A civil liberties group and a Labour MP have raised concerns about “heavy-handed policing” after a second consecutive weekend of “Kill the Bill” protests in Bristol produced footage of police punching a woman and attacking a newspaper reporter.
Liberty, the civil liberties group, called the footage following a prolonged stand-off in central Bristol on Friday “disturbing scenes” while Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East, called for an investigation of the policing of recent protests.
Boris Johnson blamed the violence on “disgraceful attacks” by protesters against the Police Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, currently before parliament.
The bill has produced a string of demonstrations because of concerns that it would curtail the right to protest.
“Our officers should not have to face having bricks, bottles and fireworks being thrown at them by a mob intent on violence and causing damage to property,” Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter.
Friday night’s violence followed a prolonged stand-off between protesters and police in riot gear preventing them from reaching Bridewell Police Station, the city’s main police base, which suffered damage in Kill the Bill protests on Sunday. Those protests resulted in the torching of a number of police vehicles.
Hundreds of protesters spent hours confronting the police at the top of Silver St in the city centre, after more than 1,000 people previously spent hours marching around the city centre in a peaceful protest that had started at 4pm outside the cathedral.
Protesters tweeted videos showing a police officer’s apparent punching of a woman and officers’ use of the edges of their riot shields to hit protesters sitting on the ground.
Matthew Dresch, a reporter from the Daily Mirror, tweeted a video of an officer hitting him with a baton despite the fact that he had identified himself as a member of the press.
Avon and Somerset Police, the local police force, said 10 people had been arrested during the protests and that glass bottles and bricks had been thrown at officers, fireworks launched at mounted officers and a horse covered in paint.
Superintendent Mark Munacre, in charge of policing the protest, said the majority present had acted peacefully.
But he added: “There was a minority who showed hostility to officers.”
The force said it was aware of video of a journalist “being confronted by officers” and that it was trying to contact him.
“A free press is a cornerstone of our democracy and we fully respect the media’s vital role in reporting events fairly and accurately,” it wrote on twitter.
Criticising the “disturbing scenes”, Liberty wrote on Twitter: “Protest is a right not a privilege. Heavy-handed policing and further restrictions in the Police Crackdown Bill are a threat to that right.”
Whittome, a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of leftwing MPs, noted reports that protesters and journalists had been injured and wrote: “The case for an independent investigation into the policing of the Bristol protests is clear.”
Events in Bristol have been the latest to raise questions about police tactics against demonstrations following the manhandling of women by officers from London’s Metropolitan Police at a vigil on Clapham Common in London for Sarah Everard, a murdered woman.
A serving Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens, is awaiting trial for Everard’s kidnap and murder.
A series of further Kill the Bill protests is taking place across England on Saturday, with demonstrations scheduled for Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and a number of other large centres.