THE deaths of three men in Birmingham raised police fears about frustrated British citizens taking matters into their own hands last night as vigilante groups sprang up in several cities to protect the streets from rioting.
The three dead were among a group of men of Pakistani descent who were protecting a local mosque from rioters when a car ploughed into them, in what witnesses said was a deliberate attack.
Police had detained one man last night and were treating the deaths as suspected murders.
After a fourth night of riots, police feared the deaths would exacerbate the angry confrontations that have already been happening in Birmingham between large groups of Anglo-Asian men and smaller bands of mainly white and Afro-Caribbean youths who have been roaming the streets looking for opportunities to rob and vandalise.
The overnight boost in the number of police in London from 6000 to 16,000 saw a fall in the violence across the capital but the focus shifted to northern cities, where Birmingham, Manchester and smaller cities saw looting and arson attacks driven largely by gangs of youths.
The number of arrests has soared to 1335 since trouble broke out on the weekend after police officers in the London suburb of Tottenham shot and killed an armed man suspected of drug dealing.
With widespread lawlessness ravaging hundreds of businesses and homes, groups of men, many of them from ethnic minorities, have begun banding together to protect their streets.
In the northern London area of Ealing police were concerned when 100 white men marched through the area in a show of defiance against the looters, with officers saying the last thing they wanted was violent clashes between large groups.
Other groups of Londoners banded together to form their own patrols in Enfield and Southall, prompting Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Kavanagh to complain that they were not helping the situation. “What I don’t need is these so-called vigilantes, who appeared to have been drinking too much and taking policing resources away from what they should have been doing – which is preventing the looting . . . The police are now having to go and (deal with) the vigilantes as well as the other problems that they’ve got. That needs to stop.”
Police stations in Nottingham and Handsworth, Birmingham were firebombed by gangs as senior police worried that the emergency drafting of large numbers of officers into London from other cities may have raised the risks in other cities.
As every police cell in London was filled with suspected offenders, police announced they had arrested five teenagers around the country on charges of using social media to incite violence.
Eighty-one arrests were made in London on Tuesday night, a fall from the previous three nights, but the fourth day of trouble saw an ugly escalation in other cities.
In the West Midlands region based on Birmingham 138 people were arrested following the looting of stores and burning of vehicles, with police cordoning off the entire city centre.
A similar tactic was used in Manchester, where assistant chief constable Garry Sherwan said officers had been overwhelmed by “unprecedented levels of violence” that resulted in 113 arrests.
Senior police in Manchester and Birmingham described the violence as “copycat criminal activity” following the riots in London, noting that the offenders seemed more interested in stealing from stores than in protesting over the death in Tottenham.
In London alone 111 police officers have suffered injuries including serious head wounds and broken bones after being assailed with weapons such as baseball bats, bottles and bricks. Five police dogs were also hurt.
Three people were detained on suspicion of attempted murder after a police officer was injured by a car in Wembley while trying to stop suspected looters.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who on Tuesday recalled parliament for an emergency session tonight, said last night “nothing is off the table” in the new measures to take on the rioters, adding that security chiefs had decided to authorise the use of water cannons for the first time in mainland Britain if required.
“We needed a fightback and a fightback is underway,” Mr Cameron said after the second meeting of the COBRA security committee in as many days.
“While they are not currently needed, we now have in place contingency plans for water cannon to be available at 24 hours’ notice.”
Police were already authorised to use “baton rounds” of plastic bullets, he said.