High alert as violence spreads beyond London

Hundreds of extra police officers put on the streets; special powers to stop and search

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 (the Met) poured hundreds of extra officers onto 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 [central London]'s going down next.” A baker's next store 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 Home Secretary [Minister of the Interior] 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.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh said one-third more officers were available last night than on Sunday, when shops were ransacked and torched in Brixton, south London, and trouble reported in Enfield, Edmonton, Walthamstow and Islington.

Mr. 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 4 p.m.

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 last night 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 on Tuesday amid fears of violence. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

Recommended for you