Despite Cheltenham's garden city image, if you get off the M5 then turn left by the new GCHQ centre, you'll find yourself in an estate built, like Bestwood, in those optimistic 1950s. "Coronation Square". "Princess Elizabeth Way". "New Zealand House". In fact the area is - you'd never guess - a smack-ridden disaster zone, known generically to locals as "Hester's Way" after the most notorious of its streets. It's the kind of place where elderly residents die in their maisonettes and only the smell alerts the neighbours.
The BBC does have a report, tucked away on the Gloucestershire web page, which doesn't seem quite to tally with the Gloucestershire Echo, even discounting for journalistic hyperbole, or with eyewitness reports. Apparently a concerted effort was made to set fire to the Catholic Church with repeated salvos of rockets. And a Saturday evening drive down Princess Elizabeth Way, part of the ring road system, was enlivened by attacks with rockets and other missiles.
10:30 - 06 November 2006
Cheltenham erupted into chaos as 200 rioting thugs rampaged through the streets armed with thousands of fireworks last night.Yobs stormed through Hester's Way, throwing lit rockets at cars and passers-by.
Dozens of police in riot gear fought running battles with the rioting mob who tore through Princess Elizabeth Way in a six-hour orgy of violence.
The drama began at 6pm when the fire service was called to New Zealand House where a bonfire was too close to the flats.
After the blaze was put out, police turned up and seized a horde of fireworks in a shed.
After the police and fire crew left, teenagers took to the streets armed with hundreds of display fireworks.
Frightening scenes unfolded as marauding gangs of hooded teenagers launched a relentless six-hour assault, hurling rockets, bangers, and Catherine wheels at anyone who crossed their path.
As I got out of my car to take a photograph of the gathering mob, two boys yelled "Oi, press" and ran towards me. I shot back into my car and pulled away fast.
As I drove past New Zealand House it was 6.25pm. Hooligans tossed rockets into the path of cars and hit windscreens as drivers tried to dodge the chaos and smoke.
Some of the yobs used the wheels of parked cars as a launch pad for their packs of rockets which were strapped together in lethal bundles.
They walked in front of cars to set off mighty bangers in the middle of the main road, as trapped drivers watched.
Others took to their bikes and cycled like madmen, holding blazing Roman candles aloft before they threw them at anyone and anything.
The smell of sulphur hung in the air and the street was filled with smoke.
Panicking drivers were forced to swerve to miss each other as blazing rockets careered across their path.
Cars tailed back as far as the McDonald's roundabout as drivers tried to reverse away from trouble.
Crowds gathered to watch as the lawless mobs lay siege to the street. They hung from balconies, cheering on the rioters below.
Anyone who shouted a message of disgust and disapproval became a target for a burning firework. Mothers with pushchairs ran frantically away.
"I've never seen anything like it - it's unbelievable," said Father Mark Moran.
Chanting and jeering, the gangs boasted about their exploits to the growing crowd.
At 7.30pm a series of blasts lit up the back of Grevil Road. Rioters whooped and stuck two fingers at the police vans that swept in.
Six vans took up positions along Princess Elizabeth Way. A host of squad cars patrolled the estate looking for gangs of youths who split up and tore through the back streets.
The biggest troublespot was New Zealand House where dozens of youths loitered in the smoke-filled haze and taunted officers with foul language.
At 7.40pm, the riot appeared to have died down. Again I got out of the car and tried to take a picture. I asked one of the police officers if he thought the worst was over.
It wasn't. I was ordered back into the car. The police sirens started blaring and all hell let loose once more.
At 8.45pm another fire was lit behind New Zealand House and a fire engine rushed to the scene of a blaze which threatened to set the whole tower block alight.
They were quickly followed by two police vans and four police cars as youths hurled bricks at police and firefighters.
The jeering and aggression grew as the sirens swept through the streets and officers with dogs and riot gear spilled out of vans to be confronted by baiting crowds.
Residents of neighbouring Rhodesia House took to the balconies to watch as police swarmed on to the scene.
Officers wearing fluorescent jackets directed traffic through the mayhem.
At one stage, there was an uneasy stand-off as 200 baying youths stood on the corner of Orchard Way, whilst police lined Princess Elizabeth Way.
There appeared to be an element of organisation as younger children crowded around two 4x4s.
The mob started hurling bricks and lit fireworks at police. "If you put these out, we'll just start again somewhere else," yelled a hoodlum.
As police tried to restore calm, one youngster threw a lit rocket into the path of a patrol car. Officers gave chase down an alleyway past St Thomas More church to the delight of his mates.
At 9.15pm the crowd started to thin. The police helicopter was scrambled at 9.30pm. It hovered over Hester's Way, its flashlight following groups of youths below.
At 10.30pm police sealed off Princess Elizabeth Way and officers in full riot gear patrolled the trouble zones.
At midnight, police said there were four arrests and two police cars were damaged. They will be issuing a statement later today.
They were unable to confirm whether the incident was connected to the theft of thousands of pounds of fireworks from Blooms in Evesham Road, and from Stonehouse last week.
Some of the stolen rockets were recovered, found in a shed in Hester's Way on Thursday.
A second report.
10:30 - 06 November 2006
The violent and lawless scenes in Hester's Way drew hundreds from their homes.Those who watched the frenzy erupt had a mixed reaction.
Some thought it was the display of a lifetime. One resident of Hester's Way Road said: "It's been pretty good. It's gone on all night so you can't complain there weren't enough fireworks.
"It's kids having fun. The police should have known it was coming. They've been letting them off for weeks."
His friend said: "It's all kicked off. Some of them started when it got dark and then everyone else joined in. It's pretty mad."
Others shook their heads in despair at the damage being done to the area's reputation.
Residents refused to give their names for fear of reprisals.
One mother, standing next to a pushchair, said: "It's bad in some parts round here but I've never seen it like this.
"They're running wild. They do what they like.
"These kids aren't frightened of anyone. They've got elder brothers who will sort you out if you complain about them.
"They know the police can't touch them. It'll be worse next year."
One elderly resident said: "They will say 'another quiet night in Hester's Way', won't they?
"Where did they get the money from? People will say it's drugs. As if we didn't have it bad enough anyway, they go and act like this."
One mother-of-four from Welch Road watched all night.
She said: "It's frightening. This is serious. If you took my name they would put my windows through.
"My friend called the police about lads setting off fireworks last week and they trashed her car, so what good does it do to speak out?"
People rushed to protect frightened elderly relatives living near the barrage of explosives.
One couple, who asked not to be named, said: "Why should they get away with this?
"They have people terrified to walk the streets in the day and now they'll have people hiding in their homes.
"It's a disgrace. They want a hiding. In my day we had respect for the police. These lot don't have discipline or respect for anyone. They're scum."
Father Mark Moran, of St Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Princess Elizabeth Way, was horrified.
He said: "It was chaos, absolutely unbelievable.
"It started and just kept going. Cars were reversing into each other to get out of the way because they were setting off fireworks in front of them.
"I'm surprised someone wasn't seriously injured."
Some onlookers tucked into McDonald's meals as they watched the action spilling on to the street.
Others said police should not be surprised trouble had erupted.
One mother-of-two said: "Well, what do they expect? They know this happens every year."
The thugs were defiant to the last. One youngster, not yet a teenager, said: "The police can't do nothing. They can't touch us. We'll just do it somewhere else."