Officer describes being in police van that protesters tried to set alight

Kill the Bill protest
Kill the Bill protest (PA Wire)
20:14pm, Thu 25 Mar 2021
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A police officer has described being inside a police van that protesters allegedly attempted to set alight during a riot in Bristol on Sunday.

Avon and Somerset Police released footage of the incident, appearing to show a person placing a lit object under the vehicle as it was moving.

The force is investigating assaults on 40 officers and one member of the media at the riot on Sunday, which followed a peaceful “Kill the Bill” protest in the city centre.

Nine people have been arrested in connection with the disorder, which saw police officers injured, police vehicles set on fire and the windows of a police station smashed.

Kill the Bill protest (PA Wire)

A second protest against the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill took place in Bristol on Tuesday, resulting in 15 arrests.

The officer inside the van on Sunday described hearing on the radio that colleagues were being injured outside Bridewell police station.

They told of hearing “screaming and shouting” from officers being attacked, with a call made for vehicles to be used to assist them.

“The only way to protect my colleagues was to place the vehicle across, side on, in front of them to offer protection,” the officer said.

“There were glass bottles, rocks as big as fists, pallets, fences and other objects strewn across the road and being used against the police.

“Whilst in the vehicle, a number of people attempted to gain entry to it, however the vehicle was bolted shut.

“I was aware of the smell of burning and CCTV reported that people were attempting to set the vehicle tyres alight, with me still in it, and so I began to prepare to decamp the vehicle.”

Around 3,000 people had attended a peaceful demonstration on College Green but events turned violent after about 500 people descended on Bridewell police station.

Police have released images of 18 people they want to identify following the protest on Sunday.

These images have been posted on an online gallery, which has been viewed more than 80,000 times.

The force has received around 280 submissions after appealing for members of the public to supply footage or information about those involved, as well as more than 200 calls.

Two officers taken to hospital during the riot were later found not to have suffered broken bones.

Chief Superintendent Carolyn Belafonte said: “This officer’s account is just one of many we’ve gathered from our colleagues at the scene of this terrifying incident.

“It’s upsetting to hear how colleagues feared for their lives that night and it strengthens our resolve to bring all those responsible to justice.

“Our investigation is continuing at pace but it is painstaking work.”

Ms Belafonte urged people to who know the identify of the 18 people pictured to contact police.

The force later said those arrested after Tuesday’s protest had all been released from custody and face being fined or reported for summons for Covid breaches, while several were on conditional bail for obstructing the highway, pending further inquiries or charging decisions.

A 22-year-old man from Bristol was released on conditional bail for the theft of a police baton, which was recovered, and two women from Bristol, aged 19 and 24, accepted a caution for obstructing the highway.

Two of those arrested on Tuesday were in connection with the violent disorder on Sunday, and they have been released under investigation.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would give the police in England and Wales more power to impose conditions on non-violent protests, including those deemed too noisy or a nuisance.

Those convicted under the proposed legislation could face a fine or jail.

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