‘Slowly but steadily, madness descended’
by Mark Oliver
The Guardian Thursday February 10, 2005
At one minute past midnight last night, Ikea’s new flagship store opened in north London, and managers expected that around 2,000 bargain-hunters would quietly file in. The British, after all, have a reputation for being decorous queuers.
But Ikea had not predicted that up to 6,000 people would descend on the new store, in Edmonton, with a stampede to get in resulting in a frightening crush.
Thousands had been lured by bargains – some of which were only available until 3am even though a 24-hour opening was planned – such as 500 leather sofas for only ¬£45. Cars were abandoned on the roadside as shoppers attempted to reach the store in time to secure the best offers.
Six people were taken to hospital, including a man in his 20s who was stabbed nearby at around 1.30am. He was said to be in a stable condition, and it was not clear whether the incident was related to the opening.
The chaos meant the new store – the 12th and biggest to open in the UK – had to close just over 40 minutes after opening because of what Ikea described as the “unforeseen numbers”.
The Swedish furniture giant was this morning attempting to limit the damage caused by last night’s events. In a statement, it said it was “deeply shocked and overwhelmed” and “could not apologise enough”.
Sol Sheikh, who had arrived at the store hoping to get some bargains for his new home in Edmonton, described the scenes as “very unnerving”.
“At the beginning it was nice and calm … lots of staff hovering around,” he told GMTV. “Then, at around 10pm, the staff disappeared and, slowly but steadily, madness descended on the crowd.
“A lot of people turned up just before midnight. They pushed their way into the crowd and started queueing at different parts. The staff just could not handle it.”
Assistant Divisional Officer William Bird, of the London Fire Service, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It was extraordinary and, to a certain extent, unexpected. I have certainly not attended anything like this before.
“There were crush injuries and people suffering from shock from the pushing and shoving.”
Police, along with nine ambulances and an emergency control vehicle, were called to the scene. Ikea said it had liaised with police and Enfield council ahead of the opening, and that up to 50 security guards and a queuing system were in place.
Ikea’s UK deputy country manager John Olie told Today: “We planned everything according to what we expected – we just couldn’t predict what happened. If we had known this would happen, we would have had other measures in place.”
Mr Olie said three people had been killed in a stampede at a store opening in Saudi Arabia last year, but that nothing like this had happened in Britain.
“When it comes to the UK, we normally have about five security guards in our car park,” he said. “On this occasion, we had 45-50 security guards, covering ourselves – well covering ourselves – in order for our customers and co-workers to be safe.
“But we were totally shocked and overwhelmed by what happened. We could not have predicted it. We are really, really sorry. We are really, really sorry.”
He said the crush had not been due to a design fault with the building. It has two entrances, but one of them had to be closed to keep customers and workers safe.
Mr Olie apologised to customers, and denied that the special offers were irresponsible. In addition to the ¬£45 sofas, a double bed frame was available for ¬£30 between 3am and 8am. “They’re good offers, but we were just totally overwhelmed by the number of visitors that we had,” he said.
Ikea has been one of the most stunning business successes of recent years, with its flat-pack furniture selling in huge numbers. The company, founded more than 60 years ago in a village in southern Sweden by Ingvar Kamprad, then just 17 years old, now has stores in 29 countries across the world.
It has not yet been announced when the Edmonton store will reopen. However, managers stressed that almost all the special offer sofas had already been snapped up. “We’ve taken all the offers off sale,” Mr Olie said. “We won’t be having any more offers at all.”