Senior figures at Bristol Cathedral have issued a public statement implicitly criticising the policing of a Kill The Bill protest on College Green on March 23 this year.
The statement follows a public meeting in June at which Bristol Quaker David Mowat brought representatives of Bristol Cathedral, who own College Green, together with protesters who were there on March 23 to hear the testimonies of the latter regarding police violence.
On Wednesday (July 14) Dean Dr Mandy Ford and the Rev’d Canon Dr Martin Gainsborough released a statement via the Cathedral newsletter in which they addressed the issues raised in the June meeting with protesters. The statement is printed in full below.
The protest on March 23 saw around 100 people sit peacefully on College Green throughout the afternoon and into the evening in solidarity with the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community, whose way of life will be criminalized by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill.
Avon & Somerset (A&S) Police, supported by other forces from across the south west, deployed riot police to disperse the protest at 22:00, using heavy force including baton strikes and blows with riot shields which left many protesters injured and many more traumatized.
The Dean and Rev’d Canon described the testimonies they heard at the June meeting as “extremely distressing”, noting in particular the evidence given of protesters being kettled by police and left with no way to escape.
Most notably, whilst the newsletter and statement stopped short of explicitly criticising A&S Police, it does give credence to protesters’ evidence of police violence.
“Witnesses spoke of seeing individuals punched, kicked and forced to the ground using riot shields. It was clear that those who had been there were, and remain, deeply traumatised by their experiences and by what they witnessed.
“Many were in tears and visibly distressed by recounting the events of that evening.”
The remarks from the Dean and Rev’d Canon are a major departure from the unequivocal support of the A&S Police given by Bristol figureheads such as Marvin Rees and local MPs during the Kill The Bill protests of late March and April.
In March, Cleo Lake, candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner at the time, was alone is calling for an independent inquiry into the policing of Kill The Bill protests, especially the protest of March 21 that became a riot.
Statement of the Dean of Bristol, the Very Rev’d Dr Mandy Ford and Rev’d Canon Dr Martin Gainsborough:
“College Green has a long history as a place of peaceful gathering for the people of Bristol. Since the 19th Century it has been a public amenity, providing a place where families and friends can gather. It has also become a valuable location for peaceful protest for the people of Bristol. College Green should be a place of safety and sanctuary for all. It is clear that on the night of March 23 this was not the case.
“We confirm our commitment to promoting the rights of the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, who have been the subject of discrimination over many years, not only at a personal level but at an institutional level. We condemn such discrimination unreservedly and note that aspects of the Police bill increase the likelihood of discrimination against these groups and will make it almost impossible to live a travelling life in England in the future.
“We are extremely grateful to those who were willing to share their testimony with us, at great cost. We commit ourselves to continuing the discussion and to working with all stakeholders, including the police, to maintain peace and safety on College Green.”
“We are in touch with the Police and inviting them to a meeting and a conversation with Martin and myself in the first instance.“