UK retailers, already under pressure from a slowdown in consumer spending, are now counting the cost after four shocking days of rioting and looting in towns and cities across the UK caused widespread damage on the high street.

Stores including H&M, Debenhams, Miss Selfridge and JD Sports, as well as supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda, were among those trashed, robbed and set alight by mobs of vandals after protests that started in north London last week spread throughout the country.

While most retailers argue the immediate safety of staff and customers is paramount, and that it is too early to assess damages and costs, there is no doubt that the cost to insurers will run into tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds.

But on top of bills caused by damage and theft, there will inevitably be longer-term costs, with some businesses that have been attacked never opening their doors again.

Industry group the British Retail Consortium (BRC) is seeking urgent reassurances that critical issues thrown up by the unmitigated violence and lawlessness are being addressed.

"It is imperative retailers know that resources and plans are in place to prevent any repeat of this trouble," said BRC director general, Stephen Robertson.

"Targeting local shops as an expression of anger and frustration is mindless. These criminal acts are destroying community resources, hurting local businesses and threatening people's jobs. Those responsible must be prosecuted and punished."

The riots come at a time when retailers are faced with declining consumer confidence, soaring inflation on basic items like food and fuel, and austerity measures to cut public sector deficits.

Added to this, growing fears of a global economic slowdown and a sovereign debt crisis have sent shockwaves through financial markets.