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More arrests 'imminent' after 20 officers injured in Bristol 'Kill the Bill' protest
22 March 2021, 11:38 | Updated: 22 March 2021, 22:36
Police say more arrests are "imminent", after violent clashes at a "Kill the Bill" protest in Bristol on Saturday evening left 21 officers injured.
Two officers were hospitalised - one with broken ribs and a punctured lung, and a second with a broken arm - after a peaceful demonstration against stronger police powers turned violent.
Eight arrests have been made so far, for offences including violent disorder and possession of an offensive weapon, but police say they are "confident more arrests are imminent".
More than 100 officers and staff from Avon and Somerset Police have been drafted in to work on the case, which is being led by the force's major crime investigation team.
Forensic teams have been scouring the area for fingerprints to help identify suspects and the force has set up a dedicated online form for members of the public to submit any footage that could aid investigations.
"To those who took part in this spree of offending, you can expect a knock at your door in the days or weeks to come - it may come sooner than you think," Detective Chief Superintendent Carolyn Belafonte warned.
Politicians from across the political spectrum have condemned the violence, which Avon and Somerset Police branded "nothing short of disgraceful".
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "I think all that kind of thing is unacceptable and the people obviously have a right to protest in this country.
"But they should protest peacefully and legally."
Home Secretary Priti Patel criticised the "anarchic and violent" scenes in Bristol, telling MPs: "We have been clear that to save lives and fight this pandemic, people must not currently hold large gatherings. Too many this weekend selfishly decided that this did not apply to them.
"We will always give the police the support and the protection that they need and it is sad, as we saw last week, that the Opposition voted against measures to protect our police and also introduce longer sentences."
Thousands turned out to the event, billed as a peaceful protest, to oppose legislation boosting police powers but crowds later began hurling objects, including fireworks, at officers attempting to police the gathering.
The group also set vehicles alight and smashed the windows of surrounding buildings - including a local police station.
Chief Constable Andy Marsh said the violence was "committed by those looking for an excuse to commit disorder" amid heated criticism of police handling of recent protests and gatherings.
"The scenes we witnessed yesterday were shameful and I know will be condemned by the whole city," he said.
"We've received messages of support from across the policing, emergency service and political landscape.
"No-one wants to see police officers abused or attacked in this way. These men and women put their safety on the line every day to keep the public safe and do not deserve to be on the forefront of this abhorrent criminal behaviour.
"20 of our brave officers suffered various injuries - including two who suffered more serious injuries which needed hospital treatment.
"I was at a Bristol station last night and can tell you the feeling of anguish was felt by all our officers and staff at seeing colleagues injured while on the front line."
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said he was "disgusted" with the violence in the city.
He said: "We're disgusted at what happened in the city and absolutely condemn the actions of those people who brought violence and destruction to our city last night.
"It also points out the political illiteracy of those people on our streets doing this violence last night.
"What has injuring police officers, smashing windows, burning cars got to do with the challenges we face as a city right now?
"As we come out of Covid-19, we face economic depression, we have to secure jobs for people, tackle child hunger, build homes for people.
"It's got nothing to do with the struggles in this city and I wouldn't even mention these people in the same breath as the very legitimate debate that there is over this Bill."
His comments were echoed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who told LBC the events were "inexcusable" and "completely unacceptable".
The former director of public prosecutions said he hoped those responsible for the violence were brought to justice.
"I hope that the perpetrators are identified and prosecuted where that's appropriate," he added.
It comes amid an increasing number of attacks on police officers in the UK, with over 7,000 recorded assaults on Met Police officers alone in the past 12 months – an increase of 19.1 per cent on the previous year.