No More The Mild Mild West…

Posted: April 22, 2011 in Bristol, Police, Stokes Croft

Last night saw simmering anger become a full scale riot in Stokes Croft, Bristol, after police in more than a dozen riot vans arrived to evict squatters from a property on Cheltenham Road. The property, known as “Telepathic Heights” and painted from top to bottom in murals, was raided by police at about 9.15 sparking a violent reaction amongst local residents in what led to the largest riot Bristol has seen since the St Paul’s riots of 1980.

There were helicopters soaring low and around 160 riot police from three different divisions including a large presence from South Wales. Pretty soon tension peaked as no explanation would be given for the roadblocks and there was intimidation on both sides. Cheltenham Road was closed by police and it was reported kettling tactics were deployed to try to bring order back to the street as up to 200-300 people gradually turned up, the majority of which were leaving pubs and clubs eager to find out what all the commotion was about. It culminated in both police and civilians being injured and a newly opened Tesco branch (which was the focus of a diverse campaign of resistance by locals) being attacked; the unrest carried on into the early hours of the morning. People using Twitter to report on the events told of their fear as they tried to make their way back home via Cheltenham Road. Others wrote how only Tesco had been targeted and that one person who threw a brick at the window of the Bristol Credit Union was hauled away by the protesters themselves.

Those involved in the No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign also predicted the trouble. They even warned the council that its backing of the Tesco store was not something which would be accepted quietly like it has been each time the supermarket giant established its 31 other stores in the city. After a year-long campaign, during which 2,500 residents sent postcards to the council to show their opposition and others took part in sit-down protests when the store opened, it seems, for some, taking to the streets to show their dissatisfaction was the only option left. What happened in Stokes Croft does not stand in isolation; it is framed by the civil unrest already seen across the country over the past 18 months. But even without student protests and the anti-cuts movement, the way the story has developed suggests there would still have been a large and forceful opposition to the Tesco plan in Stokes Croft.

Many reasons have been offered as to why it happened, and what chain of events led to what was dubbed ‘The Battle of Bristol’ The police have said that they received intelligence of a plan to petrol bomb the new – and highly opposed – Tesco store opposite the building, and that members of the public had seen petrol bombs being taken into the graffiti adorned house. Supt Ian Wylie said: “There have been several significant incidents in this building during the past few days, which have caused serious concerns to police and local residents. “The safety of the public is paramount in a situation of this kind and we took the decision to carry out a robust and swift operation, following intelligence received about the criminal intentions of those who were occupying the building.

“Following the operation, it is unfortunate a small minority gathered and began attacking officers with bottles and other items.” But if the riot’s origin is unclear, its outcome was not: by 5am the Tesco was ransacked, and a police jeep left in tatters. Fifty-two people were arrested in all.

Questions have been raised over why the police decided to ‘raid’ the property on a busy Thursday night at the start of a bank holiday weekend when the area was full of alcohol fueled partygoers. It is perfectly understandable that if the police did fully believe that an attack on the Tesco store was imminent, then action needed to be taken to protect the lives of people in the area. The major question raised by both those present and following the story online is why did they have to show such force to arrest 4 people?

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