London riots spread to Midlands and north-west
Rioting and looting has spread to towns and cities throughout England, 24 hours after police were accused of losing control of the streets of London.
Officers were fighting disturbances in Manchester and Birmingham involving hundreds of youths who set fire to shops and smashed store windows.
The fourth night of riots came after David Cameron returned early from his holiday and called on police to be more robust in their response. The Prime Minister announced that the number of officers on the streets of the capital would rise from 6,000 to 16,000 in a bid to stamp out escalating lawlessness.
The Metropolitan Police also said it would consider firing plastic bullets, never before used on the mainland, against the rampaging gangs, while police leave was cancelled and special constables drafted in.
The Army’s emergency infantry battalion, known as the Spearhead Lead Element, has been put on standby should the civil unrest worsen, The Daily Telegraph has learned.
London was placed in lockdown after three nights of anarchy with shops being boarded up early in the afternoon and office workers hurrying home before dark as rumours swirled that mobs were forming at locations throughout the city. But as police officers from 30 forces poured into the capital it became increasingly clear that the tactic had left the provinces exposed. By early evening a number of outbreaks of violence were confirmed.
In Birmingham, police clashed with up to 200 looters who attacked shops inside New Street station, closing off much of the city centre. Masked youths roamed the streets smashing windows and setting fire to cars.
In Manchester, hundreds of masked and hooded youths gathered in Piccadilly Gardens and threw bricks at officers. A Miss Selfridge clothes shop was set alight while looters broke into a Foot Locker sports store in the Arndale Centre. Some reports said rioters were being allowed to ransack properties without police intervening. Residents claimed gangs were highly organised, with leaders warning them when to move on to avoid officers.
Nearby in Salford, where the BBC is setting up a vast Media City, there were “pockets” of disorder with reports that buildings, including a youth centre, had been set on fire. A BBC cameraman was assaulted as journalists increasingly came under attack.
In West Bromwich, seven miles north-west of Birmingham, up to 200 hooded youths went on the rampage from late afternoon. Dozens of shops and businesses in the centre were smashed and looters carrying baseball bats and tools fought police. In nearby Wolverhampton, youths broke into shops.
There were also reports of clashes in Canning Town, east London. With no sign of a let-up in the trouble – first sparked on Saturday after a fatal police shooting two days before – senior politicians struggled to convince the public they had a grip on the situation. Boris Johnson, the London mayor, was heckled during a visit to Clapham Junction with some in the crowd calling for his resignation. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, was booed in Birmingham and told to go home.
The Prime Minister will chair a second meeting of the Government’s emergency committee, Cobra, this morning and Parliament will be recalled tomorrow to discuss the developments. George Osborne, the Chancellor, has become the latest Cabinet minister to cut short his overseas break.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission, investigating the fatal police shooting, disclosed that Mark Duggan, the victim, was carrying a real gun when he was killed in Tottenham, north London but had not fired at officers, as first thought.
Insurers and business leaders warned that the costs of the riots would reach “hundreds of millions of pounds” in damage to property, stolen goods and loss of business, putting the fragile economic recovery in further jeopardy.
By last night Scotland Yard said there had been 563 arrests, with 105 people charged with offences ranging from burglary to possessing an offensive weapon.
“Unprecedented” violence against police had left 111 officers injured along with five police dogs. Officers have faced volleys of bricks and bottles. One was injured by a car as he tried to stop looters in Brent, north-west London.
Evidence emerged that the crisis is damaging Britain’s reputation abroad, less than a year before London hosts the 2012 Olympic Games. Several countries, including the United States, updated advice to nationals thinking of visiting.
Many domestic football matches have been called off, including England’s friendly against Holland at Wembley.
Some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes, including those of Iran, Libya and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, gloated over the “failure” of Britain’s liberal society. If the violence continues, it is likely that police officers will begin using plastic bullets, only previously deployed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Steve Kavanagh, the Met’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said: “That is a tactic that will be used if it is deemed necessary. We are not going to throw 180 years of community policing away lightly, but that does not mean that the Met is scared of using any tactics.
“The Met does not want to use baton rounds, but if we get put into the position where it is best for the safety of property and lives in London then we will do so.”
He said that the youth of the rioters was a consideration: “We had people as young as 11 arrested. Do we generally want to see police in London using that type of tactic on 11 year-olds?”
Mr Kavanagh conceded that there were issues with the police operation, but refused to apologise, saying officers did their best amid unprecedented scenes: “Do I claim that [Monday night] was a success? Of course I don’t. But I am not going to turn round to officers who took bricks and bottles and tell them they failed. What I am saying is that the Met got stretched ... by violence and speed of movement which has never been seen before in the UK.”
Mr Kavanagh told of one officer who got off a bus on his way to work to intervene when he saw youths looting a shop. “He got beaten up, but still turned in for duty,” he said.
The Prime Minister, who cut short his holiday in Tuscany to take charge, promised to speed up court procedures and warned rioters: “You will feel the full force of the law.
“And if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment.”
As the Church of England issued a prayer about the riots, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, urged Catholics to pray for the victims and for “those who, at this time, are being tempted into the ways of violence and theft”.
He said the “shocking” violence showed “how easily basic principles of respect and honesty are cast aside”.
The Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, suggested that the riots had not been “wholly unexpected”, as he urged churches to continue providing meals and support to those who had lost their homes and businesses in the violence.