Scores of police officers were injured and shops, homes and a school were set ablaze in the predominantly black district of Brixton tonight in the worst rioting and looting London has seen in decades.
Scotland Yard said at least 114 officers were injured and 26 were hospitalized. Two officers were reported in serious condition, one with a fractured skull and the other with stab wounds.
Another police officer was struck by a flaming bottle of gasoline and rolled on the street engulfed in flames until fellow officers smothered the fire.
Police said hundreds of black youths and a few whites fought them for five hours with gasoline bombs, bottles and rocks. An undetermined number of civilians were also injured, some with stab wounds.
Police arrested 90 people. As the violence abated around midnight, fire fighters were able to move in behind protective cordons of police to combat the numerous blazes, which left at least a dozen building burning fiercely. Several streets were strewn with the debris of gutted houses that had burned and collapsed before lines of police could clear the streets of rioters. b
Witnesses estimated the rioters looted about 30 shops in the center of Brixton, whose run-down 19th century buildings house Britain's largest community of blacks of West Indian origin.
At least 25 cars were overturned and a police van, fire engine and bus were destroyed by fire. The local station of London's subway system was closed hastily.
London fire department officials said at least 20 fires were set by the rioters, including a church, a school and three pubs.
London Police Commissioner David McNee said the rampage began when an officer was stabbed while answering an emergency call in the area.
"Almost immediately youths, predominantly black, gathered and rapidly built up to a crowd of about 700 to 800, acting with increasing belligerence. Stones were thrown, followed by petrol bombs, cars were burnt and shops were looted," he said.
At one point, as police moved to regain control, about 200 officers armed with nightsticks and protected by plastic shields mounted a charge to clear a street.
Four civilians were hospitalized, police said, but the number of injured rioters was not known.
Scotland Yard said late tonight that "at least 1,000" police were sent into the district, which is south of the Thames River and 2 miles from Parliament.
Black leaders said the unrest was the result of police harrassment.