PM defends right to protest after 'unacceptable' riot

Boris Johnson has insisted that the people “obviously” have a right to protest in this country while condemning the violent scenes that tarnished a “kill the bill” protest in Bristol.

Police said seven people had been arrested, six for violent disturbance and a seventh for possession of an offensive weapon following the Sunday night riot that attacked the police station, injured officers and set fire to vehicles.

Twenty police officers were injured, two seriously, when a peaceful demonstration turned violent after some 500 demonstrators fell at the New Bridewell Police Station.

Critics say the Police and Justice Act will curb the right to peaceful protest, sparking the protests that led to violence in Bristol.

Speaking to the BAE Systems broadcaster in Preston, the Prime Minister said, “I think all of these things are unacceptable and obviously people have the right to protest in this country.

“But they should protest peacefully and legally.”

Two of the injured were hospitalized after suffering a lung puncture, broken ribs and a broken arm. Both have since been released.

Police said between 2,000 and 3,000 people gathered on College Green Sunday to protest the police, crime, conviction and government courts law. The police will give new powers to fight demonstrations.

Andy Marsh, Avon and Somerset Police Chief, said the demonstration was “kidnapped” by several hundred “extremists”.

“I believe yesterday’s events were kidnapped by extremists, people determined to do criminal harm, creating a very negative mood about policing and attacking our brave officials,” he said.

“From the first gathering of about 2,000 to 3,000, which was more than expected, about 50 officials were busy with those present, encouraging them to disperse.

“There was a lot of serious criminals hidden in those 3,000 people – maybe 400 or 500 people – and we certainly didn’t trigger that.

“The officers have been incredibly patient, incredibly professional, and I’m paying tribute to them.”

Mr Marsh said 12 police vehicles were damaged, including two that were set on fire, and “significant damage” was done to the New Bridewell Police Station.

“I am incredibly saddened by the terrible scenes we saw here,” he said.

“Stones, rockets and fireworks were pelted at officers and it was a terrible situation for them to deal with.”

The police chief said there was no prior information to suggest that a disruption was planned on the scale observed.

“A tactical decision was made to treat these criminals retrospectively and not make any significant number of arrests last night,” he said.

“This would have had a significant impact on our local resources and created a higher risk of property damage and injury to the fewer officers still handling the incident.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the scenes were “unacceptable” and “brawl and disorder” would never be tolerated.

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, who said he had “serious concerns” about government law, condemned the brawl but said the disruption was being used to justify the legislation.

“It’s selfish, it’s an indulgent and self-centered activity – people living out their revolutionary fantasies,” he said.

“It has nothing to do with being banned for a year. What does injuring police officers, smashing windows and burning cars have to do with the challenges we are currently facing as a city?

“But the violence that took place last night does nothing to reduce the likelihood that this bill will receive support. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

“People from these communities who were at the end of the criminal justice system are now in greater danger. It doesn’t bring them closer to justice, it takes them further away.

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

Sue Mountstevens, police and crime commissioner for Avon and Somerset, said more arrests would be made.

“It’s shameful and outrageous. Police went to work yesterday and some returned home through a hospital that was battered and injured,” she said.

The Police, Crime, Conviction and Courts Act would give the police in England and Wales more power to impose conditions on non-violent protests, including those deemed too loud or disruptive.

Those convicted under the proposed law could face a fine or prison.


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