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One year after London riots, a family still grapples with fallout

One year after rioters rampaged through London, the owners of a family business that was devastated by an arson attack say such traumatic incidents have brought the community closer together. NBC News' Theresa Cook reports.

LONDON -- Graham Reeves carried his new bride Tina across the threshold of an apartment above his family's iconic furniture store after they married in 1981. He still has the keys to that home -- but the building is now an empty lot. 

One year ago, rioters rampaged through London and other U.K. cities, attacking shops to pillage electronics and expensive shoes, smashing up cars and buses and brazenly battling police officers in the streets.

Among them was an arsonist who set the House of Reeves furniture outlet ablaze. By the following morning, only a shell of the three-story building was standing. A business that had been in the family for five generations was left in ashes.


"[The keys] are at home, just in a drawer," the 53-year-old Reeves told NBCNews.com. "But obviously, there's no building to use for them. But I have kept them, because I just couldn't bear to chuck them out."

Study: British police say expect more riots

The businessman's bearded, stovepipe hat-wearing ancestor Edwin Reeves founded the store in south London's Croydon area in 1867. Post-riots, it still trades from a smaller outpost which – cementing its landmark status – sits across a road that bears the family name, as nearby trams glide to the Reeves Corner.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron blamed the riots and looting on what he called a "slow-motion moral collapse." NBC's Brian Williams reports.

"How often do you have 60 percent of your business taken away from you in front of your eyes, by someone who you don't know, you've never seen, and you don't know what on earth's going on?" said Trevor Reeves, 57, as he stood where the century-old building once stood.

'Mindless criminal thugs'
The riots reached a crescendo the night House of Reeves burned down, but it started days earlier an hour’s drive due north across London.  In still-disputed circumstances, police shot dead Mark Duggan, 29, on August 4, 2011.  Two nights later, his friends and family demonstrated outside their local precinct. 

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Riots spread to several English cities after police killed a 29-year-old man in Tottenham, north London.

In what became Britain's worst street violence for decades, that protest turned violent with riots erupting in the north London neighborhood of Tottenham before looting, arson and mayhem spread across the U.K. capital and beyond. 

From August 2011: The sad truth behind London riot

“What was a peaceful vigil held by a grieving family was hijacked by mindless criminal thugs,” acting London Metropolitan Police commissioner Tim Godwin said as the unrest intensified.  It erupted in pockets; some areas were left devastated, others untouched – though the tension was felt everywhere.

The riots that left several London neighborhoods burning, caused major property damage and brought hundreds of arrests has given away to a spirit of renewal and civic pride. NBC's Jim Maceda reports.

Prime Minister David Cameron cut his vacation short, returning to London to order all police leave cancelled so 16,000 officers could be deployed -- instead of the usual 6,000.

Police say 2,900 people have been charged in connection with the riots.

Facebook users jailed over 'riot that never was'

Wedding anniversary
Trevor Reeves’ father Maurice, now 81, recalled how he had just returned home celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife Anne on Aug. 8 last year.

He had settled in to watch some TV when he saw it.  As married couples do, he and Anne started a debate; but this time it was whether or not the video of a massive building engulfed by flames – which was to become a symbol of the riots, played and replayed on every network - was their family's store.

Streets were calm in London on Thursday night, as some of the police officers dispatched to keep the peace spent the day raiding homes and rounding up suspects from the four straight nights of violence, riots, and looting. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

Confronting the scene him nearly speechless. "I really don’t know what to say," he told reporters as looked on toward the charred ruins revealed by daylight. "It’s been through two world wars."

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Water-logged server
Gordon Thompson, 34, is serving 11-and-a-half years for the crime. During his February trial, the man who lived a few blocks from the store changed his plea to guilty after the prosecution presented its case, the BBC reported.

Among the evidence: footage showing the events unfold frame by silent frame. Captured by one of the Reeves family's own security cameras, it sat unwatchable on a water-logged computer server in the surviving building. 

Thousands of extra police took to the streets of London to try and bring an end to the riots that have raged for four nights, and so far their strategy appears to be working. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

Trevor Reeves said police technicians painstakingly dried it out over months – the files weren't able to be used until three weeks before the start of Thompson’s trial.

From August 2011: With a show of force and prayer, London fights back

Maurice Reeves, the fourth-generation figurehead, later came out of retirement to help move things on. 

His sons Trevor and Graham run the day-to-day operation. For the brothers, it’s not just business, it’s personal.

Trevor Reeves recalls playing in the now-razed three-story building as a child and getting "lost in the furniture."

In the worst violence the city has seen in 30 years, riots swept through London for a third night. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

"Mom and Dad could never find you," he added.

In the aftermath of the riots, Cameron blamed "social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face." 

From August 2011: Where are the guns? A Texan's take on the UK riots

Speaking to NBC News' British partner ITV on Monday, the anniversary of the night the riots kicked into high gear, London's mayor admitted there was still much to be done.

"If you’re asking me, ‘Do we still have work to do to tackle the underlying causes?’ Then yes, absolutely," Boris Johnson said. "I’m not going to sit here and tell you all that can be solved with the wave of a wand."

As riots continued in London for a third night, the violence has now spread to several other British cities. Prime Minister David Cameron returned early from his vacation to deal with the escalating violence, looting and arson. ITN's Damon Green reports.