A jury in Bristol hears about the day that the city rose up against the Policing Bill

Riot police Bristol
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A demonstration in front of Bristol Crown Court was held in support of Indigo Bond on the morning of Tuesday 3 May. Indigo is on trial for alleged rioting at the Kill the Bill demonstration in March 2021.

Indigo’s trial is likely to last until the beginning of next week.

A statement from the Bristol Anti-Repression Campaign (BARC) says:

On March the 21st of last year, Indigo – who was only 19 at the time – took to the streets along with thousands of other Bristolians to protest against the authoritarian PCSC (Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts) Bill. This Bill – enacted into law on the 28th April 2022 – is an oppressive piece of legislation that violates our freedom to protest and directly persecutes marginalised communities.

Read on...

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This Bill “couldn’t go unchallenged”

Thousands of people came out to demonstrate on 21 March 2021, in a mass show of resistance against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill. The Bill was given Royal Assent last week, despite widespread opposition. The new Act gives the police more powers to arrest Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, and to clamp down on public protest. It also means that many people will have to serve a larger proportion of their prison sentences, allows life sentences to be imposed on people under the age of 18, and allows young adults to be given whole life imprisonment orders.

On 21 March, thousands of people marched against the PCSC Bill in Bristol. The demonstration happened just weeks after the brutal rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, and just days after women holding a vigil for Sarah were violently manhandled by police. The march began at Bristol’s College Green, where a vigil was being held to remember Sarah.

The march ended with a mass confrontation with police outside Bridewell Police Station. By the end of the evening, police vehicles had been set on fire and the police station’s windows had been smashed. 62 protesters reported suffering injuries at the hands of the police on 21 March, and the protests that followed in subsequent days.

BARC’s statement explains the context of the protest, and why the PCSC Bill “couldn’t go unchallenged”:

The state, police and prison system is defined by institutional racism, misogyny and brutality. The past years we’ve seen so many examples of this – such as the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, which happened just days before the protest Indigo went to. This Bill, which gives the police even more power, couldn’t go unchallenged.
Indigo is just the latest person to stand trial for riot for the events of 21 March. Last week two defendants were found guilty by juries at Bristol Crown Court. In total, 85 people have been arrested following the demonstration, and 16 people have been sentenced to prison time.

The BARC statement continues:

The use of these riot charges is a way for the state to clamp down on those brave enough to stand against police violence and repression.

Resisting the “encroachment of the police state into our lives”

Indigo’s trial got underway on Tuesday 3 May. The impression given by the prosecuting barrister was of a powerful demonstration which took the police by surprise.

The prosecutor, David Scutt, opened his case by showing footage of police officers telling the protesters on 21 March 2021 that the protest was unlawful because of the coronavirus public health measures that were in place at the time. However, Scutt admitted that the police had been incorrect in their assumption that the protests were in breach of lockdown measures, and that in fact the legislation did not say that protest was unlawful.

Later on – during cross examination by defence barrister Russell Fraser – the court heard that the police had sent out social media posts during the day discouraging people from protesting.

Scutt showed footage of the demonstrators gathering at College Green. During cross-examination, Fraser pointed out that the police Operational Log for the day showed that the police had been taken by surprise by the number of protesters. By about 2:15pm, the police log states that it was “no longer achievable” to disperse the demonstrators because of the number of people who had arrived.

Scutt told the court that at about 3pm the marchers reached Castle Park. The jury was shown footage of a speech by one of the demonstrators. They said:

We are here for one reason, and that’s the encroachment of the police state into our lives

The speaker then said that there was only one place for the demonstration to go, and that was Bridewell Police Station.

The jury was shown footage of police officers attempting – unsuccessfully – to disperse a sit-down protest close to Castle Park. Then, they were shown a video of the crowd setting off towards Bridewell.

The court also heard from police sergeant Lucy Williams, who said she had formed part of the police cordon. She claimed that the police line was eventually forced to retreat to just outside Bridewell Police Station because of the sheer number of demonstrators.

The prosecution itemised the damage caused by the end of the night, claiming that 23 police vehicles had been damaged, valued at an estimated £160k. Scutt conceded, however, that Indigo was not responsible for any of this damage.

The jury was shown another video of the specific allegations against Indigo, which are all alleged to have happened relatively early on in the evening, when police in riot gear formed a line across the street. She is accused of pushing and kicking at the police riot shields, and of throwing a small stick and a bottle at the police line. The court heard that, after her arrest, Indigo made a prepared statement in her police interview, saying that she had felt “scared” after officers began threatening the crowd with batons, and that she had acted defensively in reaction to the police acting “excessively”.

“Love and solidarity”

BARC concluded their statement with a statement of solidarity with Indigo:

Indigo has already been prejudged in local and national media outlets, which published defamatory stories that have negatively affected her personal life – such as being excluded from her place of education

We stand with Indigo and all those facing repression from the state for taking a stand against police violence. They have our love and solidarity.

The prosecution’s case continues.

Featured image via Shoal Collective (with permission)

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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 Kill the Bill cases and what people are doing in Bristol to support the defendants.
  • Read The Canary‘s previous coverage of the Bristol ‘riot’ cases

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