David Cameron and the head of the Metropolitan Police have taken the unprecedented step of authorising armed officers to use plastic bullets to stop looters and rioters laying waste to London and other major cities.
The Prime Minister and senior officers approved the emergency powers for "as long as they are needed" to get a grip on the lawlessness which has now spread to communities across the country. If plastic bullets are fired, it would be the first time such armaments have been used on the British mainland. They have been implicated in at least 17 deaths in Northern Ireland over the past 40 years.
The Government also discussed introducing CS gas and water cannon to break up disturbances in future – a move which would end a 180-year tradition of "minimum force" public order policing in Britain.
Last night, further trouble broke out in Birmingham, where rioters targeted a Harvey Nichols store, as well as Salford, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich and Canning Town in east London.
"The police are being given an opportunity to prove they can control this by traditional methods and maximising their strength on the streets," said a senior Whitehall source. "All options will have to be considered if all else fails." Officers were drafted into London from 30 different forces yesterday – bringing the total police strength on the streets to 16,000.
David Cameron announced Parliament will be recalled tomorrow to debate the riots, the first time such a recall has occurred as a result of disturbances in mainland Britain.
Mr Cameron yesterday called on officers to use "more robust" tactics against rioters. "It's quite clear that we need more, much more police on our streets and we need even more robust police action," he said. He pledged to speed up court procedures to deal with the expected arrests as police scour hundreds of hours of CCTV.
He warned the young people involved in the riots: "You will feel the full force of the law. And if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment."
So far, 111 Met officers and five police dogs have been injured in the violence. Scotland Yard has made 563 arrests and charged 105 people.Reuse content