Embattled police were forced to tell Londoners to clear the streets last night after more areas were consumed by riots, fires and looting in the worst violence to be seen in the capital for decades.
The Prime Minister and the London Mayor cut short their holidays in order to return and take hold of the situation which by late afternoon had spread to several new areas both within the city and beyond.
As darkness drew violence broke out in a succession of areas across London including Peckham, Croydon, Catford, Bethnal Green, Lewisham and Clapham, while in Hackney police fought a series of running battles with rioters.
Police sounded increasingly desperate as they pleaded for people to keep off the streets, and the Acting Scotland Yard Commissioner Tim Godwin even issued an appeal to parents to "contact your children" to make sure they were off the streets rather than rioting or watching the violence.
He said:"I'm imploring that people within those communities actually start clearing the streets to enable my police officers to deal with the criminality that's occurring in front of them." The plea came amid reports a boy as young as 11, charged with burglary, is among those who have been arrested.
Hundreds of extra officers were drafted in from outside the city to deal with the unrest but were unable to stop shops being looted and set ablaze.
In New Cross Gate a Curry's superstore was raided by a gang of up to 100 youths, with at least one of them seen later on going door to door trying to sell stolen television sets.
In Peckham a shop was set ablaze and, because it was beyond the police cordon, the fire brigade was unable to move in to dowse the flames until police charged rioters to clear the street. In Bethnal Green one commuter was overheard telling a friend by phone, "It's a war zone."
Earlier in the day police said that 215 people had already been arrested and, with officers vowing to publish CCTV pictures of any suspected rioters and looters to help track them down, hundreds more arrests are expected.
Shops shut early in many parts of south London after being warned the rioters could be heading their way, and a number of railway stations were closed for the safety of passengers.
Rioters kept in contact with each other, planning their attacks, on Blackberry Messenger. Blackberry was in talks with police about how to combat the way the encrypted service is being misused.