Police in Bristol ‘feel under siege’ after second night of protests

Claire Hayhurst, PA
·5-min read

Officers in Bristol feel “under siege” following a second night of protests in the city, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales has said.

Fourteen people were arrested for offences including breaches of Covid-19 legislation and obstruction of a highway after gathering at College Green on Tuesday night.

It was the latest “Kill the Bill” protest in Bristol against the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will see the police handed new powers to tackle demonstrations.

It came two days after a protest which descended into rioting in the city – leaving 21 officers injured, police vehicles set alight and a police station’s windows smashed.

John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, told the BBC: “I really feel for my colleagues in Bristol.

“There is a sense that you really feel under siege. And for some, whatever they do is not enough and for others, it’s too much.

“This was on an evening where the vast majority of the country were remembering those many thousands of people who have been lost to this horrible virus, so it was not good scenes to see, and this was on the back of the most horrendous violence that we’d seen on Sunday evening.

“So my colleagues are battered and bruised, in some cases physically. We’ve got a number of officers who were injured on Sunday evening, some very seriously. This is completely unacceptable, completely unacceptable.”

Avon and Somerset Police said around 200 people gathered for the latest protest, which began at about 4pm on Tuesday.

Mutual aid from neighbouring forces was requested to assist in dispersing the gathering after attempts to encourage people to leave were unsuccessful, a force spokesman said.

Public order officers from Avon and Somerset, British Transport Police, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Dyfed-Powys, Gloucestershire, Gwent and Wiltshire were deployed to move protesters on at 10pm.

Police dog units, horses, the police helicopter and a police drone unit were also involved in the operation.

Protesters gathered on College Green from 4pm on Tuesday (Ben Birchall/PA)
Protesters gathered on College Green from 4pm on Tuesday (Ben Birchall/PA)

Many protesters left the area but a “significant number” gathered on Deanery Road and refused to disperse, the force said.

Fourteen arrests were made, with one of those detained also arrested for offences connected to Sunday’s protest.

Avon and Somerset Chief Superintendent Claire Armes said tents and a sound system had been set up at College Green, making it “abundantly clear” that protesters were “intent on remaining” there on Tuesday.

She said: “After the scenes of violence witnessed in the city at the weekend, it was necessary to bring in additional resources from our neighbouring forces to ensure the protest was safely brought to a swift conclusion.

“Throughout the operation officers continued to urge protesters to move on – at no time were they contained – but there came a time when enforcement was necessary as gatherings are still not permitted.”

Commemorations to mark the first anniversary of the Covid-19 lockdown took place across the UK on Tuesday.

Ms Armes added: “It’s disappointing that officers needed to take this action on a day we should be remembering all those who’ve lost their lives to Covid-19 over the past year.

“The communities of Bristol have made too many sacrifices and worked so hard to defeat this virus, it’s unacceptable for people to insult their efforts in this way.”

Mutual aid was requested from other police forces (Ben Birchall/PA)
Mutual aid was requested from other police forces (Ben Birchall/PA)

Footage from the demonstration showed large numbers of police, with some officers on horseback and others with dogs.

Shouts of “Our streets” and “Shame on you” could be heard from protesters.

On Wednesday, Home Secretary Priti Patel criticised the “criminality and violent behaviour” seen during protests in Bristol.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I saw some of the scenes, as I did on Sunday evening as well, and protests are unlawful right now and quite frankly we’ve seen more criminality and violent behaviour which is simply unacceptable.

“We live in an open society and a democracy so the principle to protest and to have your voice heard is absolutely crucial, but there is no acceptability at all for criminality, thuggish behaviour and the type of violent scenes we’ve seen over recent evenings, they included the most appalling assaults and criminal attacks on police officers, there’s a fundamental difference between the two.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Avon and Somerset Police released images of 10 people they want to identify following Sunday’s protest.

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Around 3,000 people had attended a peaceful demonstration on College Green but events turned violent after about 500 people descended on Bridewell police station.

Detective Chief Superintendent Carolyn Belafonte said on Tuesday that the investigation into the “disgraceful scenes of violence” would be one of the largest in the force’s history.

More than 100 officers and staff are working on the inquiry, which is being led by the major crime investigation team.

“We expect to release images of many more people in the coming days and ask anyone who recognises anyone to contact us,” she said.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would give the police in England and Wales more power to impose conditions on non-violent protests, including those deemed too noisy or a nuisance.

Those convicted under the proposed legislation could face a fine or jail.