Police van set alight, clashes and destruction at Bristol's 'Kill the Bill' protest

Monday, 22nd March 2021, 11:20 am
Updated Monday, 22nd March 2021, 11:50 am
Protestors had gathered for the demonstration in opposition to the Police and Crime Bill. (Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
Protestors had gathered for the demonstration in opposition to the Police and Crime Bill. (Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

An event organised in Bristol to protest the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which would increase police powers to deal with non-violent demonstrations, turned violent as protestors and police clashed.

Here's everything you need to know about what happened.

What happened?

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On Sunday afternoon, what began as a non-violent protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill turned violent as hundreds of protesters gathered at the New Bridewell police station after marching from College Green.

The windows of the police station were smashed, and Avon and Somerset Police vans parked nearby were also targeted.

Police said that missiles had been thrown at them, including a firework.

Pictures of the protest showed mounted officers attempting to intervene and disperse the crowd that had gathered. Other pictures showed graffiti being sprayed on police vehicles.

Protestors also set fire to a police van parked on Bridewell Street, near the police station.

The force has revealed that one officer suffered from a broken arm, and another from broken ribs.

Avon and Somerset Police had encouraged people to stay away from the demonstration and attend virtual protests instead. Under current Covid-19 regulations, mass gatherings are banned and anyone breaching these restrictions could be fined.

What would the new bill change?

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has proved extremely controversial, with protests against it taking place around the country.

Under current laws, police are only able to place restrictions on protests if there is a threat of “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to life in the community”.

However, under the new policing bill, police chiefs would be able to set noise limits and impose a start and finish time on protests - these rules would also be applicable to a protest of a single person.

Those who fail to act in accordance with police rules could be issued a £2,500 fine, and police will be able to issue punishments to those who “ought” to have known about restrictions, rather than needing to prove that protesters knew.

The bill would also introduce the crime of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance” with the intention of preventing protest tactics of occupying public spaces.

Following the summer Black Lives Matter protests which saw protesters topple the statue of slave owner Edward Colson, the new maximum punishment for damage to memorials would be increased to a ten year prison sentence.

The bill also proposes a number of other measures, such as introducing life sentenced for killer drivers and allowing profoundly deaf people to sit on juries for the first time by allowing a British sign language interpreter into the jury deliberation room.

What has Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said about the protest?

In response to the protest, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees released a statement on the Bristol City Council website.

He said: “I have major concerns about the Bill myself, which is poorly thought out and could impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to peaceful protest.

“Smashing buildings in our city centre, vandalising vehicles, attacking our police will do nothing to lessen the likelihood of the Bill going through.

“On the contrary, the lawlessness on show will be used as evidence and promote the need for the Bill.

“This is a shameful day in an incredible year for Bristol. We have faced times of great confrontation particularly surrounding Black Lives Matter and the events that followed.

“We have had numerous protests. Our police, city representatives and I have been able to point out with pride that we have faced these moments of conflict without the physical conflict that others have experienced.

“Those who decided to turn the protest into a physical confrontation and smash our city have robbed us of this.”

Rees ended the statement by saying: “Speaking as someone himself - whose brothers and sisters, along with our poorest communities - would be disproportionately likely to receive injustice, today’s actions do nothing to bring us closer to justice.”

‘Disgusting scenes in Bristol’

Andy Roebuck, chairman of the Avon and Somerset Police Federation, said: “Disgusting scenes in Bristol by a mob of animals who are injuring police officers, members of the public and damaging property.

“We have officers with suspected broken arms and ribs. This is so wrong.”

John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, added: “This is not about protecting the right to protest, it’s violent ciminality from a hardcore minority who will hijack any situation for their own aims.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel also Tweeted about the protest, writing: “Unacceptable scenes in Bristol tonight.

“Thuggery and disorder by a minority will not be tolerated.

“Our police officers put themselves in harm’s way to protect us all.

“My thoughts this evening are with those police officers injured.”

‘No excuse for wanton disorder’

Chief Superintendent Will White, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: “These scenes are absolutely disgraceful and they will be widely condemned by people across the city.

“There can never be any excuse for wanton disorder.

“All those involved in this criminal behaviour will be identified and brought to justice.

“There will be significant consequences for behaviour such as this.”

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister site The Yorkshire Post