Officers on duty during the Kill the Bill riots in Bristol were ‘incredibly courageous and brave’, the region’s new police chief has said.
The riot engulfed central Bristol in March last year, after a demonstration against proposed legislation to give police the power to shut down protests turned violent.
The unrest saw officers attacked and urinated on while one man attempted to set fire to a police vehicle with officers inside.
A total of 44 officers were injured and at least £212,000 of damage was sustained to police property, sparking the biggest investigation in the history of Avon and Somerset Police, which is still ongoing.
Speaking to BristolWorld this week, Chf Con Sarah Crew said: “The criminal justice system decided that what happened on March 21 was a riot - 82 people have been arrested and there will probably be more to follow.
“I think it’s up to 43 people charged with rioting now, and that’s really significant.
“Talking to some of the officers involved now, the experience still lives with them to this day.
“In that sense, I think they were incredibly courageous and brave.
“They were acting not just on behalf of their colleagues, but on behalf of everyone in Bristol that day.”
Chf Con Crew, who has spent the bulk of her 27 years in policing as a detective, also praised officers leading the probe into the riot.
She added: “We don’t often have riots in this country.
“I think the last time a riot was laid as an indictment before the courts was in 2011, there hasn’t been an investigation of this kind for some time.
“And since 2011, the world has changed in terms of the amount of digital material to work though.
“What the investigators have done in this time frame is worthy of me saying it is exceptionally good practice.
“Lots of people have learned from their findings, some of which have been used as a model for the policing of COP26.”
But police did face criticism for their handling of the protest from some, such as Liberty, a civil liberties group who accused officers of using ‘heavy-handed tactics’.
David Lammy, shadow justice secretary, also questioned the way police dealt with the protest, branding their behaviour ‘severe — really, really heavy-handed’.
But Chf Con Crew said she was ‘happy’ with the decisions officers made at the time while reiterating her belief that the right to protest should be protected in Bristol and across the region.
Speaking about the toppling of statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in June 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protest, she said: “We have a proud history in Bristol of facilitating lawful and peaceful protesting.
“It’s something we’re proud of and we want to get back to that, working with organisers to ensure the absolute right to ensemble and convey views are protected.
“I’m keen for the force to be more open about how officers are trained for public order and the tactics, evidence and science that goes into their decision making.
“That way, we’re in a place where that difficult balance is more of a public debate and understanding, not just in the mind of the commander in the moment.”