Violent scenes which marred a “Kill the Bill” protest in Bristol that saw a police station attacked, officers injured and vehicles set alight have been widely condemned.
Home Secretary Priti Patel branded the scenes “unacceptable” and said “thuggery and disorder” would never be tolerated.
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, who said he had “major concerns” about the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, condemned the thuggery but said the disorder would be used to justify the legislation.
“Freedom to protest is fundamental to democracy”
Mass gatherings are currently banned under coronavirus legislation and anyone breaching the regulations could be fined.
Many who attended the protest on College Green were wearing face masks and carried placards, saying: “Say no to UK police state” and “Freedom to protest is fundamental to democracy” and “Kill the Bill”.
What started as a non-violent demonstration on Sunday afternoon turned violent after hundreds of protesters descended on the New Bridewell police station.
Two police officers were injured, suffering broken ribs and an arm, and taken to hospital during violent skirmishes with masked thugs.
Bristol is the France of England— Moya Lothian-Mclean (@mlothianmclean) March 21, 2021
Later, protesters attempted to smash the windows of the glass-fronted police station.
They also tried to set fire to one of the marked police vans parked outside the station but the small flames were quickly extinguished by riot officers.
Other protesters set fire to a police van parked on Bridewell Street, near to the police station.
Rioters smashed the windows of the police station and also destroyed Avon and Somerset Police vehicles parked nearby, setting fire to a car and a van.
Cars parked in a multi-storey car park adjacent to the police station were also damaged by protesters.
Avon and Somerset Police said its officers had missiles and fireworks thrown at them and used mounted officers and dogs to disperse the mob.
The mindless violence was condemned by the Home Secretary, police federation representatives and local leaders.
A shameful day in an incredible year for Bristol
Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted: “Unacceptable scenes in Bristol tonight.
“Thuggery and disorder by a minority will never 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.”
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees 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.”
Right to protest
Reaction elsewhere has been divided, with Ash Sarkar saying “if the government wants people to protest peacefully then they shouldn’t push through measures which would criminalise peaceful protest”.
If the government wants people to protest peacefully, then perhaps they shouldn't push through measures which would criminalise peaceful protest.— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) March 21, 2021
Jake Hanrahan added that “if this happened in a foreign country the British press would frame it as a revolt against brutal measures brought in by a hardline government”.
If this happened in a foreign country the British press would frame it as a revolt against brutal measures brought in by a hardline gov. Instead the clashes are “disgraceful”. What’s disgraceful is how staggeringly authoritarian the bill is. #killthebill https://t.co/UzKX68bwsA— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) March 22, 2021
But there was widespread condemnation of the minority who hijacked the situation for their own aims.
This is not about protecting the right to protest, it’s violent criminality from a hardcore minority who will hijack any situation for their own aims. My colleagues, some of whom are now in hospital face the brunt of that hatred. Thoughts remain with my colleagues. #Bristol pic.twitter.com/Hb1UI9i9Gd— John Apter (@PFEW_Chair) March 21, 2021
Such as this familiar face:
Sorry what has BLM got to do with the scenes in Bristol today? https://t.co/saWFX7d6D1— Alex Beresford (@alexberesfordTV) March 21, 2021