A store gutted by fire after looters rampaged through a shopping mall in Woolwich
Cutting short his holiday in Italy, British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in London overnight in order to hold crisis talks Tuesday after three nights of riots, looting and arson by masked, hooded youths that wrecked shopping centres in many parts of London and spread to three other cities and with police arresting over 400 people.
Neighbourhoods across the capital faced a massive clean-up of smashed glass, bricks, bottles and gutted buildings as police reinforcements reclaimed the streets from the youths who had coordinated the looting via mobile phones and social media. The rioting, in what police called copycat violence, also spread to Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool.
The worst such incidents to hit Britain for decades, started in Tottenham on Saturday but then spread to various other districts across London, and later in Bristol in the southwest of the country, Birmingham in the Midlands and the northwest port of Liverpool.
Three people have also been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after a police officier was hit by a car during rioting in north London overnight. The officer was hospitalised after being hit by a car in Brent, northwest London, in the early hours of Tuesday morning. He is now in a stable condition.
Late on Monday, as the violence died down, cars piled high with goods drove at high speed through London streets as numerous cases of car theft by groups of looters were reported.
Shop windows at many shops were shattered in London ad the other cities and the streets were strewn with stolen goods, that were later carried to away by the rioters in acts described by police as criminal
At one point, the London fire brigade said it was running out of vehicles to tackle fires started by the rioters and police said they had called in 1,700 reinforcements to help London police cope with fast-moving groups of looters.
Cameron was due to chair a meeting of Cobra, the government's crisis committee, at early this morning to work out a strategy to prevent more violence and consider why the riots broke out and spread so fast, taking the authorities by surprise.
The first riots broke out 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. But observers give other reasons to the rioting.
Some blame them partly on cuts in social services being imposed as a result of the government's tough austerity policies to reduce a large budget deficit. In fact, many looters were from areas of high unemployment, saying they felt alienated from society.
Scenes of vandalism by hooded youths werealso witnessed in Hackney, Woolwich, Clapham in the south and Ealing in the west, where a resident told Reuters he saw about 150 hooded youths walking down his road smashing car windows in a display of "mindless vandalism".
Another Hackney resident, a 39-year-old electrician was quoted saying: "It's very sad to see ... But kids have got no work, no future and the cuts have made it worse. These kids are from another generation to us and they just don't care.You watch. It's only just begun."
Government officials branded the rioters criminals and said the violence would have no effect on preparations for next year's London Olympic Games.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "It was needless, opportunistic theft and violence, nothing more, nothing less. It is completely unacceptable."
Further disturbances followed on Sunday, and on Monday, with the police unable to to concentrate their forces in every trouble spot, looting spread rapidly.