Bristol Crown Court prevents supporters of ‘riot’ defendant from sitting in the courtroom
Today saw the jury sworn in for the first trial of a protester accused of rioting at Bristol’s Kill the Bill demonstration on 21 March. However, supporters, some who’d travelled long distances, were not allowed to sit in the public gallery for the trial.
Ryan Roberts plead not guilty to all seven charges. Ryan is accused of riot – which carries a maximum ten year prison sentence – and six counts of arson against police vehicles. Ryan has been on remand in HMP Horfield since March.
81 people have been arrested following the 21 March Kill the Bill demonstration in Bristol, and police are still looking to make more arrests. If convicted they are facing long prison sentences.
Eight of those arrested have pleaded guilty so far. They’ve received sentences totalling 29 years in prison. But grassroots groups in Bristol have condemned the police violence against protesters on 21 March, and have said that they are proud of the defendants for fighting back against the police.
‘Our neighbourhoods need peace, abolish the police’
On the morning of 25 October – the first day of the trial – 40 people gathered outside Bristol Crown Court in solidarity with Ryan. Several protesters carried brightly decorated riot shields – symbolising the need for our communities to protect themselves against the police. The shields were decorated with colourful designs and slogans including ‘Defend Traveller Rights’ and ‘We didn’t start the fire, it was always burning’.
As the Serco vans arrived, bringing defendants – like Ryan – from their prison cells, the crowd chanted “Our passion for freedom is stronger than your prisons” and “Our neighbourhoods want peace, abolish the police”.
Several people shared news about the protest on Twitter:
Today is the first day of the trial of Ryan Roberts, who was convicted of riot and arson from the KTB demos in Bristol this year.
People are stood outside the court holding these reclaimed police shields as a symbol of defiance against police violence and all it stands for. pic.twitter.com/uGxSNlKsTo
— Community Action on Prison Expansion (@CAPExpansion) October 25, 2021
Sisters are at Bristol Crown Court with @BristolDefenda1 in support of #KilltheBill protestor Ryan Roberts who is pleading NOT GUILTY to riot. #DefendTheRightToProtest#SolidarityForever pic.twitter.com/EIleXkeGfG
— Sisters Uncut (@SistersUncut) October 25, 2021
As protesters were packing up – before the case began – officers moved in to stop and search protesters. They seized the shields, claiming they needed to check whether they were Avon & Somerset police property. The Canary was told that officers cited the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
‘Disgusting and authoritarian’
A call had been made for people to ‘fill the court room’ to show the level of public support for Ryan. However, when people got inside they were directed to watch the trial from a different room over a video link. Several people tweeted angrily:
RT Disgusting and authoritarian. This is a violation of the open justice principle. People have come from across the UK to support Ryan Roberts at trial and Bristol Crown Court has closed the public gallery for this trial only. #KilltheBill https://t.co/sNqmulXXCb
— Aviah Sarah Day (@Aviah_Sarah_Day) October 25, 2021
Utterly blatant attempt to undermine the solidarity and support for Ryan Roberts at Bristol Crown Court. Demand the court opens the public gallery now. Others are open – there is no excuse for this lack of transparency. #KillTheBill https://t.co/JgTq1ApmC8
— Emily Apple (@emilyapple) October 25, 2021
Bristol Magistrates’ Court has received similar complaints, after restricting access to the public gallery during hearings of Kill the Bill defendants.
The Canary asked Bristol Crown Court to give a justification as to why the public gallery had been closed, but we had not received an official response by the time of publication.
“an ideological attack on solidarity with Ryan”
A spokesperson from Bristol Defendant Solidarity said:
The choice to close the public gallery is a direct violation of the legal system’s own concepts of ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’. It is an ideological attack on solidarity with Ryan, but also the solidarity with all prisoners and defendants within the court system.
Closing the public gallery is a tactical choice by the court to isolate the defendant – an extension of the isolation prisoners already face – and to create a barrier between those facing charges and the observation of ‘justice’ by the public. It is an attempt to fracture the strength of our communities and the solidarity we have. But they will never win!
‘The police acted with impunity’
Grassroots groups Bristol Defendant Solidarity and Bristol Anarchist Black Cross have released a statement in support of Ryan, and all the defendants facing charges:
We stand in solidarity with Ryan and all KTB defendants. The police acted with impunity at the KTB demos. Protesters sitting in the road were violently attacked. People were pepper-sprayed, and hit with batons and shields. 62 people were injured in the KTB protests that took place in Bristol in March.
“It is not a crime to fight back against police violence”
The statement continues:
It is not a crime to fight back against police violence and state repression. We cannot stand to one side when people are beaten. And every one of us has a duty to stand in solidarity with those persecuted for fighting back.
Standing in solidarity with those bearing the brunt of the Bill
The two groups called for solidarity with the groups of people most affected by the policing bill:
This repression is set to get worse. The Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, will make it easier for the police to criminalise and imprison protesters. But the bill is not just about protest. We stand in solidarity with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities whose way of life is being outlawed by this bill. We stand in solidarity with Black people, already bearing the brunt of a racist police force, who will be disproportionately targeted by the stop and search powers in the bill. In Bristol, Black men are nearly ten times more likely to be stopped and searched than white men.
We stand in solidarity with the people who will be criminalised, and locked up in prison for even longer as a result of the Bill.
The trial continues
The jury has been sworn in, and the trial was adjourned until tomorrow morning. One jury member had to be replaced after the defence asked whether any of the jury were serving police officers or had family members in the police.
The prosecution will open its case tomorrow morning. A further demonstration has been planned in support of Ryan for 27 October.
The trial is set to last until at least 28 October.
Featured Image via Bristol Defendant Solidarity (with permission)
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