Seven people were arrested following a ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstration in Bristol which saw protesters sit down on a motorway and block traffic on both carriageways.
An estimated 1,500 people attended the Bristol protest on Saturday, in objection to the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. A number of them then chose to remain in the city centre after the scheduled end of the protest at 7.30pm, Avon and Somerset Police said.
Around 100 protesters then began marching through the city centre for a second time at 10.15pm, and briefly occupied both carriageways of the M32.
The demonstrators could be heard chanting ‘block the motorway’ before they sat down on the road, and officers set up a barricade to stop more people joining their group.
They were eventually turned back after being blocked from advancing beyond junction 3, the police said. Officers noted that letting the protest ‘run its course’ was the ‘safest thing to do’ in the scenario.
A Section 35 Dispersal Order was then implemented in the city centre around midnight, requiring people to leave and go home.
Seven people were arrested during several instances of minor disorder between protesters, officers said.
Superintendent Mark Runacres said the day’s main events had been peaceful, and thanked protesters for engaging with police liaison officers. He added: ‘Policing protests is always difficult in that we have to balance the rights of protestors with other members of the public.
‘At times a relatively small group of people did cause significant disruption to motorists as they marched through Bristol and onto the motorway and I understand the frustration that would’ve caused.
‘Our priority is always the safety of the public and like all incidents, we evaluated every action the protestors took based on the threat, harm and risk they posed to themselves and to others.
‘Dispersing protestors while they were on a live carriageway presented an unacceptable risk and the safest thing to do was to allow the protest to run its course.
‘At around midnight there were several altercations between the small number of people who remained in the city centre. We never tolerate violence and so we made the decision to move people on.
‘It’s disappointing that once again there were those who refused to listen to our requests to leave and that we had to make arrests.
‘One of the reasons why we continue to urge protest organisers to contact us prior to their event is so we can discuss how we can ensure it takes place safely and with as little disruption to the wider public as possible.
‘We also can’t forget that Covid-19 hasn’t gone away and restrictions remain in place. We’d rather people chose to express themselves in ways other than gathering in large numbers but if they do, we’d encourage them to work with us so together we can minimise the risk of spreading the virus.’
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would give the police more power to impose conditions on non-violent protests, including those deemed too noisy or a nuisance. Those convicted under the proposed legislation could face a fine or even go to jail.
In London, ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstrators and police clashed by Westminster, resulting in at least 10 officers being injured and 26 arrests. Offences included assaulting a police officer and breaching of the peace.
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