Last week, in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder and the subsequent protests, a controversial new Bill was proposed that would give police increased powers. Then, yesterday, thousands of people descended on the streets of Bristol for what had initially been planned as a peaceful protest to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
The Bill would give police in England and Wales more power to limit non-violent protests and restrict those that they considered “too noisy” or “a nuisance”. The Bill has proved particularly controversial for its vague use of language, leaving much of its content open to interpretation.
Dubbed the ‘Kill The Bill’ protest in reference to the proposed legislation that protestors wanted to quash, Sunday night’s events reportedly started with a peaceful sit-in, but as the day went on and tensions rose, violent clashes broke out between protestors and police.
Images of police cars covered in graffiti and fires on the streets of the city centre flooded social media throughout the day and there were reports that some protestors had attacked Bridewell police station in central Bristol, smashing the station’s glass exterior.
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, who said he had “major concerns” about the Bill, condemned the riots and warned that the events in Bristol would be used to justify the Bill rather than condemn it. “We’re disgusted, absolutely condemn what’s gone on,” he told ITV News, “and what they’ve done is they haven’t just smashed windows, we have injured police officers, broken ribs, broken arms, of a police service, that has served us incredibly well over the last year. These people who have done this have taken from us this year in which we’ve navigated very tense situations and kept peace.”
He added: “I draw a hard line between those people out smashing up my city yesterday and the Bill. They have got nothing to do with the Bill. I would imagine, and I think experience would suggest, that there are a group of people running around the country looking for any opportunity to enter into physical conflict with the police or representatives of what they see is the Establishment.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that although people had the right to protest, he described the scenes as “unacceptable”. Home Secretary Priti Patel went a step further, taking to Twitter to say that “thuggery and disorder by a minority will never be tolerated”.
Andy Roebuck, chairman of the Avon and Somerset Police Federation, commented: “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.”
Police and crime commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “I cannot condemn enough the scenes of violence and destruction that we witnessed yesterday and I know these feelings are felt by the majority of the city and beyond.”
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 his criminal behaviour will be identified and brought to justice. There will be significant consequences for behaviour such as this.”