9 Aug 2011

Cameron returns to UK as fire and riots grip London

David Cameron flies home to deal with a massive escalation of unrest in London as rioters loot shops and set buildings on fire. The trouble has spread to Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol.

Cameron returning to UK as fire and riots grip London. (Getty)

Prime Minister David Cameron is back in the UK to deal with the wave of unrest gripping London which is threatening to spread around the UK. At 9am he will chair a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee Cobra.

Metropolitan Police Acting Commisioner Tim Goodwin has urged the public to stay off London’s streets in areas hit by disorder. He also called on parents to contact their children.

An extra 1700 officers were deployed overnight to tackle fresh violence as the riots spread into new areas; in the north, south, east and west of the capital, and outside London for the first time in Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol.

More from Channel 4 News: London riots video timeline

Buildings and vehicles were set on fire in south London; a large blaze has destroyed a historic furniture store in Croydon where several other buildings were set alight. Fires have also wrecked cars and property in Lewisham, Deptford and Peckham, with looting in East Dulwich, Woolwich, and along the Walworth Road near Elephant and Castle. At Colliers Wood a mob of than 100 people went on the rampage at the Tandem shopping centre.

Hundreds of youths have attacked shops in Clapham, including a large Debenhams department store. A nearby party shop was set on fire, witnesses say youths used stolen party masks to hide their faces from police.

Masked rioters also ripped through shops and restaurants in Ealing, in the west, with onlookers saying the badly-damaged main street looks like a “war zone”.

Earlier on Monday there were street clashes in Hackney in east London with youths attacking police vehicles with sticks. Shops in Dalston and Ilford were also raided. In Camden, in the north, several shops including an Evans cycle store have been looted.

Police have made nearly 250 arrests since the trouble began in Tottenham on Saturday, with 45 people charged so far.

London’s football clubs have been asked to cancel upcoming matches.

In Birmingham, an eyewitness has told Channel 4 News the Bullring shopping centre closed as angry crowds came out onto the streets.

Omar Siddique said: “There must have been 20 police vans and 100 uniformed officers on Corporation Street in the city centre. Whole herds of youths were running up and down.”

West Midlands police have made around 100 arrests.

More from Channel 4 News: Unrest spreads to Liverpool and Birmingham

Like the prime minister, Home Secretary Theresa May cut short her summer holiday to deal with the crisis. Following emergency talks with the Met Police Acting Commissioner Tim Goodwin and other officers she called the unrest “sheer criminality” and added that “these people will be brought justice”.

A vigil has taken place for Mark Duggan in Tottenham attended by local people. The 29-year-old’s death on Thursday 4 August sparked the first clashes on Saturday night which left much of Tottenham High Road a burnt-out wreck. Mr Duggan was shot dead by police in a planned operation.

Mark Duggan’s partner: first interview

In an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News Mr Duggan’s partner Semone Wilson said she believed there had been a “cover up” over the shooting.

She added: “There was a rumour that police had shot him and I also heard that Mark had shot the officer – it was all part of the same rumour.

“I know Mark – Mark’s not going to do that – 100 per cent, 100 per cent.

They portray Mark as a gangster but he’s not known to any gangsters or gangs. Semone Wilson

“Mark is the kind of person if he did have a gun – which I don’t know – Mark is a runner, he would run rather than firing and that’s coming from the bottom of my heart.

“They portray Mark as a gangster but he’s not known to any gangsters or gangs – don’t get me wrong he’s well-known, very popular, but he’s not a gangster – he’s a loving caring guy.

“He loves his kids, all of his kids and his family and he would do anything for them but a gangster – that’s not him.”

Exclusive interview: Mark Duggan's partner speaks to Channel 4 News

(Above: fire rages in Croydon, south London)

The Metropolitan Police described the disturbances as “copycat criminal activity”. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it was “needless opportunistic theft and violence” which he said had “absolutely nothing to do with the death of Mark Duggan.”

Kit Malthouse, London’s deputy mayor for policing, said it was perpetrated by a small group of people “looking for stuff to nick”.

More from Channel 4 News: Is anybody in charge?

The return of David Cameron and Theresa May to the country follows criticism over the absence of senior politicians and police leaders during the summer.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson is also interrupting his holiday to help deal with the situation.

The Metropolitan Police borough commander for Tottenham, Chief Superintendent Sandra Looby, has also come back after reportedly flying to Florida just hours before the riots broke out at the weekend.

Twitter warning

Twitter users could face arrest for inciting violence following the riots across London.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh confirmed officers were looking at tweets as part of investigations into widespread looting and rioting.

Some messages posted on Twitter surrounding the riots had been “really inflammatory, inaccurate”, Mr Kavanagh added.

When asked by reporters whether officers would consider arresting tweeters in relation to incitement to violence, Mr Kavanagh said “absolutely”.

He later added: “That investigation is already under way and that is exactly the sort of thing we are looking at.”

Meanwhile the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service is being used as a key communicating tool by rioters. The technology is more difficult to track than open social networks like Facebook and Twitter and harder for the police to monitor.