Up to 1,000 youths besieged Clapham Junction, south London, as they ransacked high street stores with no sign of police who appeared powerless to stop the “anarchy”.
For more than two hours, the youths, some as young as 14 and many female, destroyed buildings as they rioted throughout one of the capital’s bustling shopping districts.
Witnesses reported police were “completely outnumbered” as they tried to barricade the rioters inside St Johns Rd.
Astonishing footage emerged of hundreds of masked looters running through the streets unchecked, breaking into shops such as Debenhams and stealing thousands of pounds worth of goods.
Not one business was spared, as row after row of shop fronts were destroyed along Lavander Hill, St John’s Road and St John’s Hill.
The local Debenhams store was heavily hit, as was local sporting good stores. Jewellers and other clothing stores were also targeted. Security alarms were ringing for at least two hours in several buildings following the vandalism attacks.
Residents were told to stay indoors as the “opportunistic” youths, most of them wearing hoods or masks, held little regard for the law.
Looters had stolen masks from a fancy dress store to hide their identity. Many of the youths used newspaper bins to smash into shops.
The Daily Telegraph witnessed hundreds of youths running into stores through broken windows and running out with arm full of goods. Some of them were as young as 14.
Witnesses reported seeing looters fill suitcases with stolen goods, while other rioters phoned friends to drive up to the area so they could fill their cars with shoes, clothes and mobile phones.
Many could not even carry all of their stolen goods, putting armfuls into sheets and dragging them down side road.
Many of the youths appeared to be enjoying themselves as they laughed and posed for pictures in front of smashed shop fronts. Dozens could be seen “bragging” about their stolen goods.
Just after midnight police told residents to evacuate after the fancy dress shop and flats above it were set on fire.
The blaze on Lavender Hill sent plumes of smoke up into the air amid fears that helium canisters could explode.
Earlier looters had stolen masks from the fancy dress store to hide their identity.
At first police had the area in lockdown at rush hour as commuters were faced with dozens of masked youths.
One motorist who was unlucky to have been caught by the youths staggered from his car, blood pouring from head wounds. He was taken to a local hospital.
“There were gangs of youths everywhere. We couldn’t go anywhere,” he told officers, his head in hands, and body shaking.
Residents were told to stay indoors amid fears that they could be targeted.
“We don’t want people getting hurt by their bombs and missiles,” said one officer.
Locals told of their fear as rumours swirled about what the gangs were doing.
“We are so scared, we have no idea what they are doing, or why,” said one local, who did not want to be named.
“How can this happen in our area? We thought it was safe.”
But just after 10pm police suddenly, and without explanation, lifted the cordons and allowed people through.
The scene that greeted locals was one that resembled a war zone. Smashed glass was all over the road, retail goods were scattered all over the footpath and there was litter and rubbish everywhere.
Officers appeared powerless to stop the rampage. The youths continued ransacking shops for at least an hour before two police vehicles sped through the area, sending the large crowd fleeing.