Hundreds arrested as London riots spread

Buildings and cars set ablaze in British capital’s worst violence in decades as looting spreads to other British cities.

Riots have spread to new areas of London while looting erupted in the cities of Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol as Britain’s worst violence in decades extended into a third night.

Shops and cars were set ablaze across London late on Monday and early on Tuesday with authorities struggling to contain the unrest in the capital city which will host next summer’s Olympic Games.

Police said on Tuesday they had arrested more than 200 people in the worst night of unrest so far and more than 450 overall. David Cameron, the British prime minister, will chair an emergency security meeting on Tuesday to discuss the riots.

Three people were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder in Brent, west London, after a police officer was injured by a car, police said. The incident is believed to have occurred after several cars whose occupants were suspected of participating in looting a local electrical store were stopped by police, police said.

Looting by groups of hooded youths spread on Monday night to Ealing in west London and Camden in the north. Television pictures showed groups running through the streets and smashing shop windows.

Buildings were also set on fire in Croydon, a south London suburb, and in Clapham, where shops and cash machines were looted.

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Local residents in Croydon were evacuated due to the spreading fire, while the Guardian newspaper quoted a nearby officer as admitting: “We can’t cope. We have passed breaking point.”

There was also violence on Monday in Hackney in east London, and in the Peckham and Lewisham areas south of the River Thames.

The violence started on Saturday night in Tottenham in north London following protests over the fatal shooting of a 29-year-old black man, Mark Duggan, by police.

Tottenham is an impoverished area with an ethnically diverse population, a large black community and a history of unrest. Some residents resent police behaviour, including the use of stop and search powers, which they say are primarily targeted at black youths.

In Peckham, flames leapt into the air from a torched building, while rubble was strewn across the street. People walked in and out of shops looting. Another building, a Sony warehouse, was ablaze in Enfield, a suburb north of London.

Dozens of riot police were deployed on the streets of Hackney after police cars were damaged, buses attacked and shops looted.

In Notting Hill in west London, rampagers forced their way into an exclusive restaurant, The Ledbury, before stealing diners’ phones, plates off the tables and attempting to take the till.

Unrest spills out

But in a sign that the unrest had spread beyond the capital, attackers smashed shops and looted property in the central England city of Birmingham.

West Midlands Police confirmed they had made 87 arrests as youths ran amok in Birmingham centre overnight, smashing shop windows and looting merchandise. The force also said that a police station was on fire.

Liverpool police said a small number of vehicles were set on fire and reported some criminal damage. They said officers were responding to a number of isolated outbreaks of disorder,” including vehicles set ablaze and buildings attacked in the city’s southern neighbourhoods.

Police reported “copy-cat violence” in Bristol in the southwest and urged people to avoid the city centre after 150 rioters went on the rampage in “volatile scenes”.

Al Jazeera correspondent Barnaby Philips, reporting from Tottenham, said there was anguish and dismay about what had happened over the weekend.

“People realise that jobs, property and investments have been damaged for years to come, and they are very distraught about it. Thankfully Tottenham is calm as of now.”

Crisis meeting

Meanwhile, the prime minister’s office said Cameron, who has faced media criticism for being away on holiday during the riots, would cut short his trip and return to London to chair a crisis meeting on the unrest.

“The violence we’ve seen, the looting we’ve seen, the thuggery we’ve seen, this is sheer criminality … these people will be brought to justice, they will be made to face the consequences of their actions,” said Theresa May, the interior minister, who also cut short her holiday because of the riots.

“It was needless, opportunistic theft and violence, nothing more, nothing less. It is completely unacceptable,” said Nick Clegg, Britain’s deputy prime minister, during a visit to Tottenham.

Scotland Yard commander Christine Jones said Monday night’s events were “simply inexcusable”. At least 35 police officers were injured in the unrest at the weekend. An 11-year-old boy was among those arrested.

Tim Godwin, the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner, earlier urged parents to “start contacting their children” to find out where they were before slamming “spectators getting in the way of the police operations.”

Violent skirmishes have taken place between police and rioters. Al Jazeera’s Charlie Angela reports from Hackney.

As police struggled to contain the spiralling disorder, they ordered London football clubs to call off matches.

London police criticised

The London police force has been criticised for its handling of recent large protests against the austerity measures, and its chief and the top counter-terrorism officer recently quit over revelations in the News Corp phone-hacking scandal.

While Britain’s politicians were quick to blame petty criminals for the violence, neighbourhood residents said anger at high unemployment and cuts in public services, coupled with resentment of the police, had played a significant role.

“Tottenham is a deprived area. Unemployment is very, very high … they are frustrated,” Uzodinma Wigwe, 49, who was made redundant from his job as a cleaner recently, said.

The riots come at a time of deepening gloom in Britain as the pain from economic stagnation is exacerbated by deep public spending cuts and tax rises aimed at eliminating a budget deficit that peaked at more than 10 per cent of GDP.

Very few details of Duggan’s death on Thursday have been released. Police said initially an officer was briefly hospitalised after the shooting and media reports said a bullet had been found lodged in the officer’s radio.

Although a gun was recovered from the scene, The Guardian newspaper reported that the bullet in the radio was police-issue, throwing doubt on speculation that Duggan had fired at an officer.

Britain’s police watchdog is investigating the incident and has not commented on the report.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies