Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who also cut short her holiday, refused to be drawn when asked if Britain's streets were becoming "lawless".Birmingham became the first city outside London to experience trouble with rioters smashing city centre shop windows."There was nobody there to protect us," one resident told him.Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, called for the "strongest possible police response" to restore calm.Scotland Yard has been stung by accusations of a power vacuum at the top.It is without a commissioner following the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson last month.
Many of the areas targeted last night seemed to have little police presence.
Former Met commanders said the riots were unprecedented in their sporadic and spontaneous nature.
Brian Paddick, the former deputy assistant police commissioner who was a sergeant during the Brixton riots in the 1980s said: "We have not faced this situation before.
In some of the worst scenes yesterday, youths clashed with riot officers on Mare Street in Hackney, east London, throwing rocks and missiles.
Police were pelted with fireworks and petrol bombs, patrol cars were smashed while other vehicles and buildings were set alight.