‘Kill the Bill’ riots explained: What were they all about and what happened?

Ellie Abraham@ellieabraham
Monday 22 March 2021 14:58
news

Last night in Bristol, a peaceful protest against a new policing Bill that would hand officers greater powers to shut down demonstrations turned violent.

The ‘Kill the Bill’ protest started as a sitdown in Bristol city centre but turned ugly after hundreds of protesters descended on the New Bridewell police station in ugly scenes that have been widely condemned.

Twenty police officers were injured, two seriously, as riot police were deployed to guard the station.

Here we take a look at what the protest was about and what happened:

What was the protest about?

Protestors at the ‘Kill the Bill’ protests were there to demonstrate their disapproval of a new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill championed by Home Secretary Priti Patel.

If passed, the new Bill would give police in England and Wales more power to impose conditions on non-violent protests, including those deemed too noisy or a nuisance. That includes those that cause “serious annoyance”.

Those convicted under the proposed legislation could face 10 years in prison. Many see this Bill as a threat to the right to protest.

What’s the background to it all?

Trust in policing has taken a significant hit recently and last night was perhaps a symptom of the strength of feeling around this issue.

It follows a turbulent couple of weeks for the police force after a Metropolitan police officer was arrested and charged with murder and kidnap after the death of Sarah Everard.

The Met then faced widespread criticism for the way it dealt with a vigil in Clapham Common, south London, where officers handcuffed and removed several women who had come out during lockdown in memory of Ms Everard.

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What happened at the protest?

Police said between 2,000 and 3,000 people had gathered at College Green on Sunday to protest against the Bill.

But, the non-violent demonstration turned to chaos after hundreds of protesters descended on the New Bridewell police station.

Two Avon and Somerset Police vans were set alight, while several others were damaged. Officers were pelted with stones and missiles and fireworks, amid chants of “shame on you” from the crowd.

A total of 20 officers were assaulted or injured and two of them were taken to hospital after suffering broken ribs and an arm. One of them also suffered a punctured lung. Both have since been discharged.

Andy Marsh, chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, said the demonstration had been “hijacked” by several hundred “extremists”.

“There was a hardcore of serious criminals hidden within those 3,000 people – perhaps 400 or 500 people,” he said.

He said there was no “prior intelligence” that any disorder was planned “on this scale”.

Has anyone been arrested?

At least seven people have been arrested in connection with the violent scenes.

Six have been arrested for violent disorder and one for possession of an offensive weapon.

The Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner said “many more” would be arrested in the coming days as officers examined a large amount of CCTV footage from Sunday night’s riot

What’s the response been?

In a statement, the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees said the violence was “unacceptable”.

“The violence and damage that have emerged from today’s protests are unacceptable and have nothing to do with the real work we are doing to tackle political, economic and social inequality,” he said.

He did, however, say he understood the frustration towards the proposed bill.

“I have major concerns about the Bill myself, which is poorly thought-out and could impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to peaceful protest.”

“There is a debate to be had and there’s debate to be had about all proposed Government legislation...

“But the violence that happened in a city last night goes nowhere to actually reducing the likelihood of this Bill winning support. In fact, it does quite the contrary.

“People from those communities who have been on the rough end of the criminal justice system are now in more danger. It doesn’t put them closer to justice, it puts them further away.

“It runs absolutely against what they claim to be in fighting for – political illiteracy at large.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned the scenes as “unacceptable”.

Ms Patel labelled the protest “thuggery and disorder by a minority” and said scenes like this would not be tolerated.

Sue Mountstevens, police and crime commissioner for Avon and Somerset, said: “It’s disgraceful and outrageous. Police officers went to work yesterday, and some have returned home via hospital battered and bruised.

Avon and Somerset Police Federation chairman Andy Roebuck condemned the violence as “disgusting scenes in Bristol by a mob of animals”.

John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “This is not about protecting the right to protest, it’s violent criminality from a hardcore minority who will hijack any situation for their own aims.”

Darren Jones, the Labour MP for Bristol North West, said: “You don’t campaign for the right to peaceful protest by setting police vans on fire or graffitiing buildings.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the events in Bristol were “inexcusable” and “completely unacceptable”.

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