Sacha Berendji, the chain’s operations director, said the area had once been ‘the jewel in London’s shopping crown’ but was now little more than ’empty shops, littered streets and fewer visitors’.
He said shocking scenes of social media-fuelled carnage this week as thugs attempted to loot stores were ‘another reminder of how bad things are’.
Mr Berendji told the Telegraph: ‘The street was practically locked down by police to prevent major unrest planned on social media. Londoners know that something must be done to save Oxford Street.’
The chaos in central London echoes robberies and flashmob looting across the US in recent years, which has been organised through TikTok – while major cities such as San Francisco and New York are becoming crime-ravaged and drug-infested.
It comes amid a battle to save Oxford Street, which is one of the biggest victims of the slow death of the High Street across Britain. It has been overrun in recent years by tacky sweet shops that have replaced household names.
Mr Berendji’s comments come three weeks after M&S was refused permission to knock down and redevelop its Oxford Street store after opposition from Michael Gove.
Crowds gathered in Oxford Street on Wednesday after posts circulated on TikTok and Snapchat urging users to rob JD Sports. Nine people were arrested and Scotland Yard issued 34 dispersal orders, banning offenders from the area for 48 hours.
Fears of violence then spread to Southend after troublemakers urged copycats to ‘get lit’ on the beach. Among those given a dispersal order by Essex Police officers yesterday was notorious TikTok prankster Mizzy, real name Bacari-Bronze O’Garro.
Among those given a dispersal order by Essex Police officers on Southend seafront yesterday was notorious 18-year-old TikTok prankster Mizzy, real name Bacari-Bronze O’Garro
Mizzy was given a dispersal order by an Essex Police officer on Southend seafront yesterday
Essex Police said it used the dispersal order for the first time at about 2pm yesterday at Southend Central station, stopping a group wearing balaclavas from entering the city
A dispersal order has been imposed by Essex Police for central parts of Southend-on-Sea
The 18-year-old, who has been arrested on multiple occasions over pranks including invading people’s homes, posted a video on social media of him being spoken to by a police officer in the sunshine outside the seafront’s theme park Adventure Island.
The troublemakers cowering behind a cloak of anonymity
By George Odling and Jacob Dirnhube
Often hiding behind anonymous avatars and rarely publishing their real names, social media troublemakers can be fiendishly difficult to find.
The phenomenon of advertising a store looting online appears to have originated in the US, where there was a spate of rapidly organised robberies that began in 2021.
In California that November, thieves used social media to organise two raids, including the luxury department store Nordstrom.
Kevin Wilk, the mayor of Walnut Creek near San Francisco, said at the time: ‘This was not a random gathering of dozens of people, but a planned, organised attack – organised retail robbery.’
The same month, three separate Best Buy stores in Minneapolis were targeted – also by a mob of strangers thought to have been brought together by social media.
Closer to home, a schoolboy from Basildon in Essex was instrumental in drumming up support for the Oxford Street attack – and subsequent chaos in Southend yesterday.
The 15-year-old boasted on his TikTok profile that he travelled for two hours on Wednesday to take part in the central London protest and ignored orders from a police officer to leave the area.
He previously helped to organise a similar event in Southend on August 1 which saw police dispersing a group of young people, including a teenage girl who was arrested. The teenage boy shared multiple posts about the planned action in Southend yesterday.
Among those spotted on Oxford Street on Wednesday and Southend yesterday was notorious TikTok prankster Mizzy, real name Bacari-Bronze O’Garro.
The 18-year-old, who has been arrested on multiple occasions over pranks including invading people’s homes, was filmed being spoken to by police officers and given dispersal orders on both occasions. But he has insisted he was not involved in the violence or organising any chaos.
Mizzy told MailOnline today: ‘Me and my friends went to Southend just to chill on the beach in the sun. I ended up having a lot of people coming up to me which led to a big group of people screaming ‘Mizzy’.
‘As I was walking off, police came up to me and told me I had to leave. They said there had been a dispersal order already in act and they were told by the sergeant to give me a personal dispersal order, meaning I can’t come back to Southend for the next 48 hours and have to leave the area within 20 minutes or I would get arrested.
‘I think it was because of an event that happened in Southend two weeks ago where there were a big group of youths who where causing antisocial behaviour.’
Speaking publicly for the first time in June, Mizzy’s mother told the Mail that he needed to stop playing pranks and find a job. ‘I’ve had enough. Even if he goes to the shop, he does his stupid little pranks,’ she said.
‘I don’t like what he’s doing – I’m not supporting him. He needs to find a job and sort himself out. That’s what he needs to do. He’s a very clued up kid – he’s very clued up. Bacari was very good at school. He has an education.’
It came after a social media post urged people to travel to Southend’s beaches and ‘get lit’, which is slang for partying and getting intoxicated with alcohol, drugs or both.
But Mizzy told MailOnline today that he had just been in the city to enjoy a trip to the beach – and was only spoken to because of a previous similar disturbance in the city on August 1, which saw a teenage girl arrested.
Mizzy said: ‘Me and my friends went to Southend just to chill on the beach in the sun. I ended up having a lot of people coming up to me which led to a big group of people screaming “Mizzy”.
‘As I was walking off, police came up to me and told me I had to leave.
‘They said there had been a dispersal order already in act and they were told by the sergeant to give me a personal dispersal order, meaning I can’t come back to Southend for the next 48 hours and have to leave the area within 20 minutes or I would get arrested.
‘I think it was because of an event that happened in Southend two weeks ago where there were a big group of youths who were causing antisocial behaviour.’
The dispersal orders allow officers in the city to ask anyone they suspect is acting anti-socially to leave the area or arrest them.
MailOnline has contacted Essex Police to ask how many dispersal orders were handed out in Southend yesterday and whether there were any arrests.
The force has already confirmed that it used the dispersal order for the first time at about 2pm yesterday, when it was alerted to a group of young people travelling to Southend Central station wearing balaclavas. Officers stopped the group from entering the city and said they were sent back home.
Mizzy was also given a dispersal order by the Metropolitan Police on Oxford Street on Wednesday.
But he told the Daily Star he was not involved in any criminal activity and was simply going to the cinema with his friends. He also denied being involved in organising any chaos on TikTok.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has said thugs who looted stores in Oxford Street must be ‘hunted down and locked up’, and that the UK must not be allowed to plunge into ‘lawlessness’.
Sharing a video of the Oxford Street arrests on X, formerly known as Twitter, Ms Braverman wrote: ‘We cannot allow the kind of lawlessness seen in some American cities to come to the streets of the UK.
‘The police have my full backing to do whatever is necessary to ensure public order. Those responsible must be hunted down and locked up.’
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it was closely monitoring the situation amid fears copycats will target high streets across the country.
Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said he was ‘appalled’ by the scenes in Oxford Street and warned that copycats could become a ‘real issue’ in other parts of the country.
He added: ‘Theft from shops is a big enough problem already without this type of activity being promoted on social media. Large retail chains often employ security guards, but that option is not open to the smaller retailers.
‘The police were proactive in Oxford Street. But they have the resources in London. If these criminal activities were to move to smaller towns, we would see a real issue for the retail businesses in those places.’
Shops had to close as yobs, who were told to dress in gloves and balaclavas, tried to barge their way in.
In a viral post on social media inviting followers to loot stores, users were warned not to bring any weapons and were told: ‘Don’t come if you can’t run.’
Police were seen wrestling young men to the ground in the Oxford Street area on Wednesday
The chaos in Oxford Street on Wednesday was triggered by an online push to ‘rob JD Sports’
Groups of young people were seen running away from police on Oxford Street on Wednesday
A police officer wrestles with a young man on Oxford Street in London on Wednesday
Police detain a male outside a McDonald’s in Oxford Street on Wednesday
Muntazir Dipoti, president of the Federation of Independent Retailers, also condemned the scenes in Oxford Street and warned that it was not the first time mass looting had been planned on social media.
Mr Dipoti, who was appointed this summer, said the cost of living crisis had already meant shoplifting was at record levels, with staff often subjected to verbal and physical violence.
‘Incidents like the disorder in Oxford Street are of huge concern,’ he said. ‘Many Federation members fail to report crime incidents because they are disillusioned with police responses.
‘We want assurances from the police that they will help to keep smaller shop owners, their staff and customers protected. The police need to take this seriously and clamp down now.’
Richard Inglis, who runs a chain of Co-op supermarkets in Hampshire, also warned retailers had been put on high alert following the chaos in London.
‘The problem is I’m not really sure what shops themselves can do, short of closing the doors before the mob arrives, because once they are in your store that’s it – you’re overwhelmed and helpless,’ he said.
‘There seems to be a sense of entitlement now with shoplifters feeling like they can do what they want. Until the police and the courts ensure there are proper punishments handed out to put people off, this will only get worse.
‘There has been a real rise in people trying to cause chaos in stores hoping to get a rise out of staff for social media views and likes. And the people doing this are often minors, so they can get away without harsh punishments.’
Anti-crime campaigner Norman Brennan said he ‘guaranteed’ the country would see further violence similar to that in Oxford Street.
Prankster Mizzy was also given a dispersal order on Oxford Street in London on Wednesday
Mizzy is spoken to by police on Oxford Street in London amid the chaos on Wednesday
Mizzy posted a picture of the order given to him by the Metropolitan Police on Oxford Street
‘With social media it has become easy for young yobs to create a tsunami of criminality very quickly, mobilising hundreds of strangers to target anything they like – and there is very little notice for overstretched police forces to react,’ he said.
‘Police forces will have to be incredibly vigilant to stop this, constantly monitoring social media as well as the streets to stamp it out. They can’t cope – it is fire brigade policing.’
On Wednesday, shocking footage showed Metropolitan Police officers wielding batons and chasing after people on Oxford Street, with photographs earlier in the day appearing to show one officer being punched in the face by a young man.
Some youths were even seen being wrestled away by officers in handcuffs, while others were detained on suspicion of going equipped to steal and breaching dispersal orders.
Two suspected ringleaders have since been arrested.
Essex Police Chief Superintendent Waheed Khan revealed the force was made aware of a planned event in Southend just hours after the chaos in Oxford Street and warned there would be an increased police presence.
He said yesterday: ‘I want to be really clear that we – and of course the city’s attractions and businesses – want people to come to Southend, we want them to use all the facilities here – but we won’t tolerate crime and antisocial behaviour.
‘We have a significant policing presence in the city today. That includes the city centre, across the seafront and close to the train stations.
Sacha Berendji, Marks & Spencer’s operations director, warned that crime rates on Oxford Street have surged as the area falls into disrepair
Souvenir and sweet shops are a common sight along Oxford Street, pictured last month
Rough sleepers in makeshift beds outside closed shops on Oxford Street last week
One of the boarded-up shopfronts that can be seen along Oxford Street
Umbrellas rest on a rough sleeper’s cardboard boxes outside on Oxford Street last week
‘The dispersal order is by no means a blanket ban on people coming to Southend and enjoying all it has to offer, but if people come here and behave antisocially or commit crime, the reality is we’re going to take a robust approach to that and people acting that way could ultimately end up in a police cell.
‘Throughout today, and indeed as we enter this weekend, there will be an obvious police presence in city.
‘We’re there to help people and make sure people can enjoy the city safely. But equally, the officers will respond appropriately and robustly if they have to.’
FULL LETTER: ‘Oxford Street has fallen into disrepair, with empty shops, littered streets and fewer visitors’, says M&S’s Sacha Berendji
This is the full letter from Marks & Spencer’s operations director Sacha Berendji, which was published in the Daily Telegraph’s Letters section today:
SIR – Nicholas Boys Smith attempts to justify the decision to block Marks & Spencer’s proposed redevelopment in Oxford Street (“Don’t let the relentless ‘march of modernism’ destroy our heritage”, Comment, telegraph.co.uk, August 9). This is hardly surprising, given his role as a close adviser to Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, who overruled his independent planning inspector and refused our scheme.
He compares the fate of Dudley’s historic Crooked House pub, built in 1765, with the much more recent Marks & Spencer store in Oxford Street. Dudley was rightly proud of its heritage building, but most Londoners, especially our colleagues and customers who work and shop there, know that our store – a collection of ramshackle, unsustainable buildings cobbled together over recent decades – is not at all comparable.
Londoners also know that something must be done to save Oxford Street – once the jewel in London’s shopping crown. On Wednesday we saw another reminder of how bad things are. The street was practically locked down by police to prevent major unrest planned on social media. It’s a sad fact that crime has become worse as Oxford Street has fallen into disrepair, with empty shops, littered streets and fewer visitors.
With the support of Westminster Council, the Greater London Authority and many of our retail neighbours, Marks & Spencer wanted to start the ghtback. We hoped to reverse the failing fortunes of Oxford Street by redeveloping our store to provide a modern, sustainable building that would have regenerated the area, created thousands of jobs, drastically cut carbon emissions, and attracted new investment.
But sadly, thanks to Mr Gove’s decision, Oxford Street remains in limbo. More worryingly, developers across the country have put the brakes on, concerned about moving ahead with essential regeneration schemes in case they face similar top-down decisions – which should be made by local planners, who are best placed to determine the needs of communities.
Mr Boys Smith calls us foolish for wanting to regenerate Oxford Street. Perhaps he also thinks that of those who look to thriving high streets and town centres for their homes and livelihoods. It’s time he and Mr Gove got out of their Westminster echo chamber and delivered the levelling-up we’ve been promised for so long.
Sacha Berendji Operations director, Marks & Spencer London W2