London’s emergency services were on full-scale alert on Monday night as rioting, fires and pitched battles with police erupted around the city from late afternoon.
The Metropolitan police poured hundreds of extra officers on to the streets as trouble flared in the north, south and east of the capital.
In Hackney, east London, masked and hooded youths smashed up shops and threw missiles, planks of wood and wheelie bins at riot police. Several abandoned vehicles were set alight. There were also violent scenes in Lewisham, south-east London, where petrol bombs were reportedly thrown at officers, and shops looted. A bus was torched in nearby Peckham as police struggled to respond to the spread of sporadic violent incidents.
Witnesses said a 100-strong mob cheered as a shop in the centre of Peckham was torched and one masked thug shouted: “The West End’s going down next.” A baker’s next door was also alight. One onlooker said: “The mob were just standing there cheering and laughing. Others were just watching on from their homes open-mouthed in horror.”
The unrest had spread beyond London with West Midlands police confirming outbreaks of disorder in Birmingham city centre. Shops including a branch of Louis Vuitton had windows smashed and were looted. Extra officers were being sent into the streets of Britain’s second city.
As the home secretary, Theresa May, broke off her holiday to return to London, the number of arrests from three consecutive nights of violence rose to 215, with 27 people charged. It was also announced that London mayor Boris Johnson would be returning early from his holiday. However, the prime minister remained on holiday in Tuscany.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh said one-third more officers were available on Monday nightthan on Sunday, when shops were ransacked and torched in Brixton, south London, and trouble reported in Enfield, Edmonton, Walthamstow and Islington.
Kavanagh vowed to deliver “speedy justice” for Londoners, condemning the waves of looting as “disgusting behaviour, ripping apart people’s livelihoods and businesses”.
Officers from Thames Valley, Essex, Kent, Surrey and City of London were drafted in to support the Met. But apparent “copycat” riots continued to spread in the wake of Tottenham’s riots on Saturday precipitated by the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan, 29, a father-of-four last Thursday.
In a bid to contain them, Scotland Yard introduced special powers in four areas – Lambeth, Haringey, Enfield and Waltham Forest, allowing stop and search without reasonable suspicion. The section 60 powers were invoked at midnight on Sunday. One incident of stop and search in Hackney was reportedly the catalyst for violence which erupted in Mare Street shortly after 4pm, and saw local hooded youths battle police.
The Guardian understands senior officers are prepared to add more areas to the list. The special powers have been perceived as targeting certain ethnic groups, thus fuelling tensions.
Meanwhile, the maker of the BlackBerry smartphones, Research in Motion, said it would co-operate with a police investigation into claims its popular BlackBerry Messenger service played a key role in organising the London riots.
Acting Metropolitan police commissioner Tim Godwin, said: “We need to separate grievance and criminality.” The situation was deemed so serious, he said, that he had taken several phone calls from David Cameron.
Croydon, Barnet, Streatham, Clapham and Islington were among a number of areas of London where shops were being advised to close early amid fears of violence.
After meeting Godwin, May said: “Those responsible for this violence and looting will be made to face the consequences of their actions. So far there have been at least 215 arrests and 27 people have been charged. But as the police take statements from witnesses, as they look at CCTV evidence, more arrests will be made.”
Brixton bore the brunt of Sunday’s violence. The Lambeth council leader, Steve Reed, said: “We are asking the mayor’s office for additional police for tonight and the next few nights.” Condemning the “copycat activity”, he said: “Somebody described it as gangs of kids doing Supermarket Sweep. It was Curry’s where they were after plasma screen TVs, and H&M and Foot Locker where it was clothes and trainers. It wasn’t about social issues, it was an opportunity to go on the rob.”
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, visiting Tottenham, said the violence would leave “big scars” on the community. Surveying the wreckage after the torching of businesses and homes in Tottenham High Road, he spoke to Steve Moore, who lost his jewellery shop in Saturday’s violence. “I’m devastated, it’s completely gone. My shop just doesn’t exist anymore,” Moore told him.
Referring to the “copycat” violence across London, Clegg said: “Let’s be clear, the violence we saw last night had absolutely nothing to do with the death of Mr Duggan. It was needless, opportunist theft and violence – nothing more, nothing less.”
Boris Johnson released a statement describing the scenes of violence and destruction as “utterly appalling”.
“I understand the need for urgent answers into the shooting incident that resulted in the death of a young man and I’ve sought reassurances that the IPCC are doing exactly that,” he said. “But, let’s be clear – these acts of sheer criminality across London are nothing to do with this incident and must stop now.”
Three police officers were taking to hospital after a car was deliberately driven at them in Chingford Mount, Waltham Forest, where a shop was looted on Sunday.
An inquest into Duggan’s death was due to open on Tuesday though there seemed to be conflict between Scotland Yard and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) over complaints by his family over “lack of contact” following his shooting. On behalf of Scotland Yard, Kavanagh said: “I want to apologise to the Duggan family because I think both the IPCC and the Metropolitan police could have managed that family’s needs more effectively”.
Rachel Cerfontyne, who is in charge of the investigation, said: “Following my meeting with the family yesterday I am very clear that their concerns were not about lack of contact or support from the IPCC. Their concerns were about lack of contact from the police in delivering news of his death to Mark’s parents.