LONDON, (Reuters) – Rioting and looting spread across and beyond London yesterday as hooded youths set fire to cars and buildings, smashed shop windows and hurled bottles and stones at police in a third night of violence in Britain’s worst unrest in decades.
Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his holiday to fly home to tackle the violence, which appeared to be led by mobs of young people who coordinated their attacks through mobile phones, and spread to the Midlands city of Birmingham, the northwestern city of Liverpool and Bristol late yesterday.
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 in 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 violence erupted late on Saturday in London’s northern Tottenham district when a peaceful protest over the police shooting of a suspect two days earlier was followed by outbreaks of looting and arson.
By yesterday, the violence had spread to parts of the south of the city, including Clapham Junction, one of London’s busiest railway junctions, Woolwich in the capital’s southeast, Ealing in west London and the southern suburb of Croydon.
Rioting spreading beyond the capital, and police said they arrested about 100 people in Birmingham after looters smashed shops and stole goods. Police reported looting and damage in Liverpool and “copy-cat violence” in Bristol in the southwest.
In Hackney, a multi-ethnic area in east London close to the site of next year’s Olympic Games, hooded youths set fire to rubbish bins and pushed them down a street towards police, while hurling bottles and bricks.
Many laughed as they ran back when police charged them.
In a street thick with smoke, looters smashed their way into a local shop, stealing whisky and beer. One man grabbed a packet of cereal, another ran off laughing with four bottles of whisky.
“The kids don’t have any respect for the police or for property. It’s sad for the people who live round here,” said one middle-aged local resident, who declined to give his name.
In the poor southeast London district of Woolwich, dozens of locals of all ages and colours looted shops and set at least two buildings on fire, leaving the streets strewn with broken glass and clothes, a Reuters reporter said.
Mobile phone, sports goods and clothing boutiques were the looters’ favoured targets, followed by jewellers and pawnshops, he said. Several young men strolled by, balancing flat-screen televisions and computer consoles on their heads. The thinly stretched police were unable to prevent the looting.
In Peckham, a poor area of south London, flames leapt into the air from a torched building and rubble was strewn across the street.