A lot is being spoken and written about the Bristol riots on Sunday 21st March.
Establishment figures like Mayor Marvin Rees, Bristol MPs, the police have all stepped forward to condemn the riots as “shameful”, “violent” and so on.
Meanwhile commentators speculate on whether the riots have helped or hindered efforts to prevent the Police, Courts, Sentencing and Crime (PCSC) Bill, which was of course the aim of Sunday’s original protest before it became a riot.
However, it is far too early to say what effect this riot will have on political and public opinion.
Instead of joining in the premature speculation, I would like instead to simply iron out what exactly happened on Sunday night, what the protestors did and what the police did, and aim to create a baseline chronicle of facts against which we can begin to discuss what happens next.
The below is based on my experience at Bridewell on Sunday night, beginning with the return to Bridewell from Castle Park. I welcome anyone who wishes to clarify, add or alter any of the below. You can get in touch with The Bristol Activist here [INSERT LINK TO CONTACT PAGE]
Timeline of Events
16:45 – Protest still at Castle Park, people sitting in the road at the top of Union Street and speakers are addressing the crowd.
C. 17:00 – Protestors begin marching back to Bridewell police station via Union Street.
17:19 – Protestors sat in the road outside Bridewell. Police, including some already in riot gear, are holding a line along the pavement outside the station.
Protestors fill the road outside the station, spreading from the junction of Rupert St and Bridewell St at the south west end, to the junction of Bridewell St and Upper Maudlin St at the north east end.
17:28 – Protestors climb on top of a police van parked outside Bridewell.
17:40 – Police enter the road outside the entryway to Bridewell, splitting protestors into two groups. One police line (at the north east side) is in line with the police van on which protestors had climbed. The other (south west) is roughly in line with the junction to Bridewell Street.
Riot police on the north east side are in full riot gear. Police on the south west side are not, but are carrying batons on shoulders.
Protestors are engaging police more on the north east side. Protestors on the south west side remain calmer, holding placards. chanting etc.
17:45 – Riot police appear on the south west side as well. Crowd is still calm. Some objects are being thrown but the throwers are shouted down by the crowd who do not want violence.
Pictures show an even mixture of men and women in the crowd. Many have their heads uncovered and are not hiding themselves.
Crowd chants “Kill the Bill” and “10 years for protest, 5 years for rape”.
17:46 – Mounted police arrive from the south west end of Rupert St and clear protestors from the pavement outside Bridewell. They proceed to the clear ground between the two police lines outside the entrance to Bridewell.
17:48 – Pictures show police thinly spread on the south side at the junction with Bridewell St. Protestors are not pushing forwards but leaving space between themselves and the police.
18:15 – Mounted police advance at the Bridewell St junction. Protestors fall back pursued by police.
C. 18:30 – Police, having stretched themselves too thinly, fall back to their original position. Protestors move in again and sit in front of the police line on the road outside Bridewell.
18:41 – Police dogs are brought in from the south west end of Rupert Street. Protestors who were sitting now clear the road.
A firework is launched, but comes as close to protestors as it does the police. See here.
C. 19:00 – Police begin to fall back to the station. Protestors follow and now have access to the windows of Bridewell, which some people begin to break.
19:24 – Extra police vehicles arrive and park outside Bridewell. No extra officers seem to arrive, however, and the vans are left undefended. They are soon tagged and graffitied whilst officers look on.
The two halves of the protest are now reunited as the police lines separating them have fallen back. A degree of calm descends outside Bridewell.
19:59 – A parked and undefended police van on Bridewell St is targeted by a small group of protestors who break windows and graffiti the van.
The group attempts to turn the van over but fails.
C. 20:05 – The parked van is set on fire.
20:07 – Three more police vans arrive at the south end of Bridewell St via Nelson Street. A crowd is now gathering here, in part to watch the burning police van, in part because police are pushing people away from Bridewell again.
20:15 – The three police vans that arrived to Bridewell St now reverse back to the junction with Nelson St. Riot police deploy from the vans and begin to hold a position at the junction. They do not prevent people passing, but the crowd largely holds back.
A small group of protestors remains on Bridewell St, sitting in front of the riot police there. Bins have been overturned onto Bridewell St in front of the police vans that reversed to the junction.
20:40 – Three more police vans arrive at Bridewell from the south west of Rupert St and slowly begin to push back the crowd outside the station.
Police line has now advanced again to surround Bridewell.
Other than a small number of protestors on the roof of Bridewell who are throwing stones at police, the situation outside the station seems calmer and less confrontational.
20:45 – A parked police car on All Saints Street is now being targeted. It is eventually set on fire.
C. 21:00 Fire crews arrive for the burning police car on All Saints St. Police push from the Bridewell/Nelson St junction south west down Nelson St to make space for the fire engines to pass.
C. 21:30 – The police have largely taken control of the situation. Holding positions on Rupert St (south west) and Bridewell St (south). Bridewell St (north east) is open and protestors are standing in small groups. Some are still recovering from pepper spray used by the police, with a temporary first aid station set up stocked with milk.
21:49 – Police line at south end of Bridewell St. Many people are now going home.
C. 23:00 – New groups of people turn up and begin attacking police at the south end of Bridewell St.
(TBA was not present for this but Bristol 24/7 have footage.)
C. 0:00 – Street cleared and all protestors have gone home.