Police under fire for ‘assault’ of journalist at Bristol protest

Kill the bill hundreds take part in Bristol protest
'Kill the bill': hundreds take part in Bristol protest

Daily Mirror reporter shares footage that appears to show police pushing him and hitting him with baton

Police have come under fire for their treatment of a reporter at demonstrations in Bristol on Friday night, during violent clashes between officers and protesters.

Daily Mirror journalist Matthew Dresch shared video footage that appeared to show police pushing him and hitting him with a baton as he shouted that he was a member of the press.

“Police assaulted me at the Bristol protest even though I told them I was from the press. I was respectfully observing what was happening and posed no threat to any of the officers,” he said.

Twitter users described the incident as “outrageous” and “appalling”. Avon and Somerset police said that they were “making efforts to contact” Dresch.

In a tweet the force said: “We’re aware of a video showing a journalist being confronted by officers during last night’s protest in Bristol. We’re making efforts to contact him. A free press is a cornerstone of our democracy & we fully respect the media’s vital role in reporting events fairly & accurately.”

Two reporters from the Bristol Cable were also reportedly assaulted by police during protests earlier in the week.

There have been a series of protests in Bristol against the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, which would give police in England and Wales more power to impose conditions on peaceful protests, including those deemed too noisy or a nuisance.

Critics argue this infringes on the right to free and peaceful expression, and has led to a protest movement under the slogan “kill the bill”.

This is not the first time that officers have been criticised for their treatment of the press at kill the bill demonstrations.

On Tuesday, Adam Cantwell-Corn and Alon Aviram of the Cable said they were threatened with force by a police officer while covering the protest. The officer in question ordered them to leave, appeared to push them and denied that they were journalists.

“Press card fully on show, Just got threatened with dogs and force by an officer despite telling him we are journalists. A senior officer later stepped in to tell him to back off,” Cantwell-Corn tweeted at the time.

In the video the officers tell the reporters to disperse, to which they replied: “We’re journalists and we’re covering your actions.”

The officer said: “No you’re not,” and despite the reporters showing press cards and saying they were accredited members of the National Union of Journalists, later said “it doesn’t matter if you claim to be journalists because you’re studying journalism”.

Aviram later said that a “high-ranking officer with Avon and Somerset has now extended apologies for this incident”.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has condemned the clashes between demonstrators and police in Bristol as “disgraceful”.

Avon and Somerset police said glass bottles, bricks and eggs were thrown at officers. Fireworks were also launched at its mounted division, the force claimed, with one horse being daubed with paint. Ten people were arrested, three of whom had also been detained at similar demonstrations last Sunday.

“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 prime minister tweeted.

Johnson added that the “police and the city have my full support”.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, said she was “disgusted” by the scenes, describing the demonstrators as “thugs” who were “only intent on causing trouble”.

“I’m in no doubt the silent, law-abiding majority will be appalled by the actions of this criminal minority,” she said.

The police, crime, sentencing and courts bill would give police in England and Wales more power to impose conditions on peaceful protests, including those they deem to be too noisy or a nuisance to the community. Those convicted under the laws would be liable for fines or even jail terms.

Critics argue this infringes on the right to free and peaceful expression.

Supt Mark Runacres said the force was expecting more protests over coming days, saying that further demonstrations were “a concern for us”.

“From Monday, changes in the legislation will allow us, hopefully, to engage effectively with protest organisers, which is what we have always done previously prior to the legislation changes around the Covid regulations stopping that happening,” he said.

Before the arrests, protesters could be seen dancing despite heavy rain and handing out flowers.

Rows of police officers and vans blocked off the Bridewell police station from demonstrators, after it was smashed by protesters last Sunday. About 3,000 people attended what began as a peaceful march, but turned into a riot, with around 500 people marching on the station.

Police came under fire this week when they retracted claims that two officers had suffered fractures in the riot.

Twelve people have been arrested in connection with Sunday’s incident, and a further 15 for a subsequent protest on Tuesday.

source: Molly Blackall