How the Meadow Well estate in North Tyneside was rocked by riots 30 years ago

By Sonia Sharma

It was a night of chaos that shook Meadow Well to its core - and grandad Robert Mather remembers it well 30 years on.

It was on September 9, 1991, that rioting broke out on the estate in North Tyneside.

Shops were looted and buildings were set on fire. A youth centre, bookmakers and a newsagents were among the properties targeted on that fateful night.

Go here for more stories about Meadow Well 30 years on

Police and fire crews were pelted with bricks, it was reported.

And Mr Mather watched the madness from outside his butchers shop on Avon Avenue, in Meadow Well.

His family had been running E Hoult pork butchers for years when the riots broke out.

His mother-in-law Emily Hoult, who was 76 at the time and was later awarded an MBE for her services to the estate, lived above the shop.

Mr Mather, now 80 and a grandad of five, said: "It was a shocking night. That evening, Mrs Hoult rang up and said the electricity had gone and the alarms were going off. She was frightened.

"I went down there and climbed over the back lane wall to get into the property and make sure she was safe.

"I then went outside and stood there to make sure no-one would get in. I was there till about 2am. Our shop was fine and no-one tried to break in."

Robert Mather recalls the events of the riots in Meadow Well 30 years ago. (Newcastle Chronicle)

He said it all started after an electricity sub-station was set on fire and then a bookmakers was broken into. After that, other properties were looted.

There were scores of residents out on the streets but many were just spectators and didn’t get involved in the riots, he added.

At the time, some believed the disturbance was triggered by the deaths of two lads on September 6.

Colin Atkins, 21, and Dale Robson, 17, were being pursued by police as they sped down the Coast Road in a stolen Renault.

They hit speeds of up to 125mph and their vehicle then smashed into a lamppost and burst into flames, killing both, it was reported.

Rumours spread that the police car had forced the men off the road, though officers said they were travelling half a mile behind.

Friends of the pair blamed officers for their deaths and, three days later, riots broke out in Meadow Well.

However, the Mather family say the sub-station fire was a key event.

Mr Mather said: "It all started when some crooks set fire to the sub-station and the whole estate plunged into darkness.

Scene of a fire during the Meadow Well riots of 1991 (Newcastle Chronicle)

"This allowed them to break into the bookmakers shop. They set that on fire when they left. All the lights were out and people starting looting the newsagents and other shops, and it went on."

His son Neil, 55, was 25 at the time and had gone for rugby training that evening. When he returned, the estate was cordoned off and he was not allowed back in until the disturbance was over.

The scene in a general store on Avon Avenue after the Meadow Well riots. (Mirrorpix)

He said: "The police and fire brigade turned up when a shop was set on fire but they then pulled off the estate.

"There was a rumour going around that a gang was going to attack a police station."

Northumbria Police says it is continually working to build relationships and serve the community in Meadow Well.

Chief Supt Janice Hutton, northern area commander for Northumbria Police, said: "Following the events of 30 years ago we have been determined to play our part in the Meadow Well having a bright future.

"We continue to work tirelessly with our partners, and most importantly the community, to positively tackle the issues which really matter to people who live and work in the area.

"As part of this engagement, we regularly meet with groups and residents, including young people, to build trusting relationships and a community we are all proud to be associated with."

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