Protesters who attacked police officers, tried to storm a station and torched vans in Bristol have been condemned as a “mob of animals”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel hit out at the demonstrators for their “thuggery” as politicians, police brass and officers’ unions slammed the violent acts that took place during a ‘Kill the Bill’ protest.
Two officers suffered broken bones as police were pelted with missiles and had fireworks shot at them during running clashes in the street.
Protesters climbed on a roof at the New Bridewell police station, where windows were smashed and offensive messages were spraypainted on walls and vehicles.
What started as a non-violent demonstration in the city centre against the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill turned violent after hundreds of protesters marched from College Green to the police station.
The mindless violence was condemned by the Home Secretary, police federation representatives and MPs.
Ms Patel, who has faced heavy criticism for her policing bill, tweeted: “Unacceptable scenes in Bristol tonight.
“Thuggery and disorder by a minority will never be tolerated. Our police officers put themselves in harms way to protect us all.
“My thoughts this evening are with those police officers injured.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “Awful, shocking scenes in Bristol. There is no excuse whatsoever for this violence.
“Thinking of those officers who have been injured, and their families, and wishing them a swift recovery.”
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said: “Smashing buildings in our city centre, vandalising vehicles, attacking our police will do nothing to lessen the likelihood of the bill going through.
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“On the contrary, the lawlessness on show will be used as evidence and promote the need for the bill.
“This is a shameful day in an incredible year for Bristol.”
He added: “I have major concerns about the bill myself, which is poorly thought-out and could impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to peaceful protest.
“It also misses as much as it includes, such as measures that could reduce violence against women and girls. We will raise our concerns.”
Thangam Debbonaire, Labour MP for Bristol West and shadow secretary of state for housing, said: “This is absolutely unacceptable.
“The scenes of violence and direct attack on the police in Bristol city centre will distress most people including anyone who believes in defending the right to peaceful democratic protest.”
Darren Jones, Labour MP for Bristol North West, said: “The scenes in Bristol this evening are completely unacceptable.
“You don’t campaign for the right to peaceful protest by setting police vans on fire or graffitiing buildings.
“Avon and Somerset Police were on duty today to facilitate a peaceful protest not to deal with criminal behaviour.”
Andy Roebuck, chairman of the Avon and Somerset Police Federation, said about half a dozen officers were injured.
He tweeted: “Disgusting scenes in Bristol by a mob of animals who are injuring police officers, members of the public and damaging property.
“Avon and Somerset Police Federation are attending stations to support officers.
“We have officers with suspected broken arms and ribs. This is so wrong.”
John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, called it “mindless violence”.
He said: “This is not about protecting the right to protest, it’s violent criminality from a hardcore minority who will hijack any situation for their own aims.
“My colleagues, some of whom are now in hospital, face the brunt of that hatred. Thoughts remain with my colleagues.”
Avon and Somerset Police, which had to call in back-up from neighbouring forces as it tried to restore order, vowed to punish those responsible.
Chief Superintendent Will White said: “What started out as a peaceful protest has been turned by a small minority into violent disorder.
“These scenes are absolutely disgraceful and they will be widely condemned by people across the city.
“There can never be any excuse for wanton disorder.
“Officers have been subjected to considerable levels of abuse and violence.
“One officer suffered a broken arm and another suffered broken ribs.
“Both have been taken to hospital.
“These are men and women out there with the intention of serving and protecting the public – they should never be subjected to assaults or abuse in this way.
“At least two police vehicles have been set on fire and damage has been caused to the outside of the station.
“Protesters are not inside the building.
“We have requested mutual aid from neighbouring forces to bring this incident to a safe conclusion.
“All those involved in his criminal behaviour will be identified and brought to justice.
“There will be significant consequences for behaviour such as this.”
Police had urged people not to attend the demonstration, warning that enforcement action could be taken.
Mass gatherings are currently banned under the coronavirus legislation and anyone breaching the regulations could be fined.
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.