“London’s burning”: is Britain really a dangerous place to visit?

“England is burning and you’re risking life and limb if you step out on the streets”. That’s what you may be led to believe if you listen to the media coverage of this week’s riots. I had several messages via Facebook and Twitter this week checking if we are ok and advising me to stay at home and keep away from London.

The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation has issued an official warning to its citizens to stay away from the UK:


 The Department is advising South Africans whose travel is non-essential to consider postponing or delaying their trips given the latest developments in that country

My initial feeling is one of frustration at this over-reaction. How have the UK and international media created such a grossly misleading picture of our country and in doing so compounded the problems caused by the actual riots?

I don’t seek to underplay the damage done to properties, livelihoods and to people’s physical and emotional well-being. There has been some very serious trouble in recent days; several streets in London did indeed suffer serious fires and others were in the hands of a mob for a few hours.

London The fact remains however that over 99% of streets in London and elsewhere were quiet. The cameras of course focussed on the scenes that created the most powerful images; that’s to be expected.

When I was in central London this week I saw nothing out of the ordinary and even the tourists appeared to be out in force, strolling carefree in the summer sun. The only clues on Tuesday seemed to be a few shops that had taken the decision to close early in light of the troubles elsewhere.

So if we see that the reality behind the dramatic news stories is somewhat more mundane, surely we owe it to others not to jump to the same conclusions when we see reports of other cities in chaos. Should we avoid Johannesburg or Cape Town for fear of the trouble there? What about anywhere in the Middle East: is the whole region a danger zone at present? How about India and its frequent terrorist attacks or Mexico and its horrific crime figures? Of course every place has its elements of danger. Most but not all of these can be managed by acting sensibly, taking local advice and not venturing into the wrong parts of town; areas which in most cases are no interest to visitors in any case. But should we really avoid whole cities or even countries as a result of what are often highly localised incidents?

I’ve heard several people online share the same frustration that Britain is being portrayed as an unsafe place to visit. It’s up to all of us to reinforce the true picture of what visitors are far more likely to experience when they get here.  And by that same token once we’ve seen how the perception of the UK can be so distorted by a few days of unrest, let’s apply the same critical thinking before we write off other destinations as unsafe based on isolated incidents and the resulting media hysteria.



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9 Responses to ““London’s burning”: is Britain really a dangerous place to visit?”

  1. Chaps – it’s safe. We have staff who live throughout London, so we get first hand reports, and it’s basically calmed down – they all say the same thing. There are also a lot more police on the streets than normal (Good practice for the Olympics?).
    Looking forward to seeing you’all here :)

    Stuart (in Islington)

    August 11, 2011 at 5:57 pm
  2. I agree, and what the dramatic news stories have done is also create a fear. I live in Nottingham, and had to come down to London for a day, and for some reason catch a late evening train. Not only was Nottingham deserted, but also the train was far too empty. Thankfully, London looked a bit more lively with underground filled (maybe not as much as usual) and pubs and department stores open at 10-11 pm.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:21 pm
  3. Andy Jarosz #

    Thanks for the responses guys. Need more people to keep shouting about how things really are in London. Hope my home town Nottingham is back to normal too.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:57 pm
  4. Yeah, it’s sort-of normal too.. The party crowds at night were back to city centre last night to some extent, although comforted with a heavy police presence.

    August 13, 2011 at 9:32 am
  5. **Sigh** isn’t this always the way the media behave, never adding a comment to show that they, like the hoodlums, were only targeting certain areas! My son lives in Guildford, but stayed Sunday-Tuesday with his girlfriend because she lives in Hackney, which is one of the areas named. Yet despite travelling to and from her apartment each day to get to Waterloo to get a train to work, and despite continuing his running there, he saw nothing.whatsoever. Even within the area of Hackney it was very contained.

    I’ve lived 20+ years in Tenerife, and have always had to explain to people, for instance, that it isn’t a hotbed of drunks and druggies (mostly Brits at that). That’s also contained to a small area of one town.

    I begin to get a bit tired of people believing all this sh*t in fact. Why don’t they use their common sense, and surely, like me, they’ve seen it all before?

    August 13, 2011 at 9:44 pm
  6. Hi Linda, yes I suspect that Tenerife has been fighting a battle for a long time to shake off the reputation it has among some folks, yet it’s an island that has so much going for it away from the one section of bars and clubs.
    People believe sensationalist stories and rumours and I suspect they always will. Remember all the nonsense in the UK after 9/11 when every other weekend was supposed to see a major terrorist attack on a small town somewhere in northern England?

    August 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm
  7. Traveler22 #

    Forget the riot times – not just London but all of UK is a very dangerous country now. Tell me this – where else in western Europe or even Eastern Europe do you hear about Gangs, Teenage Stabbings, Knife Crimes and CCTV’s all over the country watching every move you make?? I lived in London (In Knightsbridge) the wealthiest poshest area in probably the entire world – and I lived there for 3 years however I moved to another country in Europe because I felt horribly unsafe in the UK everywhere I went. UK Is nothing but a racist, crime ridden shithole now – with major social problems which will only keep getting worse and worse. The yob culture is out of control in UK – I have seen it first hand and felt very scared to be around those people. They are evil, repressed and dangerous – and these riots were just a first glimpse into whats going to come in the UK. Many british blame immigration for all their problems – well fact is the White British CHAV culture is what is the real problem – those are the repressed dangerous people carrying knives and racially attacking immigrants in fact. Last year alone there were 50,000 reported cases of VIOLENT racist attacks in the UK – and now the British government came out with investor visas for foreigners to bring in big money to their dangerous island. Why would anyone want to go and live in UK with their levels of crime and on top of that invest in such a country – I fail to understand. Many well known celebrities who were also based in London have moved on long ago and just keep a little pied-a-terre to visit in London from time to time now. Go to places like Manchester, Blackpool and Liverpool, Bradford or even Brighton late at night….see for yourself how safe you feel there…Britain was always a violent dangerous place – now it has become much worse.

    August 22, 2011 at 2:12 am
    • Mike, I can’t recognise the picture you paint at all. Sure the UK has its problems (tell me a place that doesn’t) but I know how lucky we are to be able to walk around London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds or any major city in safety at almost any time. Yes, big inner cities have a few no-go areas (places where visitors would never go) – but compared to US cities and many of those in other European countries they are trouble-free. The knife violence is almost exclusively gang-on-gang and the general population sees little or nothing of it. Show me figures of non-gang violence or racist attacks for France, Germany, Italy, Spain or USA and I’ll be shocked if the UK comes out as badly as you suggest by comparison.
      As for racism, again every population has its idiots but on the whole the UK is one of the world’s most open and tolerant societies and certainly from our experience as a mixed-race couple we are happy to live in one of the most peaceful countries on the planet.

      August 22, 2011 at 7:20 am
      • Abi #

        Bravo Andy! Not much more to add…

        September 7, 2011 at 11:19 pm