Yorkshire's police officers condemn 'appalling and sickening' Kill the Bill protests

Police federations across Yorkshire have condemned scenes that marred a "Kill the Bill" protest in Bristol describing actions of those individuals involved as "appalling and sickening".

Protesters set fire to a vandalised police van outside Bridewell Police Station, demonstrating against the Government's controversial Police and Crime Bill.
Protesters set fire to a vandalised police van outside Bridewell Police Station, demonstrating against the Government's controversial Police and Crime Bill.

A police station was attacked, several officers were injured and vehicles were set alight, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the events that unfolded on Sunday evening as "unacceptable".

Seven people were arrested, six for violent disorder and a seventh for possession of an offensive weapon, following the riots which saw around 3000 people gather at College Green to protest against the Government's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will see the police handed new powers to tackle demonstrations.

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A total of 20 police officers were injured, two seriously, when what started as a peaceful demonstration turned violent after about 500 protesters descended on the New Bridewell police station.

A vandalised police van on fire outside Bridewell Police Station, as other police vehicles arrive after protesters demonstrated against the Government's controversial Police and Crime Bill.

Brian Booth, Chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, said: "I’m absolutely sickened to hear that 20 police colleagues have been injured during the events in Bristol and on behalf of colleagues in West Yorkshire I wish you all a speedy recovery.

"Recognising that we are still in a pandemic, this protest and others were against current laws, officers attempted to do their best in engaging with attendees and asking them to go home. This was not about trying to stifle protest, it was about trying to stop the spread of Covid. Yes people were out in open air, but how did they get to the event? Anything that can derail the road out of lockdown needs to be addressed and that is what parliament did when it told officers to enforce breaches and created the laws.

"What has not been helpful is senior figures within society and parliament openly criticising officers for doing their job. Especially before they are in possession of the full facts. I hope there is some reflection by these individuals, recognition that there are consequences to ill thought out words and this could empower trouble makers to attack my colleagues. Behaviour like this, in this difficult time is unforgivable."

Steve Kent, Chairman of the South Yorkshire Police Federation echoed Mr Booth's comments.

He said: "The scenes witnessed were absolutely appalling. What we have seen recently in high profile incidents and likely to have seen in Bristol, is that a large group of people seemingly hijack an unauthorised but peaceful demonstration and use it as an excuse to create anarchy.

"The irony here is that the bill is designed to give powers to prevent disruption and disorder taking place ensuring demonstrations are always peaceful.. I’m sure the vast majority of the public would agree with that and hopefully even more so after these disgraceful scenes. The reports of officers being assaulted and even one officer suffering a punctured lung is frankly sickening and all our thoughts are with them at this time."

Yorkshire MP David Davis said the scenes in Bristol were "evil and shameful".

The former minister, who is the MP for Haltemprice and Howden, addressed Home Secretary Priti Patel in the Commons this afternoon. He said: "The simple truth is that those evil and shameful acts demonstrated only too clearly the need for the police to have powers to deal with disruptive, dangerous actions masquerading behind the right to demonstrate and that she’s right to promote that.

"That being said, many of us – I suspect including her – view the right to demonstrate peacefully as a foundation stone of our democracy.

“Can she give the House an undertaking that before we get to report stage (of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill), we will make sure that the right to demonstrate peacefully is absolutely guaranteed in our law?”

Ms Patel said the right to protest peacefully is a “cornerstone of our democracy”, adding: “It is one this Government will always defend.”

The Home Secretary said she will “work with everybody” to ensure the police have the powers they need to tackle the “kind of appalling thuggery and criminality” seen in Bristol.

Earlier, Ms Patel said: “The scenes in Bristol yesterday were utterly shameful. We saw criminal thuggery and disorder caused by a minority who put lives at risk.

“Our exceptional and brave police officers put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. For them to face the criminal violence against them while upholding the law is completely unacceptable.

“My thoughts are with the injured officers and their family, and I hope that every single Member of Parliament in this House will join me in condemning the shameful actions of the criminal minority involved.”

She added: “We have been clear that to save lives and fight this pandemic, people must not currently hold large gatherings. Too many this weekend selfishly decided that this did not apply to them.

“We will always give the police the support and the protection that they need and it is sad, as we saw last week, that the Opposition voted against measures to protect our police and also introduce longer sentences.”

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.