Protesters urged to ‘engage’ with police ahead of latest Kill the Bill demo

Rod Minchin, PA
·4-min read

Protesters planning two further Kill the Bill demonstrations in Bristol have been urged to “engage” with police ahead of the events.

Avon and Somerset Police said changes to the coronavirus regulations meant there was now an exemption to allow peaceful protests – but only if certain conditions were met.

They urged organisers to work with the force to ensure the “required precautions to ensure people’s safety” were met.

Superintendent Mark Runacres, Bristol area commander, said: “We are aware of two protests due to take place in Bristol city centre on Tuesday March 30 and Saturday April 3.

“Following changes to Covid regulations, there is now an exemption to allow peaceful protests.

“We would encourage any protest organisers to engage with the police so we can help them ensure any protests are legally compliant, while also minimising the risk of the general public during this health emergency.

“We do understand the strength of opposition to the new legislation being debated in Parliament but we’re asking people to exercise their right to protest responsibly due to the clear health concerns.”

Mr Runacres instead urged people to find “alternative ways to express themselves”, such as writing to their MP or signing a petition.

“Policing plans will be in place to manage the two protests should they go ahead and especially trained protest liaison officers will attend and look to work with those gathered,” he said.

“We respect people have a fundamental right to protest and should the protests take place, we want to ensure they do so peacefully and without incident.”

There have been three demonstrations against the Government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in Bristol in the last eight days – with violence erupting on each occasion.

People have taken to the streets in Bristol to protest against the Government's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Bill Birchall/PA)
People have taken to the streets in Bristol to protest against the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Bill Birchall/PA)

On Friday night, 10 arrests were made, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel condemning the scenes.

Some 300 people initially joined a protest march before the crowd swelled to more than 1,000 as tempers flared.

Avon and Somerset Police said glass bottles, bricks and eggs were thrown at officers and fireworks were launched at its mounted division, with one horse being daubed with paint.

Three of those arrested were also detained in connection with the first demonstration on March 21, which was followed by another violent demonstration two days later.

The first protest descended into a riot when some 500 people marched on Bridewell police station.

In total, 25 people have now been arrested in connection with that incident.

Police have released another 13 pictures of people they wish to trace in connection with the riot on Bridewell Street.

Tuesday night’s protest resulted in 15 arrests.

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

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said it was concerning how many people were travelling to the city to protest or “cause conflict”.

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Bristol West Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire said she was “saddened and distressed” at the scenes over the last week.

“There is no excuse for this violence, which has left people injured and public property destroyed. I support police efforts to bring those responsible to justice,” she said.

“I am also speaking to constituents who tell me policing was too aggressive or forceful in the recent demonstrations.

“I am following up these allegations, including in regular communications with the chief constable and other senior officers.

“I am receiving regular updates and will continue to push for these incidents to be fully investigated.”

The MP said the violence was a “distraction” from the “very real concerns” about the Bill.

“I’d really like organisers of any new protests to work with the police to help ensure that peaceful protest can go ahead,” she added.

“At a time when Bristol is in the spotlight, I believe we can show the country that we Bristolians know how to campaign peacefully for the change we really need.”