At least seven people have been arrested in connection with the violent scenes that marred a “Kill the Bill” protest in Bristol, which saw a police station attacked, officers injured and vehicles set alight.
The Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner said “many more” would be arrested in the coming days as officers examined a large amount of CCTV footage from Sunday night’s riot.
Twenty police officers were injured, two seriously, when what started as a non-violent demonstration turned violent after hundreds of protesters descended on the New Bridewell police station.
Police said between 2,000 and 3,000 people had gathered at College Green on Sunday to protest against the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will see the police handed new powers to tackle demonstrations.
Andy Marsh, chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, said the demonstration had been “hijacked” by several hundred “extremists”.
“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 said.
“There was a hardcore of serious criminals hidden within those 3,000 people – perhaps 400 or 500 people – and we certainly didn’t trigger this.
“The officers were incredibly patient, incredibly professional and I pay tribute to them.”
Mr Marsh said 12 police vehicles were damaged, including two that were set on fire, 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.
“We have 20 officers injured, two of them seriously, and I spoke to one of them in hospital.
“Thankfully both officers have been released from hospital and are with their families.
“All of those assaulted were incredibly shocked, some of them were beaten around the head with sticks, hit with missiles.”
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, who said he had “major concerns” about the Government’s Bill, condemned the thuggery but said the disorder would be used to justify the legislation.
Sue Mountstevens, police and crime commissioner for Avon and Somerset, said seven people had been arrested so far and there would be “many more” detained.
“It’s disgraceful and outrageous. Police officers went to work yesterday, and some have returned home via hospital battered and bruised,” she said.
“I believe there have been seven arrests so far and there will be many more.”
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.
Avon and Somerset Police Federation chairman Andy Roebuck condemned the violence as “disgusting scenes in Bristol by a mob of animals”.
John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, 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.”
Darren Jones, the Labour MP for Bristol North West, said: “You don’t campaign for the right to peaceful protest by setting police vans on fire or graffitiing buildings.”