Vikram Dodd and Caroline Davies The Guardian, Tuesday 9 August 2011 • Full-scale alert as violence spreads across capital
• Disorder breaks out in Birmingham city centre
• Prime minister, mayor and home secretary return
1 The prime minister cut short his holiday and flew back to Britain as London witnessed devastating scenes of violence stretching the emergency services beyond limit on a third night of rioting in the capital. 2 Buildings were torched, shops ransacked, and officers attacked with makeshift missiles and petrol bombs as gangs of hooded and masked youths laid waste to streets right across the city. The sheer number of incidents – including in Hackney, Croydon, Peckham, Lewisham, Clapham and Ealing – seemingly overwhelmed the Metropolitan police at times, who had poured 1,700 extra officers onto the streets. 3 Disturbances continued into the early hours on a breathtaking scale, and they spread outside London for the first time with riots reported in Birmingham and Liverpool. David Cameron, forced to break off from holiday in Tuscany, was this morning due to chair a meeting of the government's emergency committee, Cobra. He was travelling on a UK military flight leaving Italy at 3am. Asked why the prime minister had now decided to return, a Downing Street source said:"The situation has become more serious." 4 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. So far 225 people have been arrested and 36 charged. The violence erupted in daylight in Hackney, East London, where police confronted rioters hurling missiles and setting fire to bins and cars. One officer could be seen lying on the ground after being struck on his shield by a missile. 5 In Hackney's Pembury Estate, the centre of the violence in east London, masked youths – both men and women – helped carry debris, bins, sticks and motorbikes, laying them across the roads to form a flaming boundary to the estate. Several buildings were set alight in Croydon, south London, one massive fire consuming the 100-year-old Reeves furniture store. The fires were so severe that approach roads into Croydon were thick with smoke leaving some residents struggling to see or breathe."Words fail me. It's just gone, it's five generations. My father is distraught at the moment. It's just mindless thuggery," said owner Trevor Reeves. 6 A bus was torched in Peckham as police struggled to respond to the spread of sporadic 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 was just standing there cheering and laughing. Others were just watching on from their homes open-mouthed in horror." A trail of bins and abandoned vehicles were ablaze in Lewisham. 7 At Clapham junction, looters – some as young as 14 – moved from shop to shop laughing as they smashed shop windows and clearing shelves of stock, unimpeded by over-burdened police. 8 Tim Godwin, acting Metropolitan police commissioner, made a direct appeal to parents to get their children off the streets. "I do urge now that parents start contacting their children, and ask themselves where their children are," he said. "There are far too many spectators who are getting in the way of the police operation to tackle criminal thuggery and burglary." He said "significant disorder" had broken out in many communities. These included incidents in Camden, Bethnal Green where a Tesco was looted and two officers hurt, Stratford, Notting Hill, Colliers Wood and Dalston. Reassuring Londoners police were there in numbers, Godwin added: "We remain steadfast and determined." 9 The...