Boris Johnson condemns 'mob' Bristol protesters 'intent on violence'

27 March 2021, 10:10 | Updated: 27 March 2021, 18:24

By Kate Buck

The Prime Minister has condemned the Bristol "Kill the Bill" protesters who turned to disorder during last night's demonstration, as witnesses claim it was the police who started the unrest.

The Prime Minister said: "Last night saw disgraceful attacks against police officers in Bristol.

"Our officers should not have to face having bricks, bottles and fireworks being thrown at them by a mob intent on violence and causing damage to property. The police and the city have my full support."

Priti Patel said she was "disgusted" by the anger which was "being directed towards the police", as demonstrators took to the streets for a third time against controversial new protest laws.

Read more: Ten arrested as police and protesters clash at 'Kill the Bill' protest in Bristol

Ten people were arrested during clashes between protesters and police.

"I am disgusted by the disorder in Bristol and the violence being directed towards the police. I’m in no doubt the silent, law-abiding majority will be appalled by the actions of this criminal minority," the Home Secretary tweeted.

"Despite repeated warnings to disperse, it’s clear these thugs were only intent on causing trouble. I am receiving regular updates and the police have my full support."

Avon and Somerset Police on Saturday urged people considering taking part in further protests in the city over the weekend to "reconsider for the sake of public health".

In a statement, chief superintendent Claire Armes said: "While Covid restrictions are in place, gatherings of any kind will only put our communities at risk.

"This pandemic has cost many lives and is still a significant challenge for our colleagues in the NHS. Anyone who chooses to flout the restrictions is playing a part in prolonging this difficult situation.

"We fully understand the strength of feeling around the right to protest, but now is not the time. We're again asking people to please do the responsible thing and stay at home this weekend.

"Policing resources are in place to ensure we're able to keep our communities safe and maintain order."

It comes after the force backtracked on their claims officers earlier in the week suffered "broken bones" while managing one of the previous protests.

Last night descended into chaos
Last night descended into chaos. Picture: PA

The force said some protesters used unacceptable "violent conduct" at the third demonstration and 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.

But witnesses have claimed the disorder did not break out until the police rushed the protesters with batons and riot shields.

Ben Smoke, political editor for Huck Magazine, told LBC's Andrew Castle that the moment it "kicked off" was when officers "rushed the crowd".

"Until 10.15pm it was peaceful, the atmosphere around Bridewell Police station was very jovial, there were people dancing around there were a lot of people sitting and chanting, 'this is a peaceful protest'," he said.

"The moment it kicked off was when the police rushed the crowd, who were sitting down, with riot shields in huge numbers and it descended into something like a nightmare.

"There were people on the floor there were people bleeding, I saw young man who had a bandage around his head and blood gushing down his face and a silver blanket get bludgeoned again by a police officer.

The force said one of their horses was covered in paint by the end of the night
The force said one of their horses was covered in paint by the end of the night. Picture: PA

"People charing with horses, I've been sent pictures this morning of dog bites."

But the police Commander in control last night has defended his officer's tactics, telling Andrew Castle: "They're approved tactics"

Superintendent Mark Runacre said: "A shield strike is a legitimate tactic in public order policing if it can be justified by the officer at the time"

A protester stands in front of a police line near to Bridewell Police station
A protester stands in front of a police line near to Bridewell Police station. Picture: PA

"Officers cannot be expected to stand and be attacked by people. Why should an officer stand and take that?

"We are able to deliver proportionate responses – they need to be proportionate, but if officers are coming under attack in that way, then we will deliver robust and effective responses to counter that threat"

Some 300 people initially joined a protest march through the city centre against the Government's new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on Friday night, before the crowd swelled to more than 1,000 as tempers flared.

Police officers moving in on demonstrators
Police officers moving in on demonstrators. Picture: PA

Officers wearing helmets and holding shields moved towards the crowd after 10pm, after calling for people to disperse, using riot shields against a group who were chanting "we are peaceful, what are you?" at officers.

Police tweeted: "Projectiles, including eggs and glass bottles, are being thrown at officers.

"Protestors are also pulling at officers' shields while lasers are being shone in their faces. We will not tolerate violent disorder. Arrests have been made."

Protesters had also shone laser lights into officers' faces, the force said.

Witnesses have claimed the disorder did not break out until the police rushed the protesters with batons and riot shields
Witnesses have claimed the disorder did not break out until the police rushed the protesters with batons and riot shields. Picture: PA

Superintendent Mark Runacres said: “The majority of people acted peacefully however there was a minority who once again showed hostility to officers.

“Items, including glass bottles and bricks were thrown at officers, fireworks were launched at our mounted section while one of our horses was also covered with paint.

“This violent conduct is not acceptable. Officers repeatedly encouraged people to disperse but once the atmosphere changed and people became physical it was necessary to take action.

“Ten people were arrested for offences including violent disorder, assaulting an emergency worker and possession of Class A drugs.

“Three of those arrested were also detained in connection with the violent disorder which took place in Bristol on Sunday.”