lens" as flames and smoke billowed out of the shop.
TYhe footage showed Thompson as he "cheers and raises his hands almost in celebration towards the camera", the court heard.