They sang: 'We wish you a merry Christmas'

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The Independent Online
Witnesses to the mayhem told how the trouble developed as police and gangs of youths milled around the area. At about 9.30pm, shops were set on fire, and bottles and bricks were thrown at police.

One man was arrested by police in front of reporter Anna Smurthwaite, who was hit by a truncheon as police made the arrest. She said: "Police were being very heavy-handed with him. Everyone around was trying to get out of the way but they just marched in."

Magazine journalist Dominic Bradbury, 27, described how a police motorcyclist was beaten up by a gang of youths. "This police motorcyclist came out of a side road straight into a gang of youths. He drove into them. I think he was trying to get away. But they pulled him off the bike and about 20 or 30 of them were laying into him.

"They were kicking him and one of them had a big stick which they used to hit him. He had his helmet on so that at least protected his head.

"He was lying on the ground, but then they got him on to his knees and they were holding him like that, kicking him in the back as if they were trying to break his spine. It was horrific.

"After about five minutes, the police down the road must have realised he was up there, and they charged at the gang to get them away. An ambulance rushed over and they treated him on the ground for about 25 minutes. As he was carried into the ambulance, there were kids standing outside the Town Hall singing 'We wish you a merry Christmas'."

Other witnesses in Brixton Road told of a huge police operation to clear the street. One woman said: "They are marching down the street kicking everyone out of the way. A man collapsed in the street in front of them and started having a fit. I was screaming for them to call an ambulance but they rushed at us. I think they thought it was a trick, they were even holding us out of the way of the man."

Chris Edun, 33, manager of the Seven-Eleven convenience store, which was burnt out soon after the trouble began, was still shocked several hours later by what he had seen. "I just stepped out on to the street for a couple of minutes and when I came back the whole place was up in flames," he said. "There were people coming in, taking stuff from the shop. The six staff that were working at the time just ran out the back and left them to smash the place up."

Black people in the crowd in Atlantic Road expressed anger about Wayne Douglas's death. One man said: "It will be an eye for an eye." But a companion added: "It makes no sense mashing up your own home. People will be put off coming here even more."

By 1am a restless peace had descended and the political fall-out had begun. Andy Morris, deputy chairman of the community forum Brixton City Challenge, said: "It appears yet another black youth was killed with the new-style batons," referring to Mr Douglas's death.

"Young people around here are fed up with the way the police handle them. It's like a return to the 'sus' law with the Criminal Justice Act, where police can stop young people, black and white, when they want. Lord Scarman did a comprehensive report into Brixton after the last riot; perhaps it's time for another report.

"pounds 91m has been invested in Brixton in recent years but it hasn't achieved anything."