The scenes last night from the centre of Bristol at the heart of my constituency are shocking. There is absolutely no excuse for violence and disorder, injuring police officers and destroying property.
This shameful display of violence towards public servants does not represent the people of Bristol. It put officers in hospital, took police vehicles used to help the police to protect us out of action and was directed on the part of the police service where safeguarding and protection of vulnerable people is coordinated. This hurts us as a city.
I’ve spoken with the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset to check on how the injured officers are doing. I’ve asked him to pass on my message of support to officers on the front line, who have had to deal with this violence on top of everything else they are facing. He informs me there have been seven arrests already, with more likely soon. I ask the public to help the police in identifying culprits and gathering evidence but also to show support for the police as public servants here to protect us.
There has been a rise in assaults on our emergency service workers including the police but also health and others in the last few years. This cannot be part of who we are as a city or as a country. This is not Bristol as we know and love it.
We all need to have peaceful ways to express our desires for change and I defend our democratic right to protest. I have faith that the majority of people who went to the city centre this weekend to protest against the proposals in the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on restricting the right to protest did so in a peaceful way. Sadly, however, there were some who appeared to have come determined to turn to violence. Smashing windows, setting vehicles on fire, throwing fireworks into crowds and injuring public servants is frightening for all those who live in the city centre as well as dangerous for police and other protestors. It also ironically undermines the case the protestors were trying to make for opposing the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and hands the government the publicity they need to push the Bill back onto the agenda urgently.
I opposed that Bill last week in Parliament for many reasons, particularly the restrictions on the right to protest and because of the total lack of focus on tackling sexual violence and the full range of violence against women and girls. However, there were some good measures in there, including more protection for emergency workers assaulted in the line of duty. It is now inevitable that the government will take this riot as an example of why the Bill is needed.
We are also still in the middle of a pandemic so we must stick to social distancing. Most people in Bristol have followed the rules, doing all the right things to protect others. For many this has been a huge sacrifice. There are so many people longing to see the end of this crisis and be with loved ones they’ve not been with for months on end. We must not do anything which could prolong this awful pandemic and risk spreading the terrible virus further.
We need the policing by consent and engagement which our city has managed to achieve extremely well over the last difficult twelve months. We need our police to be able to focus on protecting us from harm. Last night undermined that and I urge the people of Bristol to join me in supporting the police as they investigate the violence and go about identifying the culprits.