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Bristol protester ‘dazed’ after police officer ‘whacked’ him with baton

Exclusive: ‘I was saying “I’m peaceful” and had my hands in the air saying “I’m here to protest not to fight”,’ says Bristol University student

Maya Oppenheim
Saturday 27 March 2021 19:53 GMT
Riot police could be seen pushing people to the ground with their shields in videos posted on social media
Riot police could be seen pushing people to the ground with their shields in videos posted on social media (REUTERS)

One of the Bristol protesters described by Priti Patel as “thugs” has told of being “dazed” after an officer “whacked” him with a baton, leaving him with a “large bump” on his head.

Ross Tatham, who is in the final year of a Physics masters at Bristol University, told The Independent his “ears were ringing” after the clash with police at Friday night’s protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which Labour has warned could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than attacking a woman.

The home secretary said the “Kill the Bill” protesters were “intent on causing trouble” – and was backed by prime minister Boris Johnson who said a “mob” had carried out “disgraceful attacks against police officers”.

It came hours after the Avon and Somerset force retracted a claim that two officers suffered broken bones during a previous Kill the Bill protest last Sunday.

Riot police could be seen pushing people to the ground with their shields in videos posted on social media, while a Daily Mirror journalist was the subject of an “assault” by police.

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Mr Tatham, a 24-year-old student, said he was hit in the head by a police officer while standing on the frontlines of the protest in Bristol on Bridewell street at around 11pm on Friday night.

He added: “I was saying ‘I’m peaceful’ and had my hands in the air saying ‘I’m here to protest not to fight’. The officer came and whacked me in the head with a baton. I got dazed and stumbled back. A lot of people got a lot worse than I did.

“There is some bruising. You can definitely see it. I’m definitely still a bit dazed. I had a bit of trouble getting to bed last night. My ears were still ringing. But it is having witnessed police behaving that way that’s shaken me more than getting hit on the head.”

Ross Tatham (Ross Tatham)

Mr Tatham said he was an “engaged citizen” and not an activist.

He said some officers were hitting back against demonstrators with the flat surface of their shields.

“Further down the line, police were hitting them with the edges of the shield, which is obviously more painful,” he said. “The ones using the edges of the shield – that is done with vicious intent. There wasn’t any physical violence I saw from the protesters. The police didn’t need to clear the streets. The police could have just waited it out.”

Mr Tatham said the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill “worries” him a lot as it is a “direct assault on our civil liberties” – adding that he is anxious that Boris Johnson’s relatively new government is “already” attempting to implement tough restrictions.

And he warned that he would be “surprised” if there were not more protests in the city on Saturday.

Matthew Ryan Tucker, a friend who also attended the protest, said: “I was hit on the side of the head with a riot shield. I have a small bruise. It was pretty insane to see the police unleashing on people.”

The 23-year-old, who is doing a physics PhD at Bristol University, said it was concerning Labour had been due to abstain from voting against the controversial bill until changing their mind at the last minute.

“It’s really disappointing isn’t it,” he added. “Obviously people say to get the Tories out, you need to back the most viable party, but when they also don’t oppose the recent Spycops bill, a separate piece of legislation which has been criticised, people feel like they don’t have a voice, so they come out in the streets.”

Large demonstrations are currently banned in the UK because of lockdown rules. Avon and Somerset Police said glass bottles, bricks and eggs were hurled at officers and fireworks were set off.

Kevin Blowe, campaigns coordinator at the Network for Police Monitoring, told The Independent: “It appears riot police were let off the leash last night. Scenes of officers battering protesters on the floor with shields is convincing evidence that Avon and Somerset Police wanted to send a message that it has zero tolerance of further protests against the government’s draconian policing bill.

“However, all this has proved the urgency of resisting new measures in the bill. With sweeping extra police powers to crack down on protests, Bristol is a disturbing warning of what campaigners can expect in the future.”

Police officers could be seen using riot shields to push back protesters, some of whom were sat down, while others raised their arms in the air as they chanted “we are peaceful, what are you”.

Nadia Whittome, a Labour MP, said: “Reports of protesters and journalists injured last night in Bristol. The case for an independent investigation into the policing of the Bristol protests is clear.”

The legislation would hand police greater power to roll out conditions on non-violent protests, with convictions potentially leading to a prison sentence.

Police were condemned over their aggressive handling of a vigil to mourn Sarah Everard two weeks ago – with Dame Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, forced to rebuff calls to step down after her officers grabbed women standing on Clapham Common’s bandstand before taking them away while others at the vigil screamed and cried out. The police said it had to act to safeguard public health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Supt Mark Runacres, commander for Bristol at Avon and Somerset Police, said Friday night’s protest was held “against our advice and the advice of the authorities” and that a peaceful demonstration had been “facilitated for many hours.”

He added: “We had bottles being thrown at officers, paint being thrown at officers. Our officers will deal with offences where they are being committed effectively and robustly, in line with ... approved public order training tactics.

“We want our officers to be deployed on their routine duties – while they are being drawn into policing operations such as these, they are being taken away from other frontline duties. Victims are being let down by us not being able to respond to them as quickly as we would like.”

He added: “From Monday, changes in legislation will allow us to hopefully work with protest organisers so we can discuss things like routes, direction, end time and dispersal.”

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