Armoured vehicles have been brought in to clear the streets for the first time by police to tackle what senior officers say is the worst rioting and looting in living memory.
More than 6,000 officers – including 2,500 mostly public order trained officers and 3,500 local officers – were on duty as violence spread from north, to east, west and south London on Monday night. Fires burned in Croydon, Clapham Junction and Hackney as well as flaring up outside the capital in Liverpool.
Senior officers say the violence and looting on Monday night was the worst in living memory; eclipsing the 1980s inner city riots in Toxteth, Brixton and Tottenham at the height of Margaret Thatcher's premiership.
Armoured vehicles – known as Jenkels – were brought in during the early hours of Tuesday morning in Clapham Junction where much of the worst looting and arson took place. The vehicles were driven on to Lavender Hill to push back a crowd of 150 looters who had smashed up Debenhams and other stores and businesses in the area.
The deployment of the Jenkels brought echoes of Northern Ireland during the Troubles to London streets and marked the start of what sources say are much tougher tactics against rioters. But a police source said the use of water cannons was a decision for government, not Scotland Yard.
The use of armoured vehicles to clear the gang of rioters after hours in which it appeared the police had lost the streets means they will be used again if violence continues, the Yard said.
Across London, officers were fully stretched and members of the public were injured as bottles, petrol bombs and other missiles flew.
One man in his 60s received a life threatening head injuries. Three people were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after a police officer was knocked down by a car running into him in Brent, north-west London.
Faced with criticism that not enough officers were on the streets, the Met said there were 2,500 public order officers in addition to 3,500 officers in boroughs who were on duty.
The Yard brought in mutual aid from 12 forces and will do so again on Tuesday.
"Officers and staff continue to work long hours at short notice in very challenging circumstances," Scotland Yard said. "We continue to have the plans and resources in place to respond to any further disorder, deal with normal policing across the city and keep Londoners safe."
PC Paul Deller told BBC Radio 4 that the officers gave it everything. Asked whether there were enough police on the ground he said: "Probably there aren't but we gave it everything we could.
The violence that started in Tottenham at the weekend after a man was shot dead by officers spread throughout the capital.
The "inexcusable" attacks saw major fires started in Hackney, Peckham, Lewisham, Clapham, Ealing and Croydon, where a man was injured in a shooting.
A furniture shop in Croydon which had been in the same family for five generations was completely destroyed after being torched.
A huge blaze at a Sony distribution centre near Enfield, north London sent plumes of thick smoke billowing into the sky.
Scotland Yard said 334 people had been arrested, 69 charged and two cautioned across the capital, as over 1,700 extra police were deployed across London, some from neighhbouring forces.
Scotland Yard said between 250 to 300 people had gathered on the Pembury Estate, setting alight cars and throwing petrol bombs.
Looting and outbreaks of violence was also recorded by officers in Newham, Lewisham and Bethnal Green, where more than 100 people looted a Tesco premises and two officers were injured.
South of the river in Peckham, teams of riot officers were seen charging at fleeing troublemakers after a major fire was started at a shop adjoining a Greggs bakery. A nearby bus was also set on fire.
Scotland Yard was forced to use armoured police vehicles to push back more than 150 people at Clapham Junction, south London, as shops and businesses were hit.
The force said it would use the tactic elsewhere if needed.
The violence also spread to leafy suburbs including East Dulwich and Ealing where youths ran amok, starting fires and breaking into shops.
Scotland Yard said the three people were arrested following an incident in Brent, north west London, in which an police officer was hit by a car while trying to stop looters.
Home Secretary Theresa May commented: "The violence we've seen, the looting we've seen, the thuggery we've seen - this is sheer criminality, and let's make no bones about it."
The violence has come after a peaceful protest in Tottenham on Saturday, which followed the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan, 29, on Thursday.
An inquest into Mr Duggan's death is due to open this morning at High Barnet.