Police losing control as violence spreads
Published 09/08/2011 | 05:00
Police were losing the battle to regain control of London's streets last night as violence, rioting and looting escalated across the English capital.
As disturbances entered a third day, the scale of civil disobedience reached unprecedented levels, with incidents in all parts of the capital.
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 taken place in Hackney, Clapton, East Ham, and Lewisham. Property and shops were set on fire in Peckham and Croydon.
As violent confrontations, organised using mobile phone instant-messaging systems, spread, Birmingham became the first city outside of London to experience trouble, with rioters smashing city centre shop windows.
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.
One police officer said looted machetes had been used to try to attack officers.
Police officers were pelted with fireworks and petrol bombs, patrol cars were smashed while other vehicles and buildings were set alight.
Riot officers, whose numbers had been quadrupled in anticipation of widespread violence, seemed largely powerless to intervene as they were outnumbered.
Other areas including Barking, Brent Cross, Palmers Green, Kilburn, and Shepherds Bush, were expecting violence as gangs of youths congregated.
Shops across the capital closed early amid fears that the riots would spread further. Teams of riot officers were on standby in every borough in London.
West Midlands Police confirmed that extra officers were on patrol after the force became aware of a message circulated on social networking sites suggesting that Birmingham city centre would be targeted.
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.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who cut short her holiday to return to Britain, refused to be drawn on the issue when asked whether Britain's streets were becoming "lawless".
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.
Prime Minister David Cameron last night announced he would cut short his family holiday in Italy to return to deal with the crisis.
Earlier, Boris Johnson was forced into an embarrassing climbdown when the London mayor, who had previously said that he saw no reason to return, announced he, too, was coming back.
Police admitted they were struggling with the number of incidents as rioters used social networking sites to plan their violence. Former police officers said that the sporadic nature of the riots was unprecedented.
Police said they were monitoring these sites and would prosecute people who used the internet to incite violence. One message posted on Sunday night called for a police officer to be killed.
However, much of the planning took place on BlackBerry smartphones, which have a free messaging system.
Police are unable to monitor these messages, but BlackBerry's makers released a statement saying they would try to co-operate with detectives.
Roy Ramm, a former Scotland Yard commander, said the Met could lose control of London's streets.
"That has to be a possibility and the Home Secretary and [Met] commissioner are going to have to make some difficult decisions."
He said 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 200 people had been arrested, the majority of them teenagers. The youngest was an 11-year-old, who was charged with burglary. Some 27 people had been charged with a variety of offences.
Scotland Yard has been stung by accusations of a power vacuum at senior level. 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 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, a 29-year-old father of four shot dead during a police operation, later disorder on Sunday was "pure criminality".
Stephen Kavanagh, the deputy assistant commissioner, added: "On occasions like this it is the burglars, the thugs and the bullies that are trying to make the most of the opportunity."
There were fears that tensions may rise further today when the Independent Police Complaints Commission confirms that a bullet that hit a police officer's radio in the incident in which Mr 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 of violence.
Police have already admitted that they had no choice but to effectively allow looters to steal from high street shops on Saturday evening as they had to focus on the dozens of burning buildings and rioting in Tottenham. (© Daily Telegraph, London)