Jury acquits protester who defended himself with a captured police riot shield

A Kill the Bill demo in Bristol
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A jury in Bristol found Kill the Bill protester Michael Truesdale not guilty on Monday 12 June. The majority verdict found Michael innocent of charges of affray and violent disorder.

Avon and Somerset Police arrested Michael after the 21 March 2021 uprising against police violence outside Bristol’s Bridewell police station. They accused him of using a captured police riot shield against officers. Michael always maintained that he was acting in self defence.

Judge Ambrose instructed the jury last week that if they found he was acting to defend himself or others then they should find Michael not guilty of both offences. After more than four hours of deliberations, the jury found that he was, indeed, acting in self defence. Michael was acquitted.

Michael explained, in evidence last week, why he attended the 21 March protest. He said that the demonstration was:

in relation to the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill [now an Act]. We were there to protest against police powers and police practice, and the murder of Sarah Everard.

Sarah was murdered by serving police officer Wayne Couzens on 3 March 2021.

Michael said in evidence that the protest was arguably the most important he’d ever attended, and that the negative effects of the PCSC Act would last the for the rest of his life.

Read on...

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More than two years of struggle

Michael wrote a statement on the day of his acquittal. In it, he explained the emotional impact of waiting two years for trial.

Michael was first arrested a month after the 21 March 2021 protest, and was initially charged with the more serious charge of riot. He wrote:

That’s it. Not guilty. Over two years I have had to wait for my trial to take place, enduring the anxiety of a possible long prison sentence, watching as one after another the criminal justice system punished fellow protesters for standing up for our rights and each other. I’m finally free from prosecution but what justice have we really had? For me this is far from over.

Bristol Crown Court has sentenced a total of 35 Kill the Bill protesters to over 110 years in prison between them. Several people are still awaiting trial.

Last week, the jury heard how police deployed horses against the crowd and struck protesters with their riot shields and batons. Several police witnesses spoke about how, during the evening, the crowd’s ‘mood shifted’. Michael wrote scathingly:

On the stand, police have regularly described a ‘mood shift’ outside Bridewell after the initial March. They conveniently forget the many unprovoked attacks on protesters over those hours leading up to that apparent shift. The moods changing because you’re hitting people, you idiots! And the more and more people who became direct victims of unprovoked police violence, or who witnessed those acts, the more upset the crowd became.


Michael explained that, when he saw the police violence against the crowd, he felt he had to intervene:

I watched with dismay as police lashed out at innocent protesters and I felt I had to intervene to protect people. At first just using my body defensively, but at some point I got hold of a police riot shield and with that I was able to keep the cops back and protect people from their strikes much more effectively. As well as improper baton strikes, the police were using a really violent technique called shield blading against people who were just standing there.

He further recalled the fact that many people in the crowd were injured or hospitalised.

Michael also explained, in his own words, how he ended up on trial. He said that he remains proud of what he did:

It sounds pretty crazy, but I was weirdly calm, and I never went too far. I never tried to harm a police officer, even though all cops are bastards and they were trying to harm us. That’s the way I was brought up, to be non violent, but never to turn a blind eye to the violence of others. I never thought I would actually have to do something like this, but in hindsight it is the proudest moment in my life. I have always felt I have strong principles but it is only when you are challenged that you find out how much you really mean them.

The police ‘have shown no remorse’

In his statement, Michael made the point that the police were working under the assumption that protest was illegal under Covid-19 legislation on 21 March. Last week, the court heard evidence that this had been their belief, and that, in fact, the police had been wrong in their interpretation of the law.

Michael described how the threat of long sentences forced many of the other protesters to plead guilty. He said that this has served to strengthen the police narrative of what happened at Bridewell, and in the ensuing weeks of protest. Michael wrote:

Under the pressure of even more serious prison sentences and the long drawn out process that wears people down, many have pled guilty to have it over and done with. That is the mission of Avon & Somerset police. To wear us down into submission, and get the guilty [pleas]. To paint a picture of violent protesters that has no bearing with reality.

This they hope will keep burying the truth; being that during three protests in Bristol over one week in March 2021, Avon & Somerset police made protesting illegal, and then brutally attacked innocent people. They have shown no remorse, offered no apology, not even a hint they could share some blame. Instead, they have spent millions of pounds of public money and wasted vast resources to cover up their abuses, and it is the young passionate people who stood up for the right to protest, and stood up for each other, that are paying for their lies and abuse.

Michael also reminded us that the police violence did not stop on 21 March. He described witnessing the violent attack on a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) community demonstration on Tuesday 23 March 2021:

Lets not forget that this police abuse did not end that night at Bridewell. Immediately, we were demonised by the national and local media. They printed lies from Avon and Somerset police without question, about punctured lungs and broken bones that didn’t exist. Then the police attacked a peaceful small protest on College Green in what has been described by political pundits across the board as ‘revenge policing’.
Michael said that he watched as police beat protesters, and tore down a memorial for Sarah Everard.
‘Escalating police violence’
He went on to describe another protest outside Bridewell on 26 March 2021. Michael said that police made another unprovoked attack on a crowd of people. He wrote:

Protesters gathered to protest outside Bridewell once again, in defiance of the escalating police violence and threats. The more violent the police were, the more the protesters felt the need to protest about it. At that protest, there was a real strong sense of wanting to keep things totally peaceful even if the police tried to rile us. People did not want a repeat of the first protest. Everyone was working together to maintain that despite serious violence from the police. The most common chant was ‘peaceful protest’ and everyone was sitting down to show no threat to officers.

Then they set dogs and horses on us and the previously sitting crowds were forced to flee in panic. I’ll never forget the looks in the eyes of the dogs’ handlers, even wilder than the dogs.

Michael continued:
We had nowhere to go. It was a huge crowd and we were being chased down the road next [to] Primark towards the Bear Pit with railings on both sides. It was a large crowd and people were running in fear but there was still people in front of you and nowhere to go. I could feel the dog breathing on my leg and at one point it’s teeth pinged on my trouser leg, and I was just able to pull my leg away before I could be bit.

‘Support the brave people imprisoned’

Michael made the point that the charges of riot, affray, and violent disorder could just as easily be levelled against the cops. He also called for an end to the riot trials, which he termed a ‘witch hunt’:

It is high time that Avon & Somerset Police and the CPS conclude this witch hunt and allow the city of Bristol to move on from the trauma of their violence. Either subject the police to the same scrutiny as the public, or call an end to Operation Harley and reconsider the sentences handed to protesters so far.

Until then we will continue to support each other through this horror and we will keep standing up for what is right.

Finally, Michael called for people to support those in prison by donating to the Anarchist Black Cross crowdfunder:

If you are able, please donate to Bristol Anarchist Black Cross fund to support the brave people who have been imprisoned after standing up for democracy and each other.
You can read the Canary‘s account of the trial, and Michael’s evidence, here.
Featured image via Shoal Collective

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Get involved

  • Donate to the Kill the Bill prisoner support fund, and write to the Kill the Bill prisoners.
  • Listen to this podcast about the 21 March, and what people are doing in Bristol to support the Kill the Bill defendants.
  • Read the Canary‘s account of what happened on 21 March and our previous reports from the trials.

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