More than 250 police officers were drafted into the Marsh Farm Estate in Luton yesterday after two nights of rioting. A police spokesman said: "It's hot, it's sticky, people are angry. Anything could happen."
Five people will appear at Luton magistrates' court today on charges including theft and violent disorder arising from Thursday night's riot. Ten people remain in police custody.
Early yesterday, crowds of up to 500 people, mainly teenagers, attacked police with bottles, bricks and petrol bombs in five hours of disturbances. A supermarket was ransacked, the windows of a library shattered and courtyards and car parks littered with debris. More than pounds 16,000 of damage has been caused.
One police officer who had been sent with a contingent from the Metropolitan Police to help Bedfordshire officers contain the riot was stabbed. His body armour saved him from serious injury. Alan Dyer, Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, is said to have ordered 140 sets of body armour for officers yesterday at a cost of pounds 140,000.
Estimates of the number of people involved ranged originally from 100 to 200 but police said yesterday afternoon that there could have been as many as 500 rioters.
A Bedfordshire Constabulary spokesman could not confirm that rioters had laid an ambush for officers and lured them to it with a hoax call, but he admitted: "That wouldn't surprise me at all. It is pretty standard practice in a riot situation."
Fr John Belither of the local Anglican church spent four hours yesterday morning following the movement of the riot through the estate in his car. "I am shocked and saddened by what I saw," he said. "There is certainly a hard core of youngsters responsible for the trouble but it is by no means the majority of people on the estate."
Despite similar riots which lasted for four consecutive days in 1992, the Marsh Farm Estate, according to residents and Luton Town Council, is not a "problem area".
Some residents believed the riots had been provoked by the arrest of a 13-year-old boy said to have absconded from a young offenders' institution. They criticised the police for "heavy-handed tactics". Others thought the police had been too restrained and had let the riot get out of control.
Colin Brown of the Luton Independent Residents' Association said he thought the violence was planned and that rioters had come in from other areas.
Another resident said: "I do a lot of work in this community here and all the lads I talked to today said they didn't recognise hardly any of those who were rioting. When the circus is in town, you are going to go to it, aren't you?"
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