Cars were smashed, shops were looted and even the police found themselves under siege.
For two nights in August 2011 Nottingham felt like a city spiralling out of control, with no-one sure why or when it would end.
The wave of riots which sprung up across Britain shocked the authorities, left ordinary people fearing for their lives and livelihoods and led on to a period of national soul-searching.
A total of 140 people were arrested in Nottingham in the days that followed – and among them was Sam Lowe, then just 21 and from Sneinton.
His case was characteristic of what was a very modern period of upheaval and anger. He was eventually charged and convicted, not for throwing anything or helping himself to looted goods, but for what he did with a mobile phone.
Sam pleaded guilty to encouraging violent disorder after he was found to have sent contacts a text via BlackBerry Messenger encouraging them to meet up and cause trouble.
He wrote: “Girls, grannys, mums, dads, lads, grandads .. ever 1 meet on sneinton dale tonight at 9 o’ clock as we’re all gunna kick off”.
He appeared for sentencing in February 2012 and was given four years – serving 22 months in prison and some of the sentence on a tag.
Now out of jail and free, Sam told Notts TV News he accepts he should never have sent the message, but feels the conviction has unfairly held him back.
He said: “If I knew the text would have got me a prison sentence I would have never sent it to be fair – people get less for rape. When I try to get a job and I have to put down my past it never goes well for me.”
When asked how his future will pan out and what he wants to do now, he said: “Things are fine, couldn’t be better at the minute, but I’m not too sure yet, you never know what’s around the corner.
“What were the reasons people got involved? To be fair that’s something I can’t answer.”
Video: The moment Canning Circus Police station was fire-bombed
He added it was possible bad relations with police could have been the main motivation for some rioters.
In London, trouble first began after the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan – violence then flared across the capital and other major cities. Police were often the target – but so was anyone behind a shop counter.
In Nottingham, Canning Circus Police Station was fire-bombed by a mob wearing masks. St Ann’s Police Station was also attacked, cars were smashed and in the city centre the Stephen Roberts jewellery shop in Clinton Street East was looted for gold.
Those involved were nearly always very young, in their teens and early twenties, nearly always male, and surprised officers with their level of organisation.
It took two days to restore order. By then the city and Britain had changed, and five years on Nottingham now has a lower crime rate but also still has some of the most deprived areas in England.
The only thing that’s certain is how dramatically communication has changed since then – BlackBerry Messenger, used by many of those involved, is now almost irrelevant thanks to the explosion of free data messaging services like WhatsApp.
When asked if the country is still at risk from a new generation of disaffected young people, Sam said: “You never know what could happen in the future.”
Detective Chief Inspector Rob Griffin said of Sam’s sentence at the time: “It is impossible to quantify the impact and effects of the messages he sent that night.
“It is clear, however, that this was an irresponsible and criminal act at a time when people were rising up against the police on a national scale.”