For shoppers on London’s Oxford Street, an evening of browsing and buying was thrown into chaos last night, with stores forced to shutter their doors as dozens of police officers descended on Europe’s busiest shopping destination.
Over the following hours, several shoppers were forced to leave stores as officers formed human shields around shops in anticipation of violence.
A growing trend on social media calling for riots and looting in JD Sports, shared by hundreds of teenagers, had caught the attention of Met Police. The widely shared posts on TikTok and Snapchat began trending under the tag “Oxford Circus JD robbery”, with youths encouraging others to congregate at 3pm and loot stores along the street.
In one ominous video, a poster urged yobs to follow the “dress code” of balaclavas and gloves before warning: “Don’t come if you can’t run. Don’t bring any weapons.”
While officers descended on the West End street to prevent any wrongdoing, they were unable to stop the hundreds of teenagers who appeared outside JD Sports and McDonald’s.
Speaking to The Independent, one woman said she had been caught in the mayhem after leaving the Apple Store and first questioned whether there had been a stabbing.
“As I was walking out, I saw a pretty big group of kids, I’m going to say about 50-70,” she said. “For a second, I forgot school was already out and assumed it was that, then they all started running at once and a woman next to me went, ‘Oh my God, do you think there’s been an attack?’
“It was very hectic on one side of the street, the side opposite the Apple Store. It was like there was nothing and then suddenly a massive group of teens, and then a rush of police. I’d say I saw maybe 150 teens in total, between the group on the street and in the Tube stations.
“I think a lot of tourists were really scared, and the shops all had a lot of security, but there were also people like me who just skirted around the groups or dodged them but kept on their way.”
Another eyewitness said that Oxford Circus was “chaotic”, with teenagers running amok and police officers grappling others to the floor. One employee at a local store said that in his experience, he had “never seen an incident like this” after traffic was brought to a halt to deal with the disorder.
Videos show officers chasing after youths outside the Microsoft store with their batons raised, while one officer appeared to be punched in the face during a scuffle.
Other teens took to TikTok and Snapchat to share footage of shoppers and young people running away from police officers, as Vision Express and Boots shuttered their doors in anticipation of violence.
In a separate clip, infamous TikTok star Mizzy was seen being stopped by police officers and handed a dispersal order. He later took to social media to clarify that he had no awareness of the looting and had only been planning to attend the cinema with his friends.
Mizzy, whose real name is Bacari Bronze O’Garro, said: “I didn’t do nothing, I didn’t start that event, that event has nothing to do with me. I did not go around telling people to loot shops, because that’s bummy behaviour.”
The prankster has appeared in court twice in recent months due to his anti-social behaviour, which has seen him entering a family’s home, causing mayhem in a Primark store, and running away with a woman’s dog.
By 8.15pm, the situation was under control and nine people had been arrested while 34 had been issued with dispersal orders. Two people were held in Essex for conspiracy to commit robbery following the online social media posts, while others were arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer and going equipped to steal.
A dispersal order has been put in place until 10am on Thursday, giving officers the power to exclude people from the area for 48 hours. It includes a number of Tube stations, including Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Charing Cross and Covent Garden.
The mayor of London Sadiq Khan earlier urged people not to go to Oxford Street to take part in “nonsense” spread on social media.
Mr Khan said: “I am worried about this nonsense we have seen on TikTok encouraging people to go to Oxford Street.
“The police understand why some people may be tempted to go to that part of London because of the TikTok.
“I’d encourage anybody who’s seen it not to go to Oxford Street. Do not allow yourself to be sucked into an area that could be high crime area.
Yesterday’s scenes were reminiscent of last August when youths ran riot in a US-style candy shop and damaged an expensive Ferrari after a small-scale riot broke out near Oxford Circus.
Home secretary Suella Braverman has called for those responsible for the disorder to be “hunted down” and jailed.
Sharing a video on Twitter/X of police making arrests, she posted: “We cannot allow the kind of lawlessness seen in some American cities to come to the streets of the UK.
“The police have my full backing to do whatever necessary to ensure public order.
“Those responsible must be hunted down & locked up. I expect nothing less from the @metpoliceuk and have requested a full incident report.”