Sir Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, confirmed that three shots had been fired by rioters and said texts of speeches were being examined to see whether charges of incitement could be brought.
Last night, as the community braced itself for fresh trouble, attention focused on Rudy Narayan, a black barrister, who told Wednesday's protesters that the police were killers and added: "They will not understand what they have done until one of them has been killed."
The tension in Brixton was palpable yesterday after the worst night of violence since the notorious riots of 1981 and 1985. Twelve people, including three police officers, were injured and more than 50 shops looted during almost six hours of rioting.
Hundreds went on the rampage after a peaceful demonstration over the death in police custody of Wayne Douglas, a 25-year-old suspected of burgling a flat and threatening the occupants with a knife, turned sour. The Police Complaints Authority said Douglas's death was caused by a heart condition, but an unnamed witness told the black community paper the Voice that he was beaten after being relieved of his knife.
As the area began a huge clean-up, Sir Paul said: "We have established a criminal inquiry, not just into the criminal offences on the streets, but into the inflammatory nature of the speeches made outside the police station and we will be exploring whether criminal offences of incitement and other offences were committed."
He described the disturbances as a "setback" for the community, but added: "It wasn't Brixton that rioted last night, it was a small minority of thugs and criminals who as ever look for an opportunity to embark on criminal exercises."
Sir Paul praised the action of his officers and confirmed that gunshots were heard during the disturbances. "We strongly believe three shots were fired, not necessarily at the police," he said "There were strong rumours that attempts would be made to shoot police officers."
Michael Howard, the Home Secretary,who made an unannounced visit to Brixton police station, praised the action of officers and implored the community to continue working with the police.
However, a caucus of black activists criticised the government and the police for failing to learn from past riots and demanded the immediate suspension of the officers involved in Douglas's arrest.
Lee Jasper, chair of the National Black Caucus, said: "The events of last night were inevitable and we've been predicting this would happen for the last five years." After riots in 1981, 1985 and now, Mr Jasper said, the same questions were being asked but "no one has learned any lessons".
Derek Hinds of the National Black Caucus read out a list to gathered media of 51 black people he claimed had been killed since 1969 as a direct result of racial violence involving the police and prison authorities. "There has been no progress made since 1985," he said.
Mr Hinds promised the formation of a new organisation called Operation Black Vote. "Neither Labour nor Conservatives nor any other party will get our vote in future unless they show us they are working for it," he announced.Reuse content