Police called in hundreds of reinforcements and volunteer officers, but were struggling to keep pace with the clashes.
In the worst bout of urban violence to hit Britain in more than two decades, parts of London morphed into lawless no man’s lands. Most of a block in the Croydon neighborhood erupted Monday night into an inferno that incinerated the 140-year-old Reeves furniture store, a south London landmark. After midnight Tuesday, an even larger fire tore through a Sony distribution center on the other side of the city, in Enfield.
Gangs of youths roamed one south London neighborhood while carrying molotov cocktails, the BBC reported. And widespread looting was reported in the west London borough of Ealing after a shopping mall caught fire.
The violence spread beyond the capital, to Birmingham, the country’s second-largest city, as well as Liverpool, Bristol, Leeds and Nottingham.
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a vacation to Italy and was returning to London overnight to chair an emergency cabinet meeting to handle the mounting crisis. Overwhelmed by the scope of the violence, the embattled Metropolitan Police called in reinforcements from police forces outside London.
“Nobody should go out on the streets unless they have business to do so,” Simon Hughes, a national lawmaker from an inner London neighborhood, told reporters.
The increasing unrest — spreading in part via BlackBerry text messages as well as postings on Twitter and other social networking sites — was taking root mostly in the powder keg of poorer neighborhoods and away from the iconic central heart of London popular with foreign vacationers. But there were outbreaks of severe violence in even gentrified neighborhoods such as Clapham, as well as reports that 50 youths had vandalized shops in the famous shopping district of Oxford Circus.
Police said 250 people had been arrested over the past three days, and at least 69 people have been charged with offenses, the Associated Press said.
Three people were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder of a police officer who was struck by a car in north London early Tuesday, AP said.
The violence first erupted Saturday night in Tottenham, a gritty north London neighborhood, after the fatal shooting of a black resident by police investigating gun crimes. Those riots set off a ripple effect among disenfranchised youths in other parts of the city Sunday, and the unrest increased in size and intensity Monday.