What was the trigger behind such rage? What have we all missed in the build up to these riots which have enveloped the country like snow in summer? There are almost as many theories as there are incidents but as I, like millions of Britons, try to make sense of what has happened I was particularly interested in this report by Paul Lewis and James Harkin of the Guardian -- not just because it was detailed and vivid -- but because it took place a few hundred yards from where I live in Hampstead. I wrote a story earlier this week after my daughter Lydia telephoned in shock the following morning as she walked by the mayhem.
Hampstead, an artsy village in north London, home of the liberal intelligentsia and home to painter John Constable, revolutionary writer William Blake and poet Alfred Tennyson was, as the reporters describe, the area where the rioters, young men and women I walk past most days, debated whether to ‘torch’.
The crowd gathered outside Chalk Farm tube station at 1am on Tuesday morning was representative of those who had been at the frontline of other riots over the previous 72 hours.
Anyone who has witnessed the disturbances up close will know there is no simple answer to the question: who are the rioters? Attempts to use simple categorisations to describe the looters belies the complex make-up of those who have been participating.
Some who have been victims of the looting resent attempts to rationalise or give meaning to what they perceive as the mindless thuggery of an "underclass". Others want an explanation of who has been taking part - and why....