Manchester was a very peculiar place to be yesterday afternoon as everyone had the same thing on their minds: would there be trouble?
A heavy police presence in Piccadilly Gardens from about 1 o’clock added to the tension circulating the town centre.
“I’m going home, apparently there’s gonna be riots at four” I overheard one man say.
Indeed rumours on Twitter suggested violence had already started in the city centre at 3 o’clock, something of which I saw no evidence of as I sat in Piccadilly gardens eating my lunch.
Looking around, it was difficult to spot who potential rioters could be, the city centre looked normal though as the afternoon progressed more and more young people on bikes seemed to be milling around.
LOCKDOWN: Metrolink suspend services and riot police patrol city
By half three there were seven police tactical aid vans in Piccadilly Gardens and a small number of police in riot gear patrolling the surrounding area in pairs.
Regular police were asking people with hoods and hats on to remove them.
I decided to take a walk down Market Street and onto Deansgate, where a few minutes later a further eight riot vans sped past me with sirens blaring.
Making my way back to Market Street it became clear that trouble had started with smashed glass littered outside Marks and Spencer as a shop opposite boarded up its windows in anticipation of more disturbances.
There were groups of young people, some on bikes, milling around the bottom of the street as police increased in number.
Suddenly a large group started running through exchange square roaring, with many more joining the charge.
I estimate over a hundred and thirty youths joined in smashing windows along the way as a small group of regular police gave chase.
The rioters streamed onto Deansgate as a police helicopter hovered overhead.
A group of ten or so police with batons pursued but most of the group split up down side streets making it hard for police to catch anyone.
Walking through exchange square I saw a cafe, Patisserie Valerie, with its windows smashed and tearful waitresses inside.
On the way back to Piccadilly evidence of rioting on Market Street was clear with Thomas Cook, the Arndale Centre and many other units suffering damage.
At Piccadilly Gardens large numbers of riot police got out of vans with a number heading to the top of Market Street where a large crowd had gathered shouting at police.
Some charging took place here and I was directed away from the area.
TENSION: The crowds gather as riot police try to keep the peace
As I looked for a way back to the bus station I witnessed a group of youths smashing up a Tesco Express store behind Debenhams, one throwing a bike at the front window.
At the end of the road mounted and riot police slowly moved towards the troublemakers.
Going down a side street to get away from the trouble, and it struck me how easy it must be for rioters to give police the run-around down Manchester’s many back alleys and side streets.
Finally I managed to get to the bus station only to find that there were no busses running.
Tracing the bus route home by foot, I was glad to be out of the centre as I heard Miss Selfridge had been set on fire.
Just as I thought I was out of it, a glass bottle smashed at my feet, thrown from a passing car.
From the news coverage I have seen since, violence and looting continued into the night with rioters roaming the streets in central Manchester.