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Vigilantes join 16,000 police on capital's streets

  • @jerometaylor

Shop owners across London vowed to protect their own businesses as anger over the police's inability to stop widespread looting pushed them towards setting up their own neighbourhood vigilante groups.

Inspired by reports of Turkish and Bangladeshi groups chasing would-be looters out of their neighbourhoods in east London, many shop keepers took to the streets to deter looters. Hundreds of Sikhs turned out in the Southall area last night in a collective show of force after rumours circulated that jewellery shops were going to be targeted.

In Enfield, sporadic chases occurred between a large group of people in their thirties and masked youths. Residents said they were out in a "show of strength." No violence was reported in either borough.

The news that shopkeepers were fighting back came as police investigating a large fire which destroyed The House of Reeves furniture store in Croydon arrested a man on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life. The 21-year-old suspect was detained by officers last night and is being held at a south London police station, police said. And while most of the capital was quiet, it was reported at 1am that a recycling centre in Tottenham was on fire.

Many others said yesterday they too would defend their livelihoods if rioting erupted in the capital again. "We're planning to get together and defend our streets," said one 32-year-old shopkeeper from Hackney, who asked not to be named. "I don't want to take the law into my own hands but if I have to, I will."

Pictures of Monday night's rioting mainly showed police and locals conceding the streets to baying mobs which trashed shops and set fire to cars or buildings with near impunity. Yet there were instances where locals physically resisted the looters.

In Dalston, a corner of north-east London with a large Turkish community, men armed with baseball bats and sticks fought running battles with masked youths. Shop owners in Dalston said they felt compelled to arm themselves because it was clear there weren't enough police to protect the area. Many of the businesses on Kingsland Road, Dalston's main thoroughfare, do not have shutters protecting their windows and are therefore vulnerable to vandals.

"There were no police so we came out to defend ourselves," said a shopkeeper who gave only his first name, Mehmet. "I don't know if it's breaking the law but what can we do?" he asked.

In the more affluent neighbourhood of Stoke Newington further north – an area filled with boutique shops and independent retailers – there was widespread praise for Turkish people who stopped rioters.

In Whitechapel, home to Britain's largest Bangladeshi population, locals described how 70 masked rioters were chased out of the neighbourhood by Bengali youths who had gathered for evening prayers outside East London Mosque.

"There's a real sense of community here, especially during Ramadan when people are supposed to look out for each other," said Abdul Jalil, the manager of the Deshi Fish grocery store opposite the mosque. "The shutters will come down this evening but I'm going to stick around in case the rioters come into the area again."