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UNITED KINGDOM: Prison sentences for Bristol activists accused of “riot”

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– Article by Netpol, orginally published on 5 August, available here.

Five people are facing imprisonment in the first round of sentencing for convictions from the Bristol #KillTheBill in March. Four were given 3+ year sentences for riot, while another was sentenced to 5 months in prison for “outraging public decency” after urinating on a police officer’s shoes.

An urgent prison support crowdfunding campaign has been launched – you can donate and share it here.

In the aftermath of the Bristol protests, Netpol worked with grassroots legal support organisations, street medics and Bristolians to report on the heavy police violence experienced on the demonstrations. There is no transparency or oversight of police use of force, so grassroots groups had to do their own mapping and reporting of the injuries sustained by protesters – while the police openly lied to the media about injuries to their own officers.

Netpol also submitted detailed evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry on the Bristol protests, which issued a damning report in July 2021 and found that the police actions “caused, or at least exacerbated, some of the violence”. The report adds that the impression of “revenge policing” is “compounded by the excessive measures used by [Avon and Somerset Police] in their investigations of offences allegedly committed during the events of 19-26 March”.

“No mercy” from the courts

76 arrested people have been arrested and so far 29 charged, with Avon and Somerset police carrying out house raids, searches and heavy surveillance. The search for suspects has resulted in a marked level of police incompetence, as officers mistakenly raided properties and threatened people with tasers after wrongly identifying them.

The decision of the police and Crown Prosecution Service to increase the charges for many of the suspects from violent disorder to riot, which carries a three – six year suggested sentence, is likely to only strengthen the belief in Bristol that the police are out for revenge.

Analysis from Freedom News has pointed out that the rarely charged offence of ‘riot’ has not been widely used since the unrest in Bradford in 2001 or across the UK in summer 2011, and indicates that defendants can expect “no mercy” in the courts.

As Bristol ABC say in their statement on the sentencing,

“the Policing Bill aims to further criminalise those who defend themselves against police violence, doubling the maximum prison sentence for assaulting a police officer, while the police are able to use violence and even kill with impunity.”

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is currently with the House of Lords, and will be debated after the summer parliamentary recess. The Bill poses a huge threat to all our rights and covers much more than the right to protest; it includes a wholesale attack on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities way of live alongside measures to expand the use of racist stop and search powers, increase surveillance of vulnerable young people, and an increase of punitive sentencing which will trap more people in the criminal justice system.

A national day of action against the Bill has been called on Saturday 21 August.

If you want to support those facing prison as a result of the Bristol protests, please donate to and share the crowdfunder from Bristol ABC.