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UK riots: 16,000 police on London streets

Published: 5:48AM Tuesday August 09, 2011 Source: ONE News/Reuters

Thousands more police officers are to be deployed on the streets of riot-torn London, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.

Cameron - having chaired an emergency committee - said all police leave had been cancelled and that 16,000 officers would be on the streets of Britain's capital, compared with the 6000 of earlier today.

The meeting was held after widespread violence and looting in London. Outbreaks of violence have also been reported in other cities, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol.

Live updates on the situation here.

Ahead of the emergency meeting, ONE News Europe correspondent Paul Hobbs said the option of bringing in the military and water cannons will be on the table at the committee.

"There are obviously desperate measures needed for very desperate times," he said.

Hobbs said there had been widepsread criticism that no senior Government ministers have taken control of the situation, which he described as "recreational violence" with no political motivation.

Horrific scenes

There have been horrific scenes in parts of London with fires burning out of control in a number of areas.

Liverpool police said a small number of vehicles were set on fire and there were reports of some criminal damage.

A huge fire in Croydon caused big problems for firefighters. Later in the day a massive fire broke out at the Sony Distribution Centre in Enfield.

The 70m building was ablaze from around midnight UK time and witnesses described seeing looters running from the scene just before a series of massive explosions.

Rioting and looting spread across and beyond London city as hooded youths set fire to cars and buildings, smashed shop windows and hurled bottles and stones at police.

Are you a Kiwi in the area? Email ONE News on news@tvnz.co.nz  or send your pictures to onlinenews@tvnz.co.nz

No one has been killed but police said 26 officers have been injured in the riots, and a 26-year-old man was found with gunshot wounds in Croydon, south London.

Many of the looters came from areas of high unemployment that are also suffering from cuts in social services and said they felt alienated from society.

Police and politicians said they were simply criminals.

"It's been building up for years. All it needed was a spark," said E Nan, a young man in a baseball cap surrounded by other youths in Hackney, east London.

"We ain't got no jobs, no money ... We heard that other people were getting things for free, so why not us?"

The disturbances started during a protest late on Saturday in London's northern Tottenham district after police shot dead a 29-year-old father of four, Mark Duggan, last week.

It started as a peaceful demonstration, with residents wanting answers about why.

Duggan was killed after what was reported to be an exchange of gunfire with police on Thursday. His death is now being investigated by the independent police watchdog.

But the protest soon tuned violent with Tottenham residents seeing the police actions as an assault on their community.

Daylight revealed burnt out remains of what was once a double decker bus on Tottenham's main road. The whole street has become a cordoned off crime scene with shops and homes destroyed.

Tottenham MP David Lammy yesterday called for calm "those who want to come to Tottenham to cause violence and disturbance stay away. We don't need you".

Duggan's family say they don't condone the violence either and have called for it to end.

'Complete anarchy'

Former ONE News Correspondent Andrew Potter told Breakfast the situation was one of complete anarchy.

Potter is in Peckham and said the high street was completely out of control with hundreds of people either watching or getting involved in the unrest.

He said emergency services were stretched to breaking point.

"Police have been powerless to do anything," he said.

Potter said he has witnesses numerous shops being trashed and people cheering in the "frenzy of looting".

Fire has engulfed several buildings in a number of suburbs across London as youths, some as young as 15, continue to battle riot police, throwing bottles and rocks, looting shops and setting cars on fire.

Police are pleading for Londoners to stay home and away from the riots.

In Hackney, with the street thick with smoke, looters smashed their way into a local shop, stealing whisky and beer. One had even grabbed a packet of cornflakes.

Another man ran away laughing while carrying four bottles of whisky.

"I am from South Africa and it reminds me of the riots there, except the police here are not so rough," said one middle-aged local resident, who declined to give his name.

"But the kids don't have any respect for the police or for property. It's sad for the people who live round here."

Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Kavanagh said the force was putting more officers on the streets in Hackney.

"Let me make it clear that people who are using current events as an excuse or cover to break the law, steal, attack police officers and cause fear to Londoners will not be tolerated by the vast majority of Londoners and us," he said.

"Our investigation, which is massive in scope, is continuing," he said in statement.

There are also violent scenes in Lewisham, south-east London, where petrol bombs were reportedly thrown at officers, and shops looted.

In Peckham, a poor area of south London, flames leapt into the air from a torched building and rubble was strewn across the street.

A Reuters witness saw two people break into a shop and rip a 50-inch plasma television off the wall. A youth in a balaclava carried the screen away, to applause from the watching crowd.

A bus was torched in the area 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," the Guardian Newspaper reported.

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."

In Clapham, another Reuters witness saw dozens of youths carrying away looted television sets and other electrical goods. He heard two of them discussing the number of PlayStation 3s they had stolen, and shouting at another young man to return and get more.

Looters hid their stolen goods in bins and behind the low walls of the Victorian terraced houses typical of Clapham. A large pile of boxed Blackberry phones rested by one wall.

Very tense situation

ONE News Europe Correspondent Paul Hobbs speaking from the heart of the riots in Hackney told TV ONE's Breakfast the situation was very tense.

He said the "guerrilla attack" in the north London area had seen youths looting shops, setting cars on fire and throwing rocks and bottles at riot police.

"The police have been out of control for most of the afternoon," he said.

"They have had cordons up in places but they (the youths) are just springing up in various places across Hackney and other places."

He said the police had no way to deal with the "hit and run tactics of the mobs, who were engaging in recreational rioting".

Hobbs said the scenes on the streets were "unimaginable" with waves of youths swarming streets.

Home Secretary Theresa May, who cut short her holiday to take charge of the government response to the riots, said arrests had climbed to 215 and 27 people had been charged.

"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," she said.

But the looters were also handing out pamphlets advising offenders to burn clothes if caught on CCTV to evade capture.

Police response

The Metropolitan Police, which will handle next year's London Olympic Games in what is expected to be Britain's biggest peacetime police operation, faced questions about how the trouble had been allowed to escalate.

Commander Adrian Hanstock has admitted police have been overwhelmed by the riots.

"We kept a dignified response to that to allow that protest to take place. However once that extreme violence, and it was violence that could not be anticipated on that scale occurred we moved the appropriate level of resources in," he said.

Tottenham has not seen riots this size for 26 years when another police death triggered the violence.

Some say that after a quarter of a century the same underlying social issues remain in Tottenham, one of London's poorest areas.

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

Sky News has reported that 1700 police officers were on duty tonight and observed that there were 5000 present for the Royal Wedding in April.

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