IT started relatively low key but quickly erupted into a night to shame Liverpool.As I took a routine drive down Lodge Lane, Toxteth, at around 11.10pm it was immediately clear something was happening. Too many people on the street; gangs of youths, older people hanging outside pubs and then...directly in front of me a yellow police van came under a ferocious shower of bottles, stones and bricks as it drove towards Smithdown Road.
The car in front made a sharp U-turn. I tentatively carried on to the red traffic lights several yards ahead. To my right on a small patch of wasteground dozens of would-be rioters were mulling - faces covered, most wearing black - but letting normal traffic past.
Yet other than the hapless van there were very few police to be seen.
Jump forward 10 minutes. I returned to the top of Lodge Lane to find a police sergeant, a colleague and their cars, lights flashing, blocking the junction with Smithdown Road. They had a handful of cones and a 'road closed' sign to help them - yet their attempts to stop the traffic were futile as cars and taxis continued up Lodge Lane relatively unhindered past the now fervent mob towards Smithdown Road.
I heard one of the officers on his radio appealing for assistance to prevent traffic entering Lodge Lane. He described a mob of around 150 youths and used the words "major disturbance".
Seconds later we were about to find out what that really meant.
I spoke briefly to the officers who quickly warned I would be a target just for talking to them. He gestured in the direction of the swelling ranks of troublemakers and said they appeared to be smashing up a building to use as ammunition. "Look they're not far now and they've been throwing stuff at us," he said. The mob was less than 100 yards away and heading slowly in our direction.
At that point, two students - one with a BMX bike - emerged from Lodge Lane saying: "That's mad. We were caught in the middle as they were throwing things at the police and they started asking why we weren't joining in. That's when we just had to get out," one said.
Moments later as we walked away, there was a loud bang. Then two more. I was later told they were fireworks. At that point, under a hail of missiles, the two officers jumped in their cars and sped off. Moments later the rioters emerged out of the junction booting over the cones. One of the yobs was videoing the mayhem.
The riot was now on the move - and it was to move quickly across large expanses of Toxteth over the next four hours leaving devastation in its wake.
Within a few minutes of reaching Smithdown the first fires were started in the street. A large mob could be seen massed at the top of the road and acrid black smoke drifted down the lane. Steering a course along the as yet untouched end of Princes Avenue and along Kingsley Road I tried to get to the other side of the riot.Emerging onto Upper Parliament Street, the mob appeared around 150 yards to my right as a large, dark moving mass - smoke again began to rise as the first flames engulfed a stranded minibus on the Allerton-bound carriageway.
One police car blocked the road - three police vans were parked behind it outside the Women's Hospital. But as the mob moved towards the police vehicles there was no phalanx of baton wielding armoured riot police - barely even a thin blue line.
I decided to move to Grove Street - a safer distance, I thought. After just a few minutes talking on the phone, I looked in the mirror to see the baying mob just 50 yards behind with smoke again beginning to rise. Thankfully I moved off - an hour later I would witness the true devastation wrought on the street's unfortunate residents. A small fleet of police vans - lights and sirens blaring - sped past some way from the scene. Occasional lone fire engines could also be seen answering calls.
I drove via a still peaceful Princes Avenue at around 12.30am back to the bottom of Smithdown Road which was blocked by police. There I met Picton Labour councillor Tim Beaumont with despair etched across his face.
Devastated and stunned, he could offer no obvious reason for the violence in a community where he said "relations seemed fine". As we talked it would later emerge the rioters were heading ever closer to the city centre.
At around 1am I rendezvoused with Chief Reporter Ben Rossington at the now peaceful top end of Lodge Lane. Bus stops were shattered and an old lady guided traffic around smouldering embers that remained in the centre of a trashed Smithdown Road. We headed towards Grove Street to see what had befallen the picturesque Georgian road.
It resembled a war scene. Stunned residents stood huddled in small groups as they surveyed the wreckage - several cars burnt out and the ones that escaped the flames were smashed up - broken glass littering the street. We carried on to turn down Myrtle Street but fire engines attending to blazing cars blocked the way.
Around 1.15am we saw the first massed ranks of riot police at the junction of Princess Road, Upper Parliament Street and Catharine Street. The police helicopter circled above. At last having arrived in force, lines of shielded officers defended every entrance to the junction.
Either by design or choice the riot had moved onto Princess Road and back into heartland Toxteth. We attempted to reach Princess Avenue via streets connecting it with Park Road but the riot was clearly in full swing on Toxteth's grand boulevard so at around 1.30am we passed a near-deserted Admiral Street police station with a lone yellow police van parked outside.
It was clearly not prepared for the horror to come. We returned to Myrtle Street at 1.45am to find the new Tesco Express smashed with firefighters tackling smoke that billowed from under the store's broken shutters. Stricken residents presumably from flats above lined the street
Fifteen minutes later we headed to Tesco's new giant Park Road store amid rumours it too had been attacked. The supermarket appeared intact but riot police blocked the entrance to High Park Street as smoke rose from the direction of Admiral Street police station.
Small pockets of youths - some with their faces covered - mingled with onlookers as police maintained a ring of steel around Toxteth's main police station which it would later emerge had come under fierce attack.
With the rioters having moved on, at this point we finally gained access to Princess Avenue, strewn with brick, glass and burning wheelie bins. Once again, parked cars were either burning or smashed. More blazing wheelie bins fully blocked the entrance from North Hill Street to Admiral Street with a line of riot police keeping guard beyond the flames.
At one point large groups appeared to be heading away from Admiral Street back toward Princess Avenue in numbers normally only seen after a football match. And all the time cars were following the 'action', racing between streets, stopping to talk to gangs and shout to pals - typically dark hatch backs, with youths inside and darkened windows.
At around 2.30am we returned to Myrtle Street, now unprotected, to see young looters pillaging the damaged Tesco. Two burnt-out cars semi-blocked the street next to a broken, spouting fire hydrant. A battered black VW Golf was parked across the road - windows smashed - as if abandoned in the face of the advancing mob. Minutes later police arrived to protect the shop but the looters had already fled.
At around 2.45am we returned to Admiral Street - this time able to drive up to the police station. A gutted carpet van stood outside the station now with barely a ground-floor window intact beneath the bedraggled Union Jack that fluttered gently on the roof.
The police helicopter once again hovered above - its white beam scouring the streets towards Princess Avenue. A riot cop came over and asked us what we were doing there.
"We're trying to make this place sterile and there are large groups of males wandering around - we don't want you adding to the problem," he said.
He had a point though minutes later we were to find the mob had once again congregated in far larger numbers. As we drove towards Princess Avenue at least a hundred rioters were congregated along Upper Warwick Street - one carrying a golf club, many wielding bricks. We didn't wait around as one shouted: "It's the bizzies."
Enough was enough.
It was now 3am and the mob had already inflicted hundreds of thousands of pounds damage in a four-hour rampage that brought misery and shame to our great city.
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