Riot charges for protesters

IssueApril - May 2022
News by David Polden

On 14 March, a young protester was cleared of riot but imprisoned for nine months for her part in ‘Kill the Bill’ protests outside a police station in Bristol on 21 March last year. Jasmine York (26) was convicted of arson because she had been filmed pushing a bin against a burning police car. She denied in court that she had been intending to add more fuel to the fire.

So far, 15 protesters have been sentenced to almost 60 years imprisonment for their part in the Bristol protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. (The bill is still going through the UK parliament.)

38 demonstrators have been charged with riot, the most serious public order offence, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

In the 10 years before this incident, the Guardian reports, only 22 people had been convicted of riot.

Police are seeking a further 34 people in connection with the clashes, so there may be more riot charges to come.

MPs criticise police

Somerset and Avon police were criticised for their handling of the protests by the the house of commons all-party group on democracy and the constitution group which investigated the disturbances (see PN 2655). The group heard evidence that the disorder was sparked by police beating and pepper-spraying protesters taking part in a sit-down protest outside the police station. The MPs also condemned the use of ‘blading’, hitting protesters with the thin edge of police riot shields.

Geraint Davies MP, the chair of the all-party group, suggested to the Guardian in February that laying the riot charges might be the authorities ‘seeking to punish people… for challenging the police.’ He said that the police had ‘massively over-reacted… and were found out after they misled the press and tried to mislead our enquiry’.

At least 62 protesters reported injuries over the course of the week, including 22 with head wounds and seven who required hospital treatment.

During Jasmine York’s trial, footage was shown of her being hit by the police at least three times with batons – and of her being bitten by a police dog.

Some 44 police officers were reported hurt though police claims that officers had suffered broken bones and a punctured lung were withdrawn.