Chaos at Ikea opening
Evening Standard | February 10, 2005
By Oliver Finegold and Chris Millar
Five people are in hospital today after hundreds were crushed as the opening of England's biggest Ikea store turned into a riot.
Nine ambulances were sent to the outlet in north London after reports that up to 20 people had suffered heat exhaustion when the opening at midnight descended into chaos. Staff closed the doors after half an hour amid fears the stampede could become a Hillsborough-style crush.
Security guards said they were put "under siege" by customers who attacked them, leaving one guard with a dislocated jaw. The store remains closed and a cleanup operation is under way. Ikea apologised for the chaos and admitted the store was understaffed - but added that some customers "behaved like animals".
Up to 7,000 flocked to the Edmonton store lured by adverts promising huge discounts, including £45 sofas and £30 bed frames, to those who bought before 3am. When the main doors opened 40 security guards were overwhelmed and crowds pushed through, leaving people pinned to the wall or trampled on the ground.
Security guard Gerard Visagie said "I have never felt so threatened. It was madness. A guard next to me was punched by a customer. He had his jaw dislocated. People were punching and kicking me and screaming. We were under siege.'
Paramedics said they had feared a disaster. An ambulance service source said. "I thought it could be another Hillsborough. It's a miracle no one was killed."
Video footage showed shoppers fighting over furniture - one man was pinned against a wall by a burly customer as they argued over a sofa - while others were stretchered into ambulances.
After 30 minutes the store was closed, staff holding up signs written in marker pen against the glass doors to announce the fact. The crowd refused to disperse and some tried to smash their way in.
More than 30 police tried to keep the peace amid fights between Ikea staff and shoppers. Firefighters freed trapped customers. Assistant Divisional Officer William Bird said: "I have not attended anything like this before." Traffic on the A406 seized up as people stuck in jams for more than an hour abandoned their cars.
John Olie, the deputy head of Ikea in Britain who oversaw the opening, said he was "shocked and overwhelmed". He admitted staff underestimated customer numbers and there were not enough security guards. "As soon as I saw the crowds I knew there would be problems," he said. "People were jumping the queue. We will review future openings.
"We are used to 1,000 people appearing, not 7,000." He said the store would only be reopened when it was safe to do so.
Earlier, an Ikea spokeswoman said: "It's fair to say we misjudged it but some shoppers behaved like animals and started shoving and pushing. There's not much we can do to stop that."
One Ikea worker said: "We closed the doors, but some people got stuck in them. We tried letting in people one by one but they ran through again."
Customers criticised the store. "I'm amazed at how badly organised it was," said Karni Mahmood, 37, from Enfield. "I only came here to buy a cheap sofa." Latyia Arpesh, 23, from Tottenham, said: "I was pushed to the ground and people clambered over me. I feared for my life."
Avril Nanton, 46, from Edmonton, left the queue after four hours: "Near the front there was a sense of camaraderie. But when the doors opened, people at the back ran to the entrance. Everyone was upset, people were fighting. I saw a woman held down by a group of girls."
Ben Adetimle, 31, from Leytonstone, added: "I bought a sofa but when I turned my back someone stole it. I'm not upset. It's just furniture, not worth dying over." As medics helped the injured, customers carried on shopping. A woman with pot plants said: "I've come from Birmingham for this." Jilal Patel, 29, from Tottenham, said: "I was queuing at 11am. Nothing is going to stop me from getting my sofa."