LONDON - Eleven people between 16 and 22 were in custody yesterday after a fatal stabbing 24 hours earlier shut down London’s main shopping street during one of its busiest days of the year, a move that prompted frustrated consumers to surge against police lines and a police officer to fire a stun gun.
The stabbing, part of a wave of knife crime that has swept through many of Britain’s largest cities in recent years, stunned many here. It seemed likely to renew pressure for stiffer penalties against those who carry knives, and demands that Prime Minister David Cameron fulfill promises made in a general election 20 months ago that all those caught carrying knives would face prison terms.
Scotland Yard announced that a postmortem had shown that the stabbing victim, Seydou Diarrassouba, 18, had died of a knife wound to the heart during a fight in a sneaker store on Oxford Street, an iconic stretch of chain stores and boutiques in the heart of London and the traditional center of its Christmas festivities.
The episode unfolded Monday, as thousands of local residents and tourists flocked to Boxing Day sales. British newspaper reports said members of rival youth gangs had clashed over a pair of sneakers in a Foot Locker store. They quoted witnesses as saying that Diarrassouba had staggered into the street and collapsed amid a heavy crowd of shoppers.
With shoppers looking on, police officers and paramedics came to his aid. Armed officers deployed in the area stood guard, repeatedly pushing back angry youths seeking to reach the victim as the paramedics attempted in vain to revive him.
A few hours later, a second man, 21, was stabbed in the leg near the Oxford Circus tube station. His wounds were not life-threatening.
Commenting on a possible connection between the stabbings, a police inspector, Bruce Middlemiss, was quoted by The Guardian newspaper as saying: “There’s nothing firm. However, they are a similar sort of circumstances, youths possibly from the same south London area.’’
News reports said that various weapons had been recovered in the first case and that police were questioning a 16-year-old, three 17-year-olds, five 19-year-olds, and two 22-year-olds.
The police were focusing their investigation across the River Thames in south London, setting up an incident room at Lewisham, a district where youths rioted in August in unrest that struck several British cities.
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Dunne told BBC: “There appear to be two groups of young people involved in this incident and opposing each other.’’
Appealing for witnesses, John Sweeney, Scotland Yard detective superintendent, said the police were particularly eager to have camera-phone footage.
Oxford Street, home to major multistory retailers including Selfridges and Debenhams, reopened yesterday for the second day of an annual post-Christmas shopping spree. Monday, Boxing Day in England, and yesterday were both bank holidays.
Retailers had been looking forward to a sales boom to make up for lackluster preholiday sales. Shoppers gathered in Oxford Street from 10:30 p.m. on Christmas Day to be first in line for bargains, and shop owners in central London reported $23.5 million of business in their first three hours Monday.
The sales are being closely watched in Britain as a bellwether of what may lie ahead for the economy, with sluggish growth in recent months having fallen to near zero, and some economists predicting a return to recession if there is no resolution to the crisis in the eurozone, which accounts for 40 percent of Britain’s overseas trade.