London riots: police lose battle as lawlessness erupts
Published 09/08/2011 | 06:35
The police battle to enforce order on the streets of London collapsed completely last night as lawlessness spread to all corners of the capital.
Hundreds of thugs ran riot across the city, looting shops and setting fire to buildings and vehicles with police apparently powerless to stop them.
Dozens of other areas of the city were subject to attacks as the riots entered their third and most violent day.
For the first time the disorder spread to some of the city's more affluent suburbs with Ealing, East Dulwich, Fulham and Notting Hill under attack.
In Croydon a woman was filmed jumping from a building which had been set on fire by rioters. Nearby a man was shot, but survived. Residents in Clapham Junction were ordered to evacuate their homes as hundreds of rioters gathered on the streets.
Many of the areas targeted last night seemed to have little police presence. But the violence and looting thrived even where riot officers were deployed as police appeared largely outnumbered and powerless to act.
Commander Christine Jones, from Scotland Yard, described the scenes as "simply inexcusable".
She added: "Ordinary people have had their lives turned upside down by this mindless thuggery."
The level of organisation was highlighted when pamphlets were handed out advising thugs to burn clothes if they were caught on CCTV to avoid detection.
Football matches in the capital were postponed with police fearing that a fourth night of violence would stretch their resources.
The violence, which began in Tottenham, north London, on Saturday spread south and east to Brixton, Streatham, Walthamstow, Edmonton, Enfield, Oxford Circus and Islington on Sunday.
By last night further outbreaks of disorder involving hundreds of hooded yobs had been reported in Hackney, Clapton, East Ham, Lewisham, Harlesden, Elephant and Castle and Woolwich.
Residents accused the police of abandoning them. Matthew Yeoland, 43, a teacher from Peckham, where property was set ablaze, said: "It's like a war zone and the police weren't doing anything. There were too many people and not enough police."
Fire crews battled through the night to put out a huge blaze at the 100–year–old Reeves furniture shop in Croydon.
In Clapham Junction, astonishing footage emerged of hundreds of masked looters running through the streets unchecked, breaking into shops such as Debenhams and stealing thousands of pounds worth of goods. David Cameron last night announced he would cut short his family holiday in Italy to return to deal with the crisis.
Earlier, Boris Johnson, the London mayor, was forced into an embarrassing climbdown when he announced that he too was coming back hours after his deputy said that to do so would be to reward the rioters.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who also cut short her holiday, refused to be drawn when asked if Britain's streets were becoming "lawless".
Birmingham became the first city outside London to experience trouble with rioters smashing city centre shop windows. Cars were burned in Liverpool as the violence apparently spread northwards.
The first wave of attacks in the capital took place in broad daylight as the evening rush hour began. In some of the worst scenes yesterday, youths clashed with riot officers on Mare Street in Hackney, east London, throwing rocks and missiles.
Police were pelted with fireworks and petrol bombs, patrol cars were smashed while other vehicles and buildings were set alight.
But with no sign that the tactic of increasing police numbers was succeeding, the Government and police faced growing questions over their handling of the riots.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, heard during a visit to Tottenham that locals felt police had deserted them. "There was nobody there to protect us," one resident told him. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, called for the "strongest possible police response" to restore calm.
However, the Metropolitan Police admitted they were struggling with the number of incidents as rioters used social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to plan their violence.
However, much of the planning apparently took place on BlackBerry smartphones, which have a free messaging system. Polic are unable to monitor these messages, but Black–Berry's manufacturer said it would try to co–operate with detectives.
Roy Ramm, a former Met commander, had earlier warned that the Met could lose control of the streets.
He said: "That has to be a possibility and the Home Secretary and [Met] commissioner are going to have to make some difficult decisions." Mr Ramm added that by using mobile phones and social networks "these people can mass and change direction very quickly and the police tactics are being subverted".
Last night more than 225 people had been arrested, the majority of them teenagers. The youngest was an 11 year–old, who was charged with burglary.
Thirty six people had been charged with a variety of offences.
Scotland Yard has been stung by accusations of a power vacuum at the top. It is without a commissioner following the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson last month.
Tim Godwin, the acting commissioner, made a brief statement to reporters yesterday but it was not until last night, following a meeting with the Home Secretary that he appeared on television to condemn the worst riots in more than a quarter of a century. He urged parents to contact their children to get them indoors.
Mr Godwin said that while the violence on Saturday was rooted in frustration over the death of Mark Duggan, who was shot during a police operation in Tottenham, later disorder on Sunday was "pure criminality".
There were fears that tensions may rise further when the Independent Police Complaints Commission today confirms that a bullet that hit a police officer's radio in the incident in which Duggan died was a police issue bullet.
Talks have been held with the organisers of Notting Hill Carnival, which takes place at the end of this month, as fears grow that it could become a focal point for violence.
Police have already admitted that they had no choice but to allow looters to steal from high street shops on Saturday evening as they had to focus their attention on the dozens of burning buildings and rioting in Tottenham.
Former Met commanders said the riots were unprecedented in their sporadic and spontaneous nature.
Brian Paddick, the former deputy assistant police commissioner who was a sergeant during the Brixton riots in the 1980s said: "We have not faced this situation before.
"In the absence of intelligence it is a major difficulty for the police, and the fact it is sporadic and widespread."