News and views from north Bristol's urban village

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Stokes Croft Riot: What Took Place Hour by Hour?

The following is an attempt to piece together the events surrounding the Stokes Croft Riot last week, as they unfolded, drawing on eye-witness descriptions, blogs, media reports, police statements, video and photographic evidence and social media updates.

This is not an overt interpretation of the events, or a comment on their causes. It is simply an attempt to discover as many of the key facts, as far as that is possible. Any omissions or corrections are invited via the comments button.


Thursday 21st April

Mid-afternoon

Writing on Indymedia, Caoimhin states that "bailiffs and a man from Bristol City Council"  arrived at the ‘Telepathic Heights’ squat on Stokes Croft to begin an eviction. According to the report, "a protest quickly gathered and the bailiffs were forced to withdraw." Source.


4.15 pm

Local LibDem councillor Jon Rogers claims in his Twitter feed (retrospectively) that in briefings he received from the police, a report of a petrol bomb at the squat was received via a police officer in the area:

"Alleged sighting reported at 16:15. Understand it was police that had spotted, but may have also been Tesco staff. "


"Beat police on scene at 16:15, petrol bomb suspected, police plans made, 20:30 raid on squat."


"Police confirm police operation started at 21:15 not 20:30 as I had been briefed. " Source.


8.30 pm

Anti-Tesco activist Mal had been maintaining a peaceful protest outside the Stokes Croft store during the day. Around 8.30 pm she claims that one of the security guards working at the Tesco store said to her, "They've got petrol bombs over there!" referring to the squat known as Telepathic Heights opposite the Tesco Store. Source.


9.15 pm

Police officers from Avon and Somerset Police closed Cheltenham Road in order to secure the area around the squat. The police claim that they received intelligence on the day itself (April 21st) that there was an immediate "danger to the local community." Source

Tom (no surname) told Radio 5's Victoria Derbeyshire programme that road blocks were  set up at the junctions where Cheltenham Road meets Arley Hill, and further down at the junction of Cheltenham Road and Ashley Road. Source

Jon Rogers states that there were three police vans involved in this initial operation, with three additional vans of officers held in reserve. Source.

Having secured the road, police officers forced their way into the building and arrested four people. Three were arrested on suspicion of public order offences and the fourth on suspicion of threats to cause criminal damage with intent to endanger life. Source.

Gavin Houghton, a resident of the squat, says that he saw 30 to 40 police outside the building, in riot clothing. On storming the property, Houghton claims, "one of the officers barged me in the face with his shield and pushed me across the room and told me to sit down on the floor. Whilst he was pushing me I said, 'Leave me alone, I'm not doing anything to you.' Then he started shouting, 'Sit there, don't move.' Source

Houghton claims that the residents of the squat were not involved in an anti-Tesco campaign and that they had no intention of attacking the store with petrol bombs or otherwise. Source.

Jon Rogers notes (retrospectively) from his police briefing that three of those arrested were "at or near the property" that was raided and that only one person was arrested "inside" the squat.  Rogers notes that "Early police press release inaccurate." Source.


9.30 pm - 4.30 am

A police helicopter was deployed overhead throughout the operation. Source


The police say that eight arrests were made during the course of the night and that eight police officers were injured and required hospital treatment. Injuries to police officers included head, neck and shoulder injuries and twisted ankles. One officer had teeth knocked out. Source.


9.30 pm

During and after the initial police operation at  Telepathic Heights, a crowd started to gather close to the area sealed off by the police. Source.


Neurobonkers, a post-graduate student who lives in the area, says he saw "approximately 10" police vans in the cordoned off area around this time. Source.


10.00 pm

Nick Jones (a resident) reports that from "about 10 or 10.30" bottles and stones started to be thrown by some members of the crowd at the police lines. He refers to a black recycling box being overturned and the bottles inside it being used. Source

The police also claim that minor fires were started at this time on and around the road. The official police estimate of the crowd at this time is around 300. It is after this initial phase of confrontation that the police claim they called for backup from neighbouring forces. 
"When 300 people congregated and a small minority from that group started small fires and throwing bottles, stones and other items at officers, we used well-rehearsed plans, which involved the use of officers from neighbouring forces to control what had become a volatile situation," said ACC Hansen

The police note that 66 of the officers deployed that night were from neighbouring forces, of an official police total of 160. Source.


Caoimhin says that "the police used baton charges, dogs, horses and vans to repel these sporadic and rather ineffectual attacks" during this phase. Source.



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11.00 pm

The spate of stone and bottle throwing appears to have died down. A "party-like" atmosphere appears to have broken out. Oli Connor arrived around this time. He claims there were around 160 police officers on the scene:

"When I arrived at the scene everything was relatively peaceful. The police were holding a line to prevent people reaching Telepathic Heights and members of the public were asking them what was happening and why there were so many officers. The mood began to take on the feel of a small festival, the crowd cheered when somebody started playing some R & B music through a small sound system."

Neurobonkers reports (from the Ashley Road end of the police cordon) reports a slightly different scene around this time:

"The police charged violently in to a street full of bystanders in reaction to a violent onslaught by a small group throwing bottles. The reaction of my neighbours made me proud. When the police entered Picton street and pushed everyone that was stepping outside to see what was going on to the end of the street everyone calmly sat on the floor and began singing peace songs. The police clearly got a call for backup from their colleagues who had continued to charge down St. Andrews road (for a good 7-800 metres). What happened next was fantastic, the police calmly walked backwards out of the street. As the police began to retreat someone hung a boombox out of the window and played “Beat it” by Michael Jackson. The crowd joined in and serenaded them out. Serenaded isn’t the right word but you get the gist." Source. 

Meanwhile, on Ashley Road, Omar Ashaq, the owner of Supermasriq stores, said he had been stranded in his shop from about 11pm. "I looked about the window and there were people throwing bottles and burning bins. I dropped the shutters and locked the door." Source.


Friday 22nd April

00.15 

Avon and Somerset Police release a news item confirming that the original operation has taken place and that a number of items have been removed from the squat - "including possible petrol bombs." Source.




00.30 am
 
Caoimhin reports that the police started to make "forays" up Nine Tree Hill, reaching as far as the traffic barriers at Fremantle Square "where for a short period they formed a shield wall and then retreated." The result of this tactic, it is claimed, was "to cause a violent overspill into Kingsdown, where more bottles could be thrown, bins overturned and set on fire." Source.

A similar tactic appears to have been used on Ashley Road and on Picton Street during this phase of the disturbance,.Neurobonkers reports:



"I was on the junction of stokes croft high street when the police charged what was only at that point a croud (sic) of about 100 but which quickly grew down Ashley Road pretty much all the way to the end of it over the course of a couple of hours. Due to the absolute confusion a number of people had emerged from their houses only to shortly find they were the wrong side of a road block and got roped in to what became a three hour running battle through pretty much all of the back streets coming off Ashley road croft and in to St Pauls, numerous burning barricades were erected and a huge amount of people were battered and bloodied by police for attempting to approach police lines to get home and find friends. By this point there was devastation everywhere. All junctions were blocked by overturned glass bottle dumpsters and makeshift neighbourhood roadblocks." Source.



Adam Ford was also in Ashley Road at this time. He reports fighting moving deeper into St. Pauls and two lines of barricades and bins being set on fire on Brigstocke Road. He observed some local black youth taking part at this stage. He also notes both support and criticism being expressed by several older residents, some of whom lived in the area during the St Pauls riot of 1980. Source.


01.00

A "different section" of people turned up and "it developed from there,"according to local resident Nick Jones.

Further waves of bottles and stones were thrown at the police, who were still holding a line on the Cheltenham Road before breaking and pursuing those involved. Jones reports running battles up and down the road and some of the rioters carrying "weapons". The context of the claim suggests these may have been poles or extended pieces of wood or metal. (Nick Jones, source.)


Leo Nikolaidis, a Bristol University graduate and former contributor to Venue magazine, describes being "on the bottom of Ninetree Hill and some pretty big bricks were smashing through and bouncing off police vehicle windows." He says that very few of those taking part had covered their faces at this stage. Source.

Oli Connor notes that some of the crowd began erecting barriers made of dust bins and large pieces of wood, though he does not state exactly where these were placed.  He also describes youths in masks appearing at this stage. 

"One began tying the barricade together with rope and using another rope as a trip wire. The crowd started chanting 'our streets' and others from the neighbourhood came out to see what was happening. "  

Connor further reports the police storming forwards, shouting. He himself  ran away but saw others trip over the barricade and several hit by riot shields and police batons. He adds, "Anyone who tried to help the fallen met with a similar punishment." Source.


01.30? am

Connor: reports seeing "a seemingly unconscious man being dragged across the floor by two police officers as if he was a doll, his face covered with blood."


He also claims that the police attempted to leave around this time but were "kettled" by the large number of protesters who surrounded the police vans.


Nikolaidis also describes police officers in riot gear crowding into their vans for protection at this stage. Source.


Neurobonkers also reports the police on Cheltenham Road retreating into their vehicles around this time:

"The police started making arrests and then all hell broke loose. Missiles began coming down from youths who'd climbed on to the buildings surrounding the Metropolis (Jesters)  and police brought out dogs to clear people from the street, quite a few got bitten. Meanwhile a lot of police vans had their tyres let out. At that point the dogs retreated and the convoy of about 10 vans that were surrounded drove at speed through the crowd clipping a large number of people on their way out. Both Tesco and telepathic heights were abandoned by the police." Source.



As police exited these vans, Connor claims that protesters sat down in front of them, linking arms. He claims that the police attacked several of these protesters with riot shields and by kicking them. He refers to seeing several female protesters "lying on the floor crying with bloody faces." Source.


Connor also claims that his phone was smashed by a police officer during this phase and that his girlfriend was "smacked aggressively" by police riot shields as she tried to retrieve it.


Connor reports that the police eventually left the immediate area of the squat after the above confrontation, by driving their vans through the crowd.


As the crowd cheered their departure, a shout of "To Tesco!" was heard from within the crowd. Masked individuals with metal bars and other objects began smashing the glass at the front of the store, while the crowd cheered and applauded.


Later on, as the police had retreated to Stokes Croft itself, "the police started making arrests and then all hell broke loose. Missiles began coming down and police brought out dogs to clear people from the street, quite a few got bitten. Meanwhile a lot of police vans had their tyres let out. At that point the dogs retreated and the convoy of about 10 vans that were surrounded drove at speed through the crowd clipping a large number of people on their way out. Both Tesco and telepathic heights were abandoned by the police." Source.







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A report from the Bristol Anarchist Federation claims that during this phase, and following the attack on Tesco's, a police vehicle was also "smashed" and a police trailer looted of its riot equipment. Following this, a skip was dragged into the road, apparently in an attempt to limit the movement of police vehicles in the street. The site further claims that Tesco was invaded a second time and that objects were thrown from adjacent rooftops at the police. It is unclear whether this account is first-hand. Source.




2.00 am?

Caoimhin observed ongoing running battles between police and citizens, claiming that by this time the crowd consisted not only of "anarchists" but young people "of all social classes and ethnic backgrounds." He (?) also observed some older people taking part and several children as well. Source.

Adam Ford places the first attack on Tesco's around this time (2.30) - rather later than the time suggested by other witnesses or participants. he also notes a police car being set on fire at the same time. Ford agrees that the main focus of the riot after this event was at the junction of Ashley  Road and Stokes Croft, "when people were throwing staff from the Ninetree Hill down on the vans, trying to join the rest of us." Source. 

It may have been during the attack on Tesco's that a window panel at Fred Baker Cycles was smashed. The store is next door to the new Tesco. Store manager Geoff Gardiner says that "Plate glass of that size will cost about £600 to repair." The shop was forced to close the next day, resulting in a significant loss of trade: "On a nice, sunny Good Friday like this we could have done some good trade. If we can't open again tomorrow, that's £6,000 or £7,000 we've missed out on." Further damage was done to the Bristolian Café on Picton Street Source. 

 

3.00? am

Connor attends the Accident & Emergency department of an unnamed hospital to receive treatment for a "head injury" caused by a "stray brick" which required stitches. Source.


At the hospital, Connor claims to meet several other injured people. These include:


  • A 17 year old who had tripped over the makeshift barricades as the police moved forward around 1.00 am. He says that while on the floor he had been hit with a baton across the face and on the back of his head. Connor describes a "large bloody wound on the back of his head" and his face being "blue and swollen." He also had a large bruise on his arm, resulting from him being struck as he tried to defend himself from the police.
  • A man with bite marks from a police dog. 
  • A man who had been "clubbed around the head" who claimed that he had only been in the area because he was trying to buy some milk from local shops.
  • A man with a suspected broken foot claims that it was driven over by a police van. 
































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