LONDON – A protest in the English city of Bristol against new policing legislation turned into violent clashes that left at least 20 officers injured — two of them seriously — widespread damage to a police station and police vehicles torched, police said Monday.
Seven people were arrested during the protest, which started Sunday afternoon and ran through to the early hours of Monday morning. Police said the number of arrests would likely increase in coming days as officers study closed circuit television footage.
The violence, which also saw several police vehicles damaged, was branded as “unacceptable” by Britain's interior minister, Priti Patel.
“Thuggery and disorder by a minority will never be tolerated,” she said.
What started as a peaceful demonstration of around 3,000 people on College Green in the heart of the city in western England turned violent after hundreds of protesters descended on the New Bridewell police station.
Many demonstrators donned face masks and carried placards criticizing the legislation, such as “Say no to U.K. police state” and “Freedom to protest is fundamental to democracy.”
The protesters were ostensibly venting their anger at the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently going through parliament. Under the terms of the legislation, which covers England and Wales, police will be handed new powers to tackle demonstrations.
Sue Mountstevens, police and crime commissioner for the Avon and Somerset region, said seven people have been arrested but that there would be “many more” detained.
“It’s disgraceful and outrageous," she said. “Police officers went to work yesterday and some have returned home via hospital battered and bruised.”
Protesters attempted to smash the windows of the glass-fronted police station and damaged 12 vehicles, including two that were set on fire.
Andy Marsh, chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, said 12 police vehicles were damaged and “significant damage” was caused to the New Bridewell police station.
“Officers were pelted with stones and missiles and fireworks and it was a terrifying situation for them to deal with," he said.
“I believe the events of yesterday were hijacked by extremists, people who were determined to commit criminal damage, to generate very negative sentiment about policing and to assault our brave officers," he added.
Two of the police officers injured were treated in hospital after suffering broken ribs and an arm. Both have since been discharged.
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, who said he had “major concerns” about the bill, condemned the violence and said the unrest would be used to justify the legislation.
One of the reasons why the British government has pushed through new legislation on the police's powers over protests relates to last summer's anti-racism protests, including the toppling of a statue of slave trader, Edward Colston, in Bristol.