Police in Bristol ‘feel under siege’ after second night of unrest

Police and protesters at College Green in Bristol on Tuesday night.
Police and protesters at College Green in Bristol on Tuesday night.

Rank-and-file officers’ leader says colleagues ‘battered and bruised’ after protest turned violent

Police officers in Bristol feel “under siege” and the task of controlling demonstrations during a lockdown is proving “near-on impossible”, a leader of rank-and-file officers has said following a second night of protests in the city.

On Tuesday night, public order officers moved protesters away from College Green in the city, where about 200 people had gathered for a second “kill the bill” demonstration. Fourteen arrests were made.

The protest came two days after a peaceful demonstration against the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill erupted into violence with a police station attacked, 21 officers injured and police vehicles set alight.

The national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, John Apter, said: “I really feel for my colleagues in Bristol. There is a sense that you really feel under siege. And for some, whatever they do, is not enough and for others, it’s too much.”

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Apter said the second outbreak of unrest fell on the day most of the country was remembering those who had lost their lives in the Covid pandemic.

He said: “This was on an evening where the vast majority of the country were remembering those many thousands of people who have been lost to this horrible virus, so it was not good scenes to see, and this was on the back of the most horrendous violence that we’d seen on Sunday evening.

“So my colleagues are battered and bruised, in some cases physically. We’ve got a number of officers who were injured on Sunday evening, some very seriously. This is completely unacceptable, completely unacceptable.”

Apter said policing protests during the Covid-19 pandemic was “near-on impossible” and called for clarity from the government. “Policing can never be perfect. It’s dynamic, it’s dangerous. We have to think on our feet,” he said.

“We don’t have the luxury, when we’re dealing with these protests which are unfolding, of the benefit of hindsight. We have to deal with what’s in front of us.

“And I do feel that, I’m not saying we always get it right … But I do feel that policing is all too often, especially over these last 12 months, my colleagues are hung out to dry, and they feel very vulnerable.”

Apter said police officers feel “betrayed and let down” by not having been prioritised to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

“I strongly believe and I still maintain that police officers and frontline police staff should have been prioritised for the vaccine. I’ve raised it formally with the government, with the home secretary, and we do feel bitterly, bitterly let down.”

Avon and Somerset police said officers had attempted to engage with demonstrators on Tuesday night and asked them to move on.

The force said: “Officers had engaged with protesters and asked them to move on but tents and a sound system were set up. We remain in lockdown and we cannot allow this gathering to continue.”One of the focuses of the protest was the potential for the bill to criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities.

Public order officers from Avon and Somerset, British Transport Police, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Dyfed Powys, Gloucestershire, Gwent and Wiltshire were deployed to disperse protesters at 10pm.

Specialist police dog units, horses, the National Police Air Service and a police drone unit were also involved in the operation.

A police spokesperson said: “While many left the area, a significant number gathered on Deanery Road and refused to disperse. A total of 14 people were arrested for offences including breaches of Covid-19 legislation and obstruction of a highway. One of those detained were also arrested for offences connected with the violent disorder in the city on Sunday.”

Ch Supt Claire Armes said: “Officers had engaged with protesters and asked them to disperse, but tents and a sound system were set up so it was abundantly clear they were intent on remaining at the location, in spite of legislation in place to protect public health.

“After the scenes of violence witnessed in the city at the weekend it was necessary to bring in additional resources from our neighbouring forces to ensure the protest was safely brought to a swift conclusion.

“Throughout the operation officers continued to urge protesters to move on – at no time were they contained – but there came a time when enforcement was necessary as gatherings are still not permitted.”

Armes added: “It’s disappointing that officers needed to take this action on a day we should be remembering all those who’ve lost their lives to Covid-19 over the past year.

“The communities of Bristol have made too many sacrifices and worked so hard to defeat this virus, it’s unacceptable for people to insult their efforts in this way.”

source: Steven Morris

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