The Ely riots of 1991 - how past violence blighted a Cardiff suburb

  • Video credit: ITV Archive National Library of Wales

For long-time Ely residents, last night’s violent scenes stirred unpleasant memories.

Over the August Bank Holiday of 1991, as many as 500 troublemakers took to the streets in a series of disturbances which became known as ‘the Ely riots.’

On that occasion too, warm weather saw rioters clash with police wearing full protective gear, with projectiles thrown and multiple arrests.

But back then the spark was very different - a seemingly innocuous dispute over cheap bread prompting chaos in western Cardiff.

It was claimed that a local shopkeeper, Abdul Waheed, had stirred resentment by taking a rival to court to prevent him from selling discounted bread.

4 days of trouble saw "sterile zones" created to stop non-residents entering the area

Mr Waheed was also accused of detaining an alleged shoplifter in his store while waiting for police to arrive - actions which angered some locals.

But speaking to WalesOnline in 2011, Saul Harrazie, a teenager at the time, described the police approach to the initial flare-up as “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut” and claimed much of the trouble could have been avoided.

“People are quick to criticise.”, Mr Harrazie said.

“People say these people are mindless rioters and thugs. I’m sure there was an element of that in the protest but not everyone had that intention.”

Whatever the cause, the ensuing trouble quickly spread from the now-demolished Wilson Road shops.

Over the course of four nights, from 30 August to 3 September, a minority of locals were joined by troublemakers from outside the area for nightly clashes with police.

Petrol bombs and stones were hurled - with vehicles at one point driven at police - while 175 officers were deployed on the streets.

It was the first time officers had worn full riot gear on the streets of Cardiff.

Police also created a so-called ‘sterile’ zone to prevent non-locals from entering the area.

Former First Minister Rhodri Morgan, at the time MP for Cardiff West, remembered the events 20 years later.

“It was a very depressed part of Cardiff and with the poorest housing in Ely”, Mr Morgan told Wales Online in 2011.

“The police blamed the weather. They said it was a stunningly hot and sultry August building up to the bank holiday.”

“They said if it had rained it would never have happened. People had spent the whole day [on the Friday] outside and quite a lot of people had been drinking.”

A relatively small number of people were arrested over the course of the weekend, with the trouble eventually petering out by the Monday night.

But the riots had left their mark, with many believing Ely’s reputation has been unfairly tarnished by what happened.

Now the area is once again in the media spotlight.

As one resident said today: “Ely always bounces back. It’s going to take a long time after this, though.”