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Masked youths rampage through West Bromwich

Masked youths rampaged through West Bromwich town centre, hurling bricks and smashing up shops and cars.

Masked youths rampage through West Bromwich

Masked youths rampaged through West Bromwich town centre, hurling bricks and smashing up shops and cars.

It was the day gangs brought terror to the heart of West Bromwich leaving residents and shopkeepers fearing for their homes and businesses.

Until now the trouble that has been mounting in towns and cities had not been seen in the Black Country, but yesterday the unrest which has plagued the country for the last four days finally arrived in Sandwell.

Panic was mounting from the early afternoon in West Bromwich as businesses closed their doors ahead of the impending trouble.

Shutters were pulled down and boards were beginning to be nailed to shops on the High Street from around 2pm after fears that masked youths intent on causing destruction would be hitting the town.

Some of the first shops to close were small, family owned jewellers, while banks such as Natwest and Barclays, which have been victims of raids in other cities, shut their doors after lunchtime.

Lloyds TSB posted a sign outside stating: "Due to the country's problems we have been advised to close."

The Astle Retail Park, which includes Marks & Spencer and Nike outlet stores, also closed early.

The Morrisons superstore on The Ringway also began boarding up as it closed early and West Bromwich arts centre The Public was also closed.

From early on families and shoppers had abandoned the town centre.

But by mid afternoon small groups of young people, some believed to be aged as young as 11, and dressed in dark hooded tops, jeans and covered faces, had began filtering on to the town's streets, loitering near to shops and on the lookout for trouble.

By 4pm fears of worried shopkeepers turned into a reality as trouble began to erupt in the town, with many people speaking of youths charging through the area and attacking homes, shops and cars.

Around 200 youths tore bricks out of homes near to the Desi Junction pub at the top end of the High Street, while windows at the Quicksilver Gaming Centre were smashed. The damage was later boarded up.

William Hill bookmakers was also hit.

It was not long before riot police were brought in and a number of road closures were put in place to contain the violence.

The High Street was quickly cordoned off, and later junction 1 of the M5 at West Bromwich, Birmingham Road, Trinity Street, Trinity Way, West Bromwich Ringway, Spon Lane, Newton Road and Cronehills Linkway at the A41 Expressway, were also closed, blocking some of the major routes into the town centre. All of the roads remained closed until around 7.30am today.

Dressed in full riot gear and shields, police officers lines up at points near to the Goose pub, the Farley Centre, near to Mann Brothers Ltd clothing store and Trinity Way.

Dozens more as well as uniformed officers were also on patrol through the streets.

As officers faced off with the gangs, youths shouted abuse and jeered at the officers.

Shortly afterwards they set their sights on homes at the top of the High street, ripping bricks from walls and hurling them at cars, police officers before turning their attention to the Dhillons Sweets store, which had tried to protect itself by pulling down its shutters.

Bins were hurled into the middle of the road and the violence spiralled out of control as gangs pulled a Land Rover and a catering van into the centre of High Street.

In shocking scenes, hooded and masked men could be seen attempting to tip over the catering van, before it was torched.

The blazing vehicles caused plumes of black smoke to billow into the skyline before the fire was eventually put out by the fire service.

The charred remains of the cars were strewn across the street and remained there for much of the evening.

A second wave of disturbances is believed to have been targeted at Cash Converters on the High Street around midnight. The Wilkinson store was also hit.

It is believed looters got in and stole laptops, iPads and iPhones from the Cash Converters store.

As the drama unfolded onlookers from the nearby Sikh Gurdwara looked on in shock and disbelief. Many people also appeared to be standing guard outside their own properties.

Peter Kumar, aged 33, who runs DM Security on High Street, decided to start boarding up his office at around 12noon yesterday as he feared trouble.

"We had just finished boarding the shop up around 4pm," he said.

"There were loads of kids, really young kids, younger than teenagers were shouting and screaming, racing down the street shouting 'come on, come on, are you gonna take me?' to the police.

"Then they attacked the wall of the house opposite, pulling the bricks with their bare hands and throwing them at the house and smashing the windows. They then went to a parked van and a parked Land Rover on the side of the road and pushed them into the middle of the road and then set them alight.

"It took ages for the fire brigade to arrive, we were just waiting for the van to blow, we didn't know what to do, we were just astounded," he said.

Kas Weston, who owns the Forward Garage car garage, said: "There were about 40 to 50 of them running around.

"They just dragged the car into the middle of the road and were running from one side of the street to the other.

"We couldn't believe it."

Mr Lal said: "The kids were not scared, they were shouting and goading at the police. They didn't look panicked or worried they were just strutting about.

"This is just sick. They are just really young kids just trying to rampage."

Witness Raju Ahmed, manger of Mumtaz Restaurant on the High Street, was one of the few businesses which stayed open.

He said: "I've never seen anything like this before. The High Street shut when the flats collapsed about two years ago, but nothing has ever been shut for this long.

"It's a disgrace. They are stopping trade for everyone.

"There has been problems in the High Street with some fighting and people spilling out of pubs, but this is so, so much worse," he said.

Witness Jonathan Hipkiss who was driving through the town centre at around 5.30pm while the violence was at its peak, said: "Around 50 people ran past my car at the top of the High Street area.

"There were lots of people in balaclavas on and carrying sticks.

"There was a fair bit of traffic. It seemed people wanted to get out of the town centre as quickly as possible.

"People were standing in the road, there were just so many people about, I was scared to move the car out of fear I might run someone over.

"It was a very intimidating atmosphere and really put me on edge."

Market stall holder Mohammed Naz of Naz Electronics started closing his stall on High Street at around 2pm.

He said: "We are all just really worried. We have heard rumours about trouble and we want to get closed as soon as possible. Everyone is nervous.

"All the shops are shutting up and people just want to get cleared up and out of here. I have never seen the High Street like this, it is very eerie," he said.

"This is my livelihood I don't want to lose everything because of some yobs."

Stall holder Raj Singh has been selling clothes on West Bromwich High Street for the past 10 years.

Mr Singh said: "Everyone is just packing up and leaving. It's awful because we are losing half a day's trade, but we don't want to be here if things start to kick off. We have paid for a full days rent of the stall as well. I have never had to pack up early like this before, it is quite worrying."

Stan Chalmers of Walter Smith Butchers said he would try to stay open as long as possible.

He said: "We haven't been told to close, so will stay open as long as possible. If anything happens we will just close the shutters. Customers are worried, and are commenting on the weird atmosphere."

As the violence broke out Asda in nearby Great Bridge took the precaution of shutting its doors, locking inside members of staff and shoppers.

Among them was Sandwell's neighbourhood services boss, Councillor Derek Rowley.

He said: "In the late afternoon Asda in Great Bridge closed the doors and locked us all in the shop and shoppers out of the shop.

"The police turned up about 5pm and allowed us to leave.

"By the time I had got off the car park there were only a handful of cars left."

As soon as the drama kicked off, news had started to spread on social networking site Twitter.

The leader of Sandwell Council, Councillor Darren Cooper, was out on the streets of West Bromwich and Smethwick.

He posted on Twitter that he was "sad" that the riots had spread to West Bromwich.

He wrote: "Been out and about in West Brom, our police are doing a great job, in restoring order. I am sad that this is happening in Sandwell."

There were also reports of disruption spreading at the Windmill Centre in Smethwick.

At around 11.30pm Councillor Cooper wrote on Twitter: "Large groups of young people in Cape Hill Smethwick hanging around Carphone Warehouse. Massive police presence. This is my ward."

It was reported around 40 to 50 youths were present around the shops.

Around two hours later he wrote: "Cape Hill Smethwick now settled, Sandwell Police need a massive thank you from this community."

Despite major town centre roads being closed off, the bus station on West Bromwich Ringway was operating as normal. Midland Metro services were also unaffected despite the disruption in West Bromwich, and in Wolverhampton.

The actions of shopkeepers in the town mirrored that of neighbouring boroughs.

Many stores in Walsall's main shopping street closed early yesterday afternoon. H.Samuels, Carphone Warehouse, Three Store and Republic, all in Park Street, were among those to shut early, while the Old Square Shopping Centre all pulled its shutters down early.

Some banks including HSBC and Santander, both on The Bridge, had signs in the window advising customers they had decided to close early.

A heavy police presence stretched across the town centre.

Two police cars and several officers in yellow vests were in Park Street, while dozens more stood guard on The Bridge, along Digbeth and up towards the historic St Matthew's Church.

Officers were moving swiftly to break up any groups of youths gathering in the town centre.

At one point, police escorted a group of youths through Digbeth and along Upper Rushall Street until they broke up.

More officers were on guard at St Paul's bus station as workers made their journeys home for the evening.

National Express West Midlands bus services were also unaffected in the borough, despite buses stopping in other areas at around 9.30pm.

A full service was expected to be running in Walsall today.

The violence in West Bromwich prompted furious reactions from councillors.

Councillor Bawa Singh Dhallu, for West Bromwich Central, said: "There has been a lot of damage.

"We shouldn't accept these things, people are running businesses and are suffering a loss - it's not good enough.

"People are trying to earn a living and bring up their families, and I just want to say to these people that it's not good enough. We are living in a peaceful society and we need to respect each other."

Deputy leader of Sandwell Council Steve Eling said: "It is extremely disappointing.

"There will be a combination of factors that caused this flair-up, but clearly opportunist criminals are at play.

"It seems to have been organised through social media.

"The impact for West Bromwich is extremely damaging, not just for the properties but to the reputation of the town.

"It's a worrying and disappointing set of circumstances."

He said the police response had been "excellent" adding: "It appears there are some really young perpetrators and the parents need to be asking where their kids are if they are out smashing up vehicles and shops, and looting. But the organisers, the people who are pushing this through social media aren't young kids."

And Councillor Cooper added today: "It is an absolute disgrace.

"I was out on the streets last night and talking to people to hear what they were saying, but they are pure thugs and criminals who don't care about anything or anyone."

He added Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper was also due in the borough at lunchtime today to visit the scene of the riots.

Councillor Cooper said meetings would be held to discuss the rioting in West Bromwich.

He said: "To be honest, there is something fundamentally wrong with our society with all of this sporadic rioting.

"Serious questions need to be asked of this and previous governments as to how our society has got to this point where these young people have got no respect for themselves, the community or for our police force.

"It is an absolute disgrace.

"It was not multinational companies that were targeted, these are small businesses owned by local people trying to earn a decent living and a part of our community and this destruction doesn't help anybody already living in a poor area."

Councillor Copper added shops were expected to open as normal today.

He said: "Today it is business as usual. The police have done a tremendous job. There is no sign of any trouble there today and West Bromwich is open for business.

"There was a few bricks and other bits and bobs on the High Street yesterday, but that has been cleared up and the road is fully open and everything is back to normal."

West Bromwich Central Councillor, Mohinder Singh Tagger, said: "I think it's very bad, this needs to be controlled.

"These people are stealing things and it makes me very angry."

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