Bristol Kill the Bill protester tells court how he used captured police riot shield to defend himself

Demonstrators and police at the March 21 Kill the Bill protest in Bristol
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A Kill the Bill protester has been on trial in Bristol Crown Court this week. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is accusing Michael Truesdale of using a captured police riot shield during Bristol’s uprising against police violence in 2021.

Judges at Bristol Crown Court have now sentenced 35 people to prison for the Kill the Bill demonstration outside Bridewell Police Station. They have received over 110 years between them.

Michael has denied the charges against him, and is defending himself in front of a jury this week.

Excessive, indiscriminate police violence

The police’s body-worn cameras captured Michael on film. In the video, he was standing with the shield in what he called “a defensive stance” and using it to push back officers in riot gear. The CPS says that this amounts to violent disorder, a charge carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Michael argued that he was acting in self-defence, and in the defence of others. He told the court that he only had the shield for a few minutes, and he was using it:

to defend other people from shield strikes, from baton strikes, from PAVA [incapacitant] spray – and in the process defend[ing] myself

Michael said that the police used:

Read on...

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excessive violent behaviour towards protesters, indiscriminately.

Michael told the court that he had also seen police striking protesters with bladed shield strikes, and that this is why he needed to act to defend himself. Bladed shield strikes are where a police officer uses the edge of a riot shield to hit somebody.

Protesting ‘against police powers and police practice’

Michael explained to the court why he attended the Kill the Bill protest in March 2021. He said that the protest was:

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

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

Michael said that one of the reasons he had gone was because of the attack on protest. He said:

There was a lot of concern among anyone who takes part in protest about this. Noisy protests could be shut down

He continued:

if you did protest it would entail very close cooperation with the police otherwise it wouldn’t happen. I was really concerned as protest is the only way we have really to make our voices heard.

Michael said that some of his friends had been brutalised by the police at a vigil for Sarah Everard the previous week. Officers even arrested another of his friends for taking part in the memorial on Clapham Common.

Michael told the court that police had banned a Bristol vigil for Sarah, planned in the same period as the Clapham Common event, under Covid-19 regulations.

Protecting others

Michael joined the Kill the Bill march from College Green on 21 March 2021. He initially hung back when the confrontation started outside Bridewell Police Station. He watched with concern as police on horseback entered the crowd and the confrontation escalated.

Owen Greenhall, Michael’s defence barrister, showed footage of one of the mounted officers using an overarm baton strike against protesters. This is despite the police’s own guidance clearly stating that batons should not be aimed towards the head.

The footage also showed police officers repeatedly hitting a woman with a baton

Later on, Michael said that he felt he needed to intervene when he saw the police attacking another woman. Footage shows officers shoving a woman in red to the floor. She got up and tried to climb a traffic-light pole to escape. Michael said he stepped in to help her, holding an arm out. He said that he was trying keep the police away from her.

Michael told the court:

I saw her being pushed over, another officer rugby tackled her. I saw them bashing her with shields, batons and all sorts.

I could see her being hit with batons, she was climbing the pole, she gave me her water bottle – I was pushing against the pole with one arm, and using the other arm to keep them off her.

He said:

It felt at any time the police could charge.

Shortly afterwards, Michael said that someone in the crowd handed him a police riot shield. He said he used it to defend himself and others, as the police were pushing forward and there was nowhere for the protesters to go.

According to Michael, the scariest point of the evening was when he was shoved to the floor by a line of riot police who were pushing forward. He said:

I was forced to one knee by the weight of the police officer and the officers behind him.

My concerns were that I had seen a lot of bladed strikes being used against people – seeing the shield in that position it seemed it was going to make a bladed strike.

Michael said he put his hand on the officer’s shield and pulled himself up off the floor.

Shortly afterward, the police sprayed Michael in the face with PAVA spray, and he was forced to leave the crowd and receive first aid.

Kill the Bill protest ‘the most important I’ve attended’

Greenhall, defending Michael, asked why he didn’t leave earlier, when the police violence started. Michael said:

Whilst it would have been convenient for me to leave, and I would have got less hurt, I wouldn’t have defended those people – when faced with people attacking its important for me to defend them. Its irrelevant that it’s police officers attacking.

He continued:

I think it was a very important protest, arguably the most important I’ve attended. The Bill would erode our democracy and have negative effects on us throughout our lives. It was important to stay and stand up for the right to protest.

The jury are now listening to closing speeches from the defence and the prosecution. They are expected to begin deliberating on a verdict on Friday 9 June.

People in Bristol are raising funds for those already sentenced. Click here to find out how to write to the people in prison, or donate to their crowdfunder 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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