London - Prime Minister David Cameron pledged on Tuesday to flood the streets of London with 10,000 extra police officers and said Parliament would be recalled in emergency session after rioting and looting spread across and beyond London for a third night in what the police called the worst unrest in memory.
At the same time, the police said they had launched a murder inquiry after a 26-year-old man, who was not identified by name, was shot and killed in a car in Croydon, south of London, late Monday as rioters torched and looted buildings — the first known fatality since the unrest began in another part of the city on Saturday.
Mr. Cameron spoke after cutting short a vacation in Tuscany to return home as violence convulsed at least eight new districts in the metropolitan area late Monday and early Tuesday and broke out for the first time in other locations including Britain’s second-largest city, Birmingham.
Coming after a cascade of crises, the measures announced by Mr. Cameron seemed to represent a bid to restore some appearance of official authority after nights of chaos and near-anarchy with rioters taunting or outmaneuvering the police, raiding stores and torching buildings.
The violence has left many Londoners stunned at the spectacle of hooded and masked marauders rampaging with seeming impunity despite hundreds of arrests that have filled police cells to overflowing. In a cautious response on the streets, some citizens took to cleaning up the debris on Tuesday, cheering police patrol vehicles passing by.
Standing outside his office and residence at 10 Downing Street, Mr. Cameron said lawmakers would be called back from their summer recess for one day on Thursday to enable Parliament to assess the situation. All police leave had been canceled, he said, and the number of officers on the streets would be increased to 16,000 on Wednesday night from 6,000 on Tuesday.
“People should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain’s streets and to make them safe for the law-abiding,” he said.
“This is criminality pure and simple and it has to be confronted and defeated,” Mr. Cameron said. He added that the violence had produced “sickening scenes” and that the country needed “even more robust police action” to confront the unrest. There would be “many more arrests in the days to come,” he said.
Mr. Cameron’s comments came after violence also erupted overnight in several other cities, including Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol, as well as in three towns in the county of Kent, southeast of the capital. An enormous fire consumed a large warehouse of Sony electrical goods in the Enfield section of London after an equally ferocious blaze ripped through a furniture store in Croydon whose owners said it survived bombing in World War II unscathed.
In one incident, three people were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder for trying to run down a police officer with a car as he tried to stop looting in Brent, north London, the police said.
“Last night was the worst the Metropolitan Police Service has seen in current memory for unacceptable levels of widespread looting, fires and disorder,” Scotland Yard said in a statement tallying a further 200 arrests overnight, bringing the total from three nights of unrest to over 450.
So many people had been detained, the police said, that all the police cells in London were full and prisoners were being taken to precincts outside the capital.
Londoners awoke in some areas to the sight of fire hoses playing on rows gutted buildings. Some civic activists in stricken areas used social networking sites to urge people to join clean-up efforts in streets where small businesses from hair-dressing salons to shops selling baby clothes had been looted. A video posted on YouTube showed a rioter rifling through the backpack of a dazed and wounded pedestrian, then tossing aside his booty on the sidewalk.
For Mr. Cameron’s government — indeed for Britain — the rapidly worsening situation presented a profound challenge on several fronts.
For a society already under severe economic strain, the rioting raised new questions about the political sustainability of the Cameron government’s spending cuts, particularly the deep cutbacks in social programs. These have hit the country’s poor especially hard, including large numbers of the minority youths who have been at the forefront of the unrest.
In some areas, rioters moving quickly and nimbly on foot and by bicycle seemed so emboldened that they began looting in broad daylight, while in others raided small shops and large stores free of any restraint by the police. Newspapers on Tuesday showed images of hooded and masked looters swarming over shelves of cigarettes or making off with flat-screen televisions.
“Descent into hell,” said a front page headline in The Sun tabloid which, like other newspapers, published a dramatic photograph of a woman leaping to safety in the arms of police from a blazing building.
“Mob Rule,” said the page one headline in The Independent, showing a masked rioter in a hooded track-suit against a wall of flame.
On Tuesday, the violence seemed to be having a ripple effect beyond its immediate focal points: news reports spoke of a dramatic upsurge in household burglaries; sports authorities said at least two major soccer matches in London — including an international fixture between England and the Netherlands — had been postponed because the police could not spare officers to guarantee crowd safety. The postponements offered a dramatic reminder of the pressures on Mr. Cameron and his colleagues to guarantee a peaceful environment for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
That $15 billion extravaganza will have its centerpiece in a sprawling vista of new stadiums and an athletes’ village that lie only miles from the neighborhoods where much of the violence in the last three days has taken place.
As in other areas of the city, a group of about 40 residents with brooms and trash bags, responding to an appeal on Twitter, met at Chalk Farm subway station in the north London borough of Camden on Tuesday to help clean up debris.
The group started to make its way down a main shopping road but had to stay clear of the damaged windows of a supermarket and a bicycle shop because they were still cordoned off by police. When some people stopped to clean broken glass on the road in front of some shops, other residents clapped and cheered the group from their windows.
Walking down Camden High Street with a black garbage bag over his shoulder, Tom Moriarty, a musician who lives in Camden, said the unrest had been caused by something “fundamental about how people feel. It’s down to life being a bit harder and people feel they’re not being heard.”
Beyond such social challenges is the crisis enveloping London’s Metropolitan Police. Even before the outbreak of violence, the police have been deeply demoralized by the government’s plan to cut about 9,000 of about 35,000 officers and by allegations that it badly mishandled protests against the government’s austerity program last winter and failed to properly investigate the phone-hacking scandal that has dominated the headlines here for much of the summer. The force now faces widespread allegations that it failed to act quickly and forcefully enough to quell the rioting at its outset over the weekend.
Despite a build-up in the number of riot police officers, many of them rushed to London from areas around the country, gangs of hooded young people appeared to be outmaneuvering the police for the third successive night. Communicating via BlackBerry instant-message technology that the police have struggled to monitor, as well as by social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, they repeatedly signaled fresh target areas to those caught up in the mayhem.
They coupled their grasp of digital technology with the ability to race through London’s clogged traffic on bicycles and mopeds, creating what amounted to flying squads that switched from one scene to another in the London districts of Hackney, Lewisham, Clapham, Peckham, Croydon, Woolwich and Enfield, among others — and even, late on Monday night, at least minor outbreaks in the mainly upscale neighborhood of Notting Hill and parts of Camden.
The authorities seemed reluctant, however, to respond to the crisis with more draconian tactics, such as the imposition of local curfews, or the tougher policing measures long used in Northern Ireland, including the use of rubber bullets.
Asked if the army would be deployed or whether the police would use water cannons, Theresa May, the home secretary, told Sky News: “The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon. The way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.”
Nothing remotely like the latest unrest had been seen in London since 1985, when another eruption that occurred mainly among black youths led to violent running battles with the police. Known as the Broadwater Farm riots for the housing project where it began, the turmoil took place in the Tottenham district, where the current violence started on Saturday. That grew from a protest outside a police station about the shooting last week by the police of Mark Duggan, 29, who lived in the housing project.
This time, hundreds of young people, their faces covered in scarves or ski masks, looted; attacked police officers with wooden staves, gasoline bombs, broken bottles, pieces of masonry and even shopping carts; and set fire to police vehicles, private cars, trash bins and buildings.
Tim Godwin, acting commissioner of Scotland Yard, appealed to people to help identify the rioters. He conceded, obliquely, that the unrest was at least partly rooted in social deprivation, saying there were “conversations to be had” about grievances in London’s most deprived neighborhoods, but said that could come only after the unrest had ended.
Julia Werdigier contributed reporting from London and Rick Gladstone from New York.