Police under pressure to explain Tesco raid

Kunal Dutta
Monday 25 April 2011 00:00

Police in Bristol were under pressure to produce evidence backing their decision to storm a squat opposite a newly opened Tesco store that resulted in a seven-hour riot.

Eight officers were injured in the city's bohemian Stokes Croft neighbourhood in the early hours of Friday, after an anti-Tesco protest escalated into a bloody battle with police.

The spark for the riot, the most serious outbreak of disorder in Bristol since the St Pauls riots in 1980, was a police raid on "Telepathic Heights", a squat opposite Tesco Express on Cheltenham Road, apparently based on officers' belief that a petrol bomb attack on the store was imminent.

Many of the residents were vehemently opposed to the opening of the Tesco store, believing that it threatened existing shops and risked wrecking the character of the area. Campaigners are now threatening to escalate direct action against Tesco stores across Britain.

Unease was growing yesterday over the police decision to storm the three-storey squat in an operation with dogs, riot vans, a helicopter and 160 officers. Forces from neighbouring areas were drafted in as the violence escalated.

Kerry McCarthy, the MP for Bristol East, said: "What I can't understand is why, if the police wanted to arrest four people, they need dogs and more than 10 riot vans? If you come in with such a show of strength into a peaceful area of Bristol where the majority of people were sitting on the road with bongos and bicycles, of course it's going to spark antagonism.

"It would be interesting to see exactly what intelligence the police were acting upon that required such a fierce response. I have met with the chief constable and voiced my concerns."

Sam Barnard, 21, a student who was in Stokes Croft during the riots, said: "The police handling of the situation was overly aggressive and totally unclear. Police made the case of petrol bombs in a bid to evict the squatters but no one has been charged, and we are yet to see any evidence that petrol bombs even existed."

The store was closed yesterday as forensic science investigators scoured the area in search of evidence. Tesco insists that it will re-open, but a protest against the police handling of the situation is scheduled to take place there this Thursday, a week after the riot.

Tesco could face further demonstrations around Britain after campaigners suggested that the Stokes Croft riot had brought renewed energy to the anti-Tesco movement. "Ordinary people are deciding what's wrong with our High Street and are choosing not to stand for it anymore," said Stacy Thomas of UKUncut, which was not involved with the Bristol riot.

A spokesman from Avon and Somerset police said its decision was "entirely justified" but that any allegations of police handling would be investigated. An officer from the Independent Police Complaints Commission said it was not aware of any complaints.

The squat's occupants denied any connection with activists campaigning against the supermarket giant. Paddy, an occupant of Telepathic Heights for the past fortnight, said: "We had nothing to do with the riot. The people living in here are homeless. We get our food from the food bank. How are we supposed to afford petrol to make petrol bombs?"

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