Bristol riot over new Tesco store leaves eight police officers injured
More than 160 police raid squat occupied by opponents of new Tesco Metro in Stokes Croft area.
Police were guarding a severely-damaged Tesco Express store in Bristol as local residents complained that heavy-handed tactics had provoked a night of violent rioting.
A tense atmosphere persisted in the Stokes Croft area of the city after a raid on a squat occupied by opponents of the newly opened supermarket outlet left eight police officers and several protesters injured.
More than 160 officers in riot gear, reinforcements from neighbouring forces and officers on horseback were involved in the operation, which began shortly after 9pm. Four people have been arrested, Avon and Somerset police said, because they posed “a real threat to the local community” in Stokes Croft.
Reports had been received that petrol bombs were being assembled in the squat — known locally as Telepathic Heights — for, it was alleged, an attack on the Tesco store. The force confirmed that petrol bombs had been recovered from the house and were being examined.
“There have been several significant incidents in this building during the past few days, which have caused serious concerns to police and local residents,” Superintendent Ian Wylie said. “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.”
Officers secured the area on a warm night as locals were heading off to bars and clubs at the start of the Easter holiday. A rumour went round that police were evicting the squatters. Clashes began when lines of officers closed off Cheltenham Road, a main route into the city centre, and protesters began throwing bottles at them.
The disturbances continued through the evening to 4am on Friday. At one stage an abandoned Wiltshire police car had its windows smashed and doors ripped off, a scene captured on a YouTube video.
The origins of the confrontation lie in objections to the opening of the new Tesco store on Cheltenham Road; the shop was severely damaged in the riot. The area is close to the St Paul's area, where the first Thatcher era, inner-city riots erupted in 1980.
Assistant Chief Constable Rod Hansen said: “When 300 people congregated and a small minority from that group started small fires and throwing bottles, stones and other items at officers, we used well-rehearsed plans which involved the use of officers from neighbouring forces to control what had become a volatile situation.” None of the injuries are believed to be serious.
Kerry McCarthy, the Labour MP for Bristol East, was on the scene later in the evening. The disturbances were just outside her constituency. “It's a very hippyish, counter-culture type of area with lots of arts shops,” she said. A Banksy artwork decorates one wall.
“One group were laying their bicycles down on the street and most of it seemed fairly good-natured but the police response was heavy-handed. There were two people playing saxophones on top of a bus shelter and a photographer was taking pictures. A police officer walked across and pushed him over; there was no reason to do it. My colleague Ben Mosley [a Labour council candidate] was hit by a truncheon and I was shoved out of the way by a policeman at one stage. I had a conversation with the chief constable. It seems the police had received reports that petrol bombs were being carried in and out [of the squat]. It was anti-establishment protest: against capitalism and corporations, similar to what we saw in the march against the cuts in London where Starbucks and banks were targeted.”
Duncan Birmingham, an arts lecturer who lives nearby, told the Guardian he had seen lines of police in riot gear. “There were people going to nightclubs, dressed up in party gear, mingling with police horses and police vans from Wales,” he said. “One crowd had put rubbish bins across the road and were throwing bottles. Tesco has been trashed. The windows have been put in and there's paint everywhere. There's been massive opposition to Tesco opening. The store had been hidden behind hoardings until it opened last week. There's another Tesco about half a mile away in each direction.”
Clare Milne, who lives nearby, said she had not been told why there was a police raid on the squatted building. She said she witnessed from her bedroom window an unprovoked attack on a man walking along the street with a woman. “An officer whacked him around the lower back with a baton.”
Another witness, Nick Jones, a primary school teacher, said that groups from other parts of Bristol joined in. “It turned into a running battle up and down the street for two hours. Between 2.30am and 4.30am there were bottles thrown and rocks. I saw a police officer get hit in the face and go down — he was taken away in an ambulance. People had weapons. They had saws and shields themselves. It turned from interesting to scary very quickly.”
Lewis Clapham, 22, a customer services worker, said: “I wasn't involved in the protest or the squat. I just happened to be down there and I went up to the police and said I was just passing through, but one of them came and hit me really hard with a baton. I've got bruising all down my side now with massive swelling on my elbow.”
Asked about allegations of officers hitting those not involved in the violence, a spokesman for Avon and Somerset police said: “The whole operation will be reviewed by the force. Each complaint made to the police is thoroughly investigated.”
Public spaces, Bristol and the riot
“Banksy and Massive Attack didn't come out of nowhere — there's a reason why they are from Bristol,” says sociologist and Bristolian David Goldblatt. He believes the latest riot is part of a larger history of the public taking over open spaces in the city, which dates back 700 years to the St James's fair.
The fair, held on free ground close to Stokes Croft, attracted people from all over Europe but was banned in 1837 after the drinking, gambling, bear baiting and prostitution became too much for the local aldermen.
In 1831, three days of rioting erupted in Queen's Square after the House of Lords rejected voting reform and in 1909 suffragette Theresa Garnett attacked Winston Churchill with a riding crop at Bristol Temple Meads station, shouting: “Take that in the name of the insulted women of England!” More recently, riots exploded over racial tensions in the neighbourhood of St Pauls in 1980.
Leur presse (Owen Bowcott,
The Guardian), 22 avril 2011.
The battle of Tesco: How protest against 18th store in city turned into a seven-hour riot
160 officers fight running battles in street with 300 protesters.
Rioters attack controversial Tesco shop with firebombs and baseball bats.
Police pelted with cobblestones dug up from road.
Hundreds of protesters have stormed a controversial Tesco store only days after it opened, causing tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage and injuring eight police officers.
It came after police had raided a nearby squat at the centre of a campaign against the supermarket giant.
They arrested four people suspected of plotting a firebomb attack on the new shop, provoking more than seven hours of violent unrest as more than 300 protesters spilled on to the streets.
In riot gear: Holding shields and batons, police line up behind their vans on Stokes Croft, Bristol, as trouble flares after the raid on the squat
Overkill: The trouble erupted after a police raid on a house to arrest just four squatters, and escalated into a full-scale riot
On fire: Riot police stand guard as debris behind them blazes away with petrol bombs being thrown during the disturbance
Several officers were injured in clashes with gangs of masked youths who were armed with bottles, bricks and other makeshift weapons.
One eyewitness described the riot, in which police vehicles were looted and burning barricades erected at street junctions, as ‘pure and utter carnage’.
At the centre of the unrest was a new Tesco Express in the Stokes Croft area of central Bristol. The shop became the 18th branch in the city when it opened its doors last Friday in the face of local opposition.
Rioters hurled chairs and bricks and tried to set fire to the glass-fronted store while two security guards were trapped inside. A hoard of petrol bombs were earlier recovered from a notorious squat opposite known locally as ‘Telepathic Heights’. The building, which is covered from top to bottom in brightly coloured murals, has ‘No Tesco in Stokes Croft’ painted across one wall.
Police organised a lightning raid hours after residents saw suspected petrol bombs being carried into the building.
Dozens of officers in full riot gear swooped on the three-storey property shortly after 9pm on Thursday.
Violence: Eight police officers as well as protesters were injured during the riot which began after 160 police officers swooped on a house to arrest just four squatters
Smashed: Crowds stand amid shattered bottles. Officers were showered in bottles, stones and other missiles as rioters dug up cobbles from the road
Hundreds of people then descended on the area and police called in reinforcements, including colleagues from surrounding forces.
Lines of officers were showered in bottles, stones and other missiles as rioters dug up cobbles from the road. Bottle banks and wheelie bins were turned over and set on fire.
Eight officers were taken to hospital with injuries including broken teeth as well as head and neck injuries. Several protesters were also injured.
Student Madeleine Waugh, 21, said: ‘Riot police were trying to push people out of the way but a lot of people got caught in the cross fire. I saw a lot of people who were bleeding and who had been hit with police truncheons in the chaos.’
Amateur film-maker Alice von Kohler, 25, said police were pushing crowds of people up and down the roads in the area. ‘It was scary, people were really angry,’ she said. ‘They surged towards Tesco and started smashing it up. As they did so, people were cheering, they were happy. The police came back and were really aggressive, they were just arresting people for being there. People were shouting at police, “These are our streets, what are you doing, go home” and throwing glass bottles and missiles at officers.’
Primary school teacher Nick Jones, 27, who lives opposite the store and was forced to barricade himself inside his home during the riot, said the shop was ‘fiercely opposed’. He said: ‘Stokes Croft has its own unique identity and few corporate stores. People don’t feel that Tesco fits into that at all.’
Carnage: The police operation sparked unrest with hundreds of protesters taking to the streets culminating in the petrol bombing of a branch of Tesco Metro
Destruction: Broken windows and graffiti at the Tesco store the morning after the riot
Aftermath: The riot was brought under control at around 4am. Three people were arrested on suspicion of public order offences and another person on suspicion of threats to cause criminal damage with intent to endanger life
The Tesco Express was opened last Friday after months of protests, including a sit-in by protesters who encased their arms in concrete.
Central Bristol was already home to 17 branches of Tesco, including 14 within a two-mile radius of the site of the newest store.
The protests formed part of a nationwide movement against the expansion of the supermarket chain.
Tesco has more than 1,500 stores across the country, controls more than 30 per cent of the national grocery market and announced record profits of £3.8billion this week. Stokes Croft is close to the St Paul’s area, where some of Britain’s first inner-city riots exploded in 1980.
Yesterday Assistant Chief Constable Rod Hansen of Avon and Somerset Police defended the police operation and said officers had to take action.
He said the seized petrol bombs highlighted the ‘seriousness of the situation’ and added that public safety was ‘paramount’.
A Tesco spokesman said: ‘Thankfully none of our staff and customers was harmed. Tesco will be supporting the police in any way we can.’
Leur presse (Chris Greenwood,
Daily Mail), 23 avril 2011.