When I got to Mare Street people seemed excited rather than angry. The rhythm of the riot was well established. Every so often a police charge would surge towards Bethnal Green, scattering rioters into side streets where they’d regroup before pushing back. There was the odd cry of ‘hold the lines’, but no one seemed to pay much attention. Outriders ran on ahead, overturning glass recycling bins and arming themselves with bottles. Others fired fireworks at the police, at buses, and at cyclists.
Someone smashed their way into the Texaco garage on the Junction of Mare Street and Well Street. Boys staggered out with boxes of sandwiches and crisps. One man carried out an enormous flat screen TV, to loud cheers. Many of the ringleaders were wearing jackets and jumpers which they’d looted from the Carhartt outlet store up the road.
Eventually the police managed to disperse people from Mare Street, so I followed the helicopters, sirens and smoke towards Clapton. On Clarence Road, just off Clapton Square, people had set up makeshift roadblocks made of wheelie bins and metal fencing. An uneasy standoff developed. Walls were demolished and people armed themselves with the bricks. A young woman with a red bandana tied round her head carried a green recycling box filled with bottles to throw. Cars were set on fire along the length of the road, and every so often their tyres would explode. Thick black smoke blotted out the sun. A man carrying a charred rocking horse ran up and clowned around for the phalanx of photographers and cameramen that stood between the riot police and a large group of teenagers. Everyone looked young, most looked under 18.
Police began to charge down the streets surrounding the Pembury estate, but were repeatedly forced to retreat under a barrage of smashed-up paving stones and bottles. Someone threw a Molotov cocktail, but it went out in flight. An off-licence was broken into and people formed a reasonably orderly queue, emerging with bottles of spirits, cartons of cigarettes and boxes of lottery scratch cards, which they smashed open on the curb. Someone pulled up the shutter of a sandwich shop on the corner of Clarence Road and Sladen Place. A group of older people sitting on the steps of a neighbouring house, said ‘no no no’, and applauded as the masked boys pulled the shutter down again. The owners came out and thanked them, looking shaken. It was not a safe place to be a photographer. I saw a couple of people who were taking photos pushed off their bikes, before being kicked and punched. Several hooded teenagers wore £3000 digital cameras around their necks, which they’d stolen from the voyeurs.
I asked a few people why they were there. Some spoke about the shooting of Mark Duggan. Others told me to piss off, calling me a ‘pussyole’ and a ‘dickhead’. A wild-eyed man told me it was all down to the illuminati and ITV. A bus driver who’d abandoned his bus to the hordes blamed the decline of corporal punishment. Most noted that this kind of thing only seems to happen when the Tories are in power. When I got home I switched on Sky News, where Kit Malthouse, London’s deputy mayor for policing, urged parents ‘to go home and get their children off the streets’ so that the police could deal with people ‘as robustly as possible’. Simon Hughes blamed things on a few ‘evil people’. ‘There are leaders, who will be punished, and there are the led, who will also be punished,’ he said. A few minutes later David Cameron announced that he would be coming home from his holiday in Tuscany to deal with the crisis.