Riot charges…why Bristol and Swansea?… and why now?

The recent use of riot charges against a protest and a wake

Page Details
Section: Articles =>
Subjects: Modern History (Post World War II), Riots & Disturbances
Posted: Modified:


Police bill protestors outside Bridwell Police Station in Bristol (March 2021)

The following article was compiled over 2022 in response to the exceptional use of riot charges against defendants in Bristol and Swansea in the spring of 2021.


The introduction of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (the Police Bill hereafter) in March 2021 was widely seen as an attempt by the Conservative government to clamp down on legitimate protest, particularly actions taken by climate protestors and the Black Lives Matter movement.[1] There was widespread opposition, and in Bristol the first of 12 sequential protests over the spring of 2021 took place on Sunday 21 March in Bristol. Thousands of people marched peacefully through the City Centre from College Green to Castle Park. At about 5pm a sit-down protest carried out by a few hundred protestors outside the New Bridewell Police Station led to violent confrontations between demonstrators and Police which continued sporadically though the evening until midnight. The event made national news, attracted comment from politicians locally and nationally, and became widely known as a ‘riot’ (before anyone was actually charged with riot).

The police initiated a major investigation and published dozens of photos of people they wanted to speak to. Subsequently more than 85 people were arrested of which at least 25 were released without charge whilst more than 40 were charged, primarily with serious Public Order offences (affray, violent disorder and riot). Of these, more than 30 people were charged with Section 1 Riot, of the Public Order Act 1986 (Riot Act hereafter).[2] As of March 2023 (the trials are still ongoing) 16 people have been convicted and imprisoned for riot. Those who pleaded not guilty were given custodial sentences of 3 to 6 years, with the combination of other charges leading to one defendant serving a sentence of 14 years.[3]

Two months after the Police Bill protests on 20 May, in the Mayhill area of Swansea, hundreds of people gathered in memory of 19-year-old Ethan Powell who had died two days previously after taking an unintended drugs overdose.[4] Several memorial events were planned, of which the first was a ‘street wake’. A couple of old cars were purchased and set alight as part of the event. A police unit attracted to the scene was attacked with missiles leading to the intervention later in the evening of public order trained police units. The confrontations lasted for around four hours. In the aftermath 46 people were identified and arrested by police, with 37 facing charges under the auspices of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Of these, 27 were charged with riot and 26 convicted with custodial sentences for the adults of between 3 years 6 months to 6 years 9 months.

Since these two events in the spring of 2021, no riot charges have been used despite a number of violent protests and incidents. The following article analyses the post-war history of the use of the riot charge, the legal mechanisms connected to its use, and considers the questions ‘Why riot charges? Why Bristol and Swansea?… and why now?’

  1. Historic use of the ‘riot charge’ is very rare

The use of the riot charge in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in Britain, whether associated with public disorder or unlawful assembly, is very rare. The use of ‘riot’ charges against legitimate protests is even rarer. Writing more than 50 years ago, historian of policing, David Williams noted:

Indeed, where there has been an undoubted disorder involving numbers of people, and even when the ring-leaders can be identified, actual prosecutions for riot are undertaken with reluctance. There were, for instance several outbreaks of disorder during the General Strike in 1926…yet…there were no prosecutions for riot, rout or unlawful assembly.[5]

In the immediate post-war period, despite serious public disorders such as the 1958 Nottingham and Notting Hill ‘race riots’ or the seaside battles between Mods and Rockers in 1964 riot charges were never employed. The first signs of the reintroduction of riot charges were all associated with political protest and the election of a Tory government in June 1970. The following month, four Cambridge University students were charged and convicted of riotous assembly after a protest against the Greek junta at the Garden House Hotel. This was followed shortly after by the infamous Mangrove Cafe trial where the nine defendants were charged and tried twice for incitement to riot at protest march in August 1970. The charges were thrown out in the first trial, and they were found not guilty in the second. In January 1973 at a protest in Whitehall over the killings of civilians by the British Army in Derry on ‘Bloody Sunday’ organised by the Anti-Internment League, four men were charged and three of them convicted of riotous assembly.[6] In contrast, far more violent incidents later in the 1970s where two people were killed by the police such as the Red Lion Square disorders (1974), the Notting Hill Carnival disturbances (1975, 1976 and 1977) and the clashes in Lewisham (1977) and Southall (1979) between the National Front, police and anti-racist protestors did not involve a single riot charge.

The first significant use of riot charges in the 1980s was in the aftermath of the disturbances in St Pauls in Bristol in April 1980. Sixteen people were selected from 89 of those arrested for the charge of ‘riotous assembly’. The following year, in a famous trial, all the ‘riot’ cases collapsed due to inconsistencies in proving the event was a riot.[7] The 1980s saw serious and widespread public disorder in a number of arenas, inner city riots (1981, 1985, 1986), the printers’ strikes (1983, 1986-87), demonstrations in London such as the anti-apartheid march (1985) and football related violence throughout the whole period, though particularly in 1985.[8] Riot charges were rarely used in these numerous incidents. For example, in the largest wave of urban disorder in the twentieth century in July 1981, of 1,050 people arrested in London not a single person was charged with ‘riot’.[9]

The only exception in the period was the miners’ strike where of 9,808 people arrested in Britain, 137 were charged with ‘riot’.[10] Of these, 55 cases were associated with one incident alone, the violence at the Orgreave coking works near Rotherham in June 1984. At the subsequent trials the following year, all 55 riot cases collapsed with Michael Mansfield QC claiming it was “the biggest frame-up ever”. It is now generally accepted that there was explicit governmental influence over policing and the charging process throughout the strike, with the Home Secretary famously calling for life sentences for those convicted of riot at Orgreave.[11] As a result of the corruption and politicisation of policing in the 1970s and 1980s the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was born:

This was an era before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace) came into force, coupled with the introduction of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 1986, to make decisions independent of the police, on the strength of evidence against accused people. That legislation was intended to address police malpractice – the framing or “fitting up” of people for crimes they did not commit, which had produced a series of miscarriages of justice through the 1970s and 80s, including those of the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six.[12]

In 1986 the Public Order Act was introduced which retained ‘riot’ as the most serious public order offence. This law has remained unchanged until the present day.[13]

1989-90 saw protests around the country against the introduction of the Community Charge (Poll Tax). Attempts by protestors to stop the rate being fixed in City and Town Councils led to violence and many arrests. This culminated in the most iconic public disorder of the twentieth century in the West End of London. Again, it appears from the available evidence, that not a single protestor out of the more than 500 arrestees was convicted of riot.

Waves of urban disorder particularly in deprived communities in the north of England followed over the next 20 years, in Oxford, Bristol, Newcastle, Leeds, Burnley, Oldham, Salford, Bradford, Wrexham and elsewhere. In only one of these series of public disorders, in Bradford in 2001, was the riot charge significantly used, with 178 adults and juveniles charged with the offence. Of these, 122 people were convicted of riot and were sent to prison whilst 48 were given detention, training or community orders.[14] The Bradford riot was precipitated by racist attacks by fascist groups on the Asian community in Oldham and Burnley and by a proposed march by the National Front though Bradford city centre.[15] It has never been satisfactorily explained by the authorities why the ‘riot’ charge was applied so profusely in the instance of Bradford (yet nowhere else) and in the main to South Asian men. The suggestion was made that it was a product of racist policing and governmental interference in the anti-Muslim atmosphere generated by the events of 9-11.[16]

There have been numerous outbreaks of rioting in cities in Northern Ireland over the last fifty years, either during the ‘troubles’ or more recently during the annual ‘marching season’. Over the decade between 1996 and 2006 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reported 392 riots and 1,700 disturbances, with 11,745 baton rounds fired, 4,398 police officers injured, 6,149 petrol bomb incidents and 3,978 people charged. In the nine-year period between 1995 and 2003, only 63 people were charged with ‘riot’ in Northern Ireland and of these only 12 received a custodial sentence.[17] So, more people were convicted and imprisoned for ‘riot’ in either the Bristol Police Bill protest or the disturbance in Mayhill in 2021, than over a nine-year period in Northern Ireland which featured in the region of 2,000 incidents of collective violence and more than 4,000 injured police officers. How can this be reconciled?

The English ‘riots’ of August 2011 involved tens of thousands of people, with nearly a 100 urban disorders in London, Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol. In London, the epicentre of the violence, nearly 2,500 people were arrested but not a single person was charged with riot.[18] Four months earlier in Bristol, Stokes Croft saw two serious disorders lasting six hours or more over Easter week involving hundreds of protestors and public order trained police. Again, the sources suggest that not a single person was charged with ‘riot’. The Police Bill protest in Bristol and the Mayhill incident were less serious events than any of these listed here. The questions are therefore “Why Bristol? Why Swansea? … Why ‘riot’ charges… and why now?”

  1. Political interference and inconsistency

In order for a ‘riot’ charge to be employed by the British state it has to be approved at the highest levels of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS):

…a prosecution for riot or incitement to riot may be commenced only by, or with the consent of, the Director of Public Prosecutions… The decision to charge riot must be referred to the Chief Crown Prosecutor.[19]

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is the head of the CPS and overseen by a political appointee the Attorney General for England and Wales (at the time of Bristol and Swansea incidents this was Suella Braverman[20]). Above the Attorney General is the Home Secretary (at the time Priti Patel) and above that the Prime Minister (at the time Boris Johnson). The requirement for consent from the DPP is unusual for criminal cases and explains partly why ‘riot’ is used so rarely and how serious the charge is. As a result, it is highly unlikely that the use of the ‘riot’ charge would have been foremost in the minds of provincial police force commanders, such as the Avon & Somerset Constabulary, the CPS or even the DPP during the investigation phase of the Police Bill protests. After all, when was the last time Avon & Somerset Constabulary were actively seeking evidence for ‘riot’ charges?

This anomaly was reflected in the unusual process whereby, initially at least, defendant’s charges after the Police Bill protests became gradually more serious over time. Typically, with confusing public disorder incidents the police may offer evidence to the CPS which produces fairly serious charges to begin with but over time they are reduced to lesser offences. So, for example, a defendant might be charged with affray which was then reduced to threatening behaviour or assault, as the evidence was more likely to produce a conviction for the latter. It may also be the case that a tranche of charges might be reduced in number to concentrate on lesser charges that are more likely to stick. In the case of the Police Bill protestors the opposite appeared to be the case. For example, the Police Bill protester Mariella Gedge-Rogers was initially charged with violent disorder but when she appeared in the magistrates’ court this had been upped to ‘riot’.

This is unusual and suggests that the potential use of the ‘riot’ charge was a retrospective decision, not based on the evidence but instead on the prospects of proving the event was a ‘riot’ (see Section 4) and the political and judicial will to proceed with it. In any case, to progress with so many serious charges which are so unusual to police forces and the CPS implies political interference of some sort at the highest levels.[21]

Gedge-Rogers was the 14th Bristol Police Bill protestor to be sentenced, with 11 of the previous 13 being charged with ‘riot’. Of these, all had either pleaded guilty to ‘riot’ (see Section 3) or were found guilty of ‘riot’. All received sentences of more than three years imprisonment. From this point on, the legal challenges from defendants strengthened as specialist criminal lawyers/barristers with knowledge of protest were employed. Of the following six defendants charged with ‘riot’, two were found not guilty and two cases were stalled by hung juries. Interestingly, after this point the CPS apparently began to change tack. Of the next six defendants charged with ‘riot’, five had their charges reduced to violent disorder or affray before they appeared in court, leading to much lower sentences where they were convicted.

This ‘yo-yo’ effect, first establishing very serious charges such as ‘riot’ or increasing lesser public order charges to ‘riot’ for the first tranche of defendants, followed by decreasing charges for latter groups of defendants as the cases came under better legal scrutiny and the political intensity lessened, cannot be merely put down to the vagaries of evidence. Neither can it be the influence of different judges, there was only one, James Patrick, for the first 20 trials, and in any case the CPS makes the decisions concerning charging. At best, it appears there was exemplary over-charging which led to legal inconsistency and at worst it came from direct political interference, setting a dangerous precedent in a so-called democratic society.

  1. Retrospectively creating the legal conditions for ‘riot’ through threat

Many of the initial arrestees for the Police Bill protests were informed by their solicitors that they would be facing 5-10 years in prison if they pleaded Not Guilty to the charge of ‘riot’. They were also told if they pleaded Guilty, they would face much lower periods of incarceration, perhaps 2-5 years. This would also potentially place them in the ‘less than four years bracket’, which allows up to 50 percent remission for ‘good behaviour’. A sentence of imprisonment of over four years only offers 33 percent remission. Many terrified by the prospect of long sentences, regardless of the potential merits of their case or the evidence in their favour opted for the ‘safer’ option of a sentence in practicality of two years or less and pleaded Guilty. Unfortunately, their understandable fear and pragmatism played directly into the hands of the prosecutors who were able to use the guilty verdicts to provide post hoc evidence that a ‘riot’ had taken actually place. This legal sleight of hand, based on intimidating arrestees, in establishing the protest as a ‘riot’ may have seriously affected many subsequent cases and led to many disproportionately long sentences of incarceration.

Some questions remain unanswered, who was advising these solicitors that the ‘riot’ charge was applicable to the protests on the 21st March 2021? Was it the Avon & Somerset Constabulary or the Crown Prosecution Service?

  1. Lack of knowledge in the legal profession of the ‘riot’ charge

As section 1 explained the use of ‘riot’ offences has been very rare over the last 40 or so years. Consequently, the details of its application and its complexities in terms of achieving or avoiding a conviction are not well known. This was reflected in the iconic trial in Bristol in 1981 when the cases against all sixteen defendants from the St Paul’s ‘riot’ of the previous year collapsed. It became clear during this trial that the prosecution misunderstood the bases and failed to grasp the nuances of what constituted ‘riotous assembly’ in law. Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge of an archaic charge (despite its modern variations) cuts both ways. In 2021, there were few solicitors, lawyers or barristers in Bristol or the west country who were experts in protest and public disorder laws, let alone ‘riot’ who could be called upon. Consequently, many of the defendants, were being advised by solicitors or defended in court by lawyers who were seriously ill-equipped to deal with such a serious and unusual criminal charge as ‘riot’. And, of course, employing top legal firms from London or elsewhere was a serious financial risk in the environment of reduced access to legal aid. In contrast, this generalised lack of knowledge of the ‘riot’ offence was used by the Crown to their advantage. Initially, they placed only one Judge, James Patrick, to preside over the cases on the basis that he was the ‘only’ expert on public disorder and ‘riot’.

  1. Police misinformation and violence

The seriousness of a particular public disorder can arguably be measured by the level of physical violence used by the participants.[22] Typically this is gauged by the number and seriousness of injuries to members of the public or police. This quantitative and qualitative approach is always inherently biased towards measuring the amount of violence against the police rather than from the police. This is because, as institutions, police forces have systems for measuring the number and seriousness of injuries to their officers whereas the public in general do not. Also, in the aftermath of serious public disorder, members of the public either treat their injuries themselves or if they must go to a doctor or the hospital, they often lie about the cause. Why do they do that? Obviously, if you are in danger of arrest for a serious offence then it is not in your interest to tell the truth about your injuries. Police forces have also been known to carry out surveillance on those attending hospitals after major incidents in order to make arrests.[23] As a result, participants in disorder try to avoid hospitals and their injuries, sometimes serious, often go unreported.

In the case of the Police Bill protest on 21st March 2022 data on injuries was collected by Avon & Somerset (A&S) police and unusually by NGOs concerning protestors. Initially A&S police claimed “There were in region of 12 officers injured – with two taken to hospital with serious injuries”.[24] They followed this with a press release on Monday 22nd March 2022 that:

a total of 20 officers were assaulted or injured and two of them were taken to hospital after suffering broken bones. One of them also suffered a punctured lung.[25]

The shock value of this statement fixed the ‘story’ in the minds of the public that the Police Bill protests were unusually violent, and that violence had been directed against the police. Outside of that, its content was questionable as it did not refer to the actual number of police injured (assault in law does not mean injury necessarily), other than the figure being greater than 3 and less than 20. Controversially, two days later this statement was retracted, along with the detailed reports of serious injuries to the three police officers, and a blanket figure of 40 police officers injured was claimed instead. This figure had no definition as to whether the injuries were minor or more serious, or how, when and where the officers had been injured. All of this additional data is gathered as standard practice amongst police forces but was not released by A&S police. Breaking down this data is important as it helps determine the seriousness of an incident. There have also been occasions where police forces have conflated injuries due to accidents, dehydration and other non-violent injuries with those from policing protests.[26] It wasn’t until a month after the protests that A&S police, under pressure from Freedom of Information requests, were compelled to release a full statement to the media. This showed that 39 police officers had been injured on 21st March 2021, none seriously. It also revealed that no police officers had been injured when a non-violent Police Bill ‘vigil’ on College Green on Tuesday 23rd March had been violently dispersed by ‘riot’ police.

In contrast, the inherently conservative figures presented through a survey by the NGO Bristol Defendant Solidarity (BDS) were far more detailed. In all, 62 people were injured by the police over four demonstrations between 21st and 26th March. This included 7 injuries that required treatment in hospital and 22 head injuries. The breakdown was:

  • 20 people were hit by batons
  • 11 were hit by shields
  • 13 were hit by shields/batons
  • 3 were kicked, punched or physically assaulted by police hands/bodies
  • 7 were bitten by police dogs
  • 12 were pepper sprayed
  • 5 injuries occurred in ways that are unclear[27]

Two months after the Police Bill protests in Bristol, on the Mayhill Estate in Swansea after the death of a local teenager, a disturbance broke out. Sixty police were committed to the incident which lasted a few hours. During the violence according to police sources “seven officers suffered minor injuries but did not require hospital treatment.”[28] No figures were released for those injured by the police.  In the aftermath, 37 people were arrested 27 of whom were charged with “riot”.[29]

Assuming the figures for both events (Bristol Police Bill protest, Mayhill, Swansea) are representative of the levels of violence undertaken by participants and police, then clearly the Bristol incidents were more serious, though neither event led to serious injuries against police officers. Injuries amongst the public due to police actions in Bristol were larger and arguably more serious than amongst the A&S with 22 head injuries and 7 hospitalisations. On paper, Mayhill was a relatively minor incident in terms of physical violence to the South Wales Constabulary, but this did not stop the widespread application of ‘riot’ charges. For comparative purposes, the first of two Stokes Croft ‘riots’ in Bristol of April 2011 led to 8 police injuries and more than 50 arrests but no ‘riot’ charges were sought by the CPS.[30] The Tottenham ‘riot’ in August 2011, which led to a wave of rioting throughout London and then in cities across the nation, lasted nearly twelve hours, saw the use of petrol bombs and armoured vehicles, with 8 buildings and 8 vehicles torched and 26 police officers injured.[31] Once again, no ‘riot’ charges were sought and this was true of nearly 50 riots in London that August. Clearly the level of violence against police, its intensity or duration in a public disorder are not primary factors in determining the use of the ‘riot’ charge.

  1. When is a ‘riot’ a ‘riot’?
Card with the words of the Riot Act given to magistrates on ‘Black Friday’ December 1892 when the police and military violently attacked a trade union march in the Horsefair, Bristol

The original Riot Act was introduced in 1714 and central to its introduction was the formal reading of the Act to a crowd by a mayor, bailiff, magistrate or sheriff dependent on their spatial jurisdiction. The Act informed the crowd that if they did not disperse within one hour then they could be committing a felony punishable by death, and it sanctioned Yeomanry or Military units to use lethal force (such as firearms) after that period had passed. The aim of the act was to create clarity amongst the authorities (magistrates, yeomanry, military) and the crowd about the changed terms of engagement and punishment. And to give each side a ‘reasonable’ period to decide on their future actions.

The experiences of protestors against the Police Bill in Bristol and the youth of Mayhill estate in Swansea in the spring of 2021 have demonstrated that this legal clarity has completely disappeared. More insidiously, the government and legal authorities now decide retrospectively if a supposed public disorder is a ‘riot’ or not, and thereby sanction imprisonment for up to 10 years. The terms of the Public Order Act 1986 for ‘riot’ are:

(1) Where 12 or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using unlawful violence for the common purpose is guilty of riot. (2) It is immaterial whether or not the 12 or more use or threaten unlawful violence simultaneously. (3) The common purpose may be inferred from conduct. (4) No person of reasonable firmness need actually be, or be likely to be, present at the scene. (5) Riot may be committed in private as well as in public places. (6) A person guilty of riot is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or a fine or both.[32]

Unlawful violence could merely involve taking hold of a police officer’s arm to stop them hitting you or someone else with a baton. It could just mean some pushing and shoving between police and protestors. If such an act occurred in an event deemed retrospectively to be a ‘riot’ then you would be subject to being charged with ‘riot’ and face up to 10 years in prison. To make things worse, common purpose does not mean the actual use of violence but merely the threat of the use of violence. Common purpose can be determined hypothetically as a person of reasonable firmness does not actually have to be present. This is why harrowing testimony from police officers in the trials of the Police Bill protestors was a necessity for proving “a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety”. Conversely, harrowing testimony from defendants and video footage of them being assaulted and injured by police officers was ignored.

In summary, the vagueness of the riot charge in relation to ‘unlawful violence’ and the relative perception of the ‘virtual person’ makes the charge an unusually flexible tool which can be thrown at a variety of differing scenarios from minor scuffles to serious collective violence. Allied to the fact that it does not take into account violent actions of the police which often cause similar reactions amongst protesters, makes it a potentially repressive law. Protests that turn violent because of police actions can now be deemed ‘riots’ retrospectively by the state, leading to disproportionately long prison sentences, unseen in decades if not a century. This is the retrospective trap that was set for the protestors in Bristol and the youth of Mayhill. In both cases, no police officers were seriously hurt but many dozens of lives have been damaged and changed forever by the punishment.

  1. Payback for the fall of Edward Colston?

Apart from introducing restrictions on the freedom to protest and targeting travelling communities through trespass, the new Police Act contained a subsection dealing with criminal damage to memorials. This was a direct response to the toppling of a statue of the leading slave-trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June 2020 by a crowd attending an anti-racist Black Lives Matter protest. The fall of the controversial statue became global news after more than a century of increasingly vociferous, dissent and protest in the city and the continuing failure of the City Council to act.[33] After the statue came down Avon & Somerset Police were heavily criticised by the Home Secretary Priti Patel for not intervening, describing the incident as “utterly disgraceful”.[34] Two surveys of over 10,000 people in Bristol showed that the vast majority (~80%) wanted the statue removed, and a majority supported the protestors direct action.[35] Despite this, A&S were ordered to hunt down 18 protestors amongst many hundreds that took part. In a landmark court case, four defendants who were brought to court for criminal damage were found not guilty on all charges by a jury in Bristol in January 2021.[36]

Whilst these struggles over memorialisation were occurring the government altered the nascent Police Bill to include a clause which increased the sentence for damaging a memorial (less than £5,000) from a maximum of three months to ten years.[37] This effectively brought it in line with the maximum term for ‘riot’. Many people expected a backlash from the government for the audacity of the Bristol protestors to act in the public interest. What perhaps they did not expect was the double-whammy of ‘riot’ charges being deployed from the highest level of government for those who protested against the draconian Police Bill. Clearly Boris Johnson and Priti Patel had a bone to pick with the Bristol protestors:

Patel and the prime minister, Boris Johnson, … backed the police’s version of events following the “kill the bill” protests in Bristol. Patel said the law-abiding majority would be appalled by the actions of a “criminal minority”, while Johnson gave the police his full support and branded the protest “a mob intent on violence”.[38]

These comments were made despite the findings of Geraint Davies MP and his colleagues on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on democracy and the constitution, which investigated the disturbances in Bristol and criticised Avon & Somerset police:

“They massively overreacted at the time and were found out after they misled the press and tried to mislead our inquiry,” he said. He [Davies] questioned whether the riot charges appeared to be “seeking to punish people in an excessive and disproportionate way, not just for protesting but for challenging the police”. Davies added that the police should not be handed even more powers in the police and crime bill. “The police abuse the power they have but the government still want to give them all sorts of new powers to restrict protests. They need more accountability not less.”[39]


The author would like to thank Prof. Steve Poole, Raj Chada, Bristol Defendant Solidarity, Net Pol and members of Bristol Radical History Group for their help with this article.

Further information

The following articles and letters in the Guardian and BristolLive were published in conjunction with this article and were supplied by Justice for the Bristol Protestors (JBP). Thanks for their help in collating them.

The Long Read by Tom Wall:

Pod cast of the Guardian article:

Letters to the Guardian:

News reports from third Anniversary (there are some factual errors):


[1] UK Parliament: Parliamentary Bills: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 Stages. Retrieved from

[2] Public Order Act 1986 Retrieved from:

[3] These figures were collated by Bristol Defendant Solidarity and Justice for the Bristol Protesters.

[4] Dalling, Robert “Teen whose death sparked Mayhill riots killed by unintended overdose” WalesOnline 31 January 2022. Retrieved from: Teen whose death sparked Mayhill riots killed by unintended overdose – Wales Online.

[5] Williams, D. G. T. Keeping the Peace (London: Hutchinson, 1967).

[6] The Times 3 July 1970, 8 September, 10 October 1973.

[7] Harris Joshua, Tina Wallace and Heather Booth, To Ride the Storm: The 1980 Bristol ‘Riot’ and the State (London: Heinemann, 1983).

[8] Violent clashes between riot police and pickets were a feature of the Stockport Messenger dispute in 1983 and the Wapping printers strike in 1986-87. The apogee of football violence between fans and police occurred in 1985 in two particular matches, Luton Town vs. Millwall (13 March) and Birmingham City vs Leeds (11 May).

[9] Home Office. The outcome of arrests during the serious incidents of public disorder in July and August 1981. (London: Home Office, 13-10-1982).

[10] “Policing of the miners’ strike 1984-1985 – impact on communities: independent review” 28 October 2020 p. 6. Retrieved from:

[11] Conn, David “The Scandal of Orgreave” The Guardian 18 May 2017.

[12] Ibid.

[13] TNA Public Order Act 1986: UK Public General Acts: 1986 c. 64

[14] Alan Carling, Darrell Davies, Amritha Fernades-Bakshi, Neil Jarman and Peter Nias Fair Justice for All: The Response of the Criminal Justice System to the Bradford Disturbances of July 2001 (2004).

[15] Waddington, David P. “Applying the flashpoints model of public disorder to the 2001 Bradford riot.” The British Journal of Criminology 50, no. 2 (2010): 342-359.

[16] Allen, Chris Fair Justice: The Bradford Disturbances, the Sentencing & the Impact Forum Against Islamophobia & Racism (2003).

[17] Jarman, Neil ICR Working Paper No 2: Punishing Disorder – Sentencing of Public Order Offences in Northern Ireland Institute for Conflict Research (Belfast) May 2006.

[18] Home Office. An overview of recorded crimes and arrests resulting from disorder events in August 2011. (London: Home Office, October 2011).

[19] CPS “Public Order Offences incorporating the Charging Standard: Riot (section 1): Consents to Prosecute” Retrieved from: There are some caveats to this which involve the use of proxy civil servants from the CPS but nevertheless the principal responsibility remains with the Chief Crown Prosecutor.

[20] Braverman was on maternity leave from 2 March – 10 September 2021. The acting Attorney General over this period was Conservative MP Michael Ellis.

[21] Wall, Tom “‘Kill the bill’: surge in Bristol riot charges prompts alarm over civil liberties” The Guardian 12 February 2022.

[22] The number of arrests is not considered to be a useful measure of the seriousness of a disorder. It has been demonstrated that in some cases very violent events produce lower arrests during the event and the number of overall arrests is dependent more on the budget available for the subsequent police investigation than the seriousness of the incident. Ball, R. “Violent Urban Disturbance in England 1980-81” (Bristol: UWE, 2012) n. 205.

[23] This was particularly prevalent during the Miners Strike of 1984-85.

[24] Farrell Roig, Estell “Bristol riots see seven arrested as 12 officers injured in violent night of protests” Bristollive 22 March 2021. Retrieved from:

[25] Gayle, Damien “Police retract claims that officers suffered broken bones at Bristol protest” The Guardian 25 March 2021.

[26] Previous examples of the inflation of police injuries through lack of definition include Vidal, John “Those Kingsnorth police injuries in full: six insect bites and a toothache” The Guardian 15 December 2008.

[27] “Figures reveal scale of Bristol protesters injured by police” The Network for Police Monitoring April 14, 2021. Retrieved from:

[28] Lewis, Ffion “Swansea Mayhill riot: Everything we know so far” WalesOnline 21 May 2021. Retrieved from:

[29] “Mayhill” WalesOnline 20 Sep 2022. Retrieved from: Mayhill – News, views, gossip, pictures, video – Wales Online.

[30] Bowcott, Owen “Bristol riot over new Tesco store leaves eight police officers injured” The Guardian 22 April 2011.

[31] Ball, Roger et al. “Full triangulated account for the 2011 riots in Haringey” Beyond Contagion, Sussex University. Retrieved from:

[32] TNA Public Order Act 1986: UK Public General Acts: 1986 c. 64 Part I Section 1.

[33] Ball, Roger et al. “Edward Colston: A century of dissent and protest” Bristol Radical History Group (2021). Retrieved from:

[34] Wall, ‘Kill the bill’ The Guardian 12 February 2022.

[35] Miller, Claire and Grubb, Sophie “Bristol has spoken – and most people are glad the Colston statue was pulled down” Bristollive 13 June 2020. Retrieved from:; The Colston Statue: What Next? ‘We are Bristol’ History Commission Full Report (2022).

[36] Bennett, Geoffrey, Cork, Tristan and Millen, Ross “How the dramatic Colston 4 trial events unfolded” Bristollive 6 January 2022. Retrieved from:

[37] Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 c. 32 Part 2 Chap. 4 Criminal damage to memorials Section 50. Retrieved from:

[38] Wall, ‘Kill the bill’ The Guardian 12 February 2022.

[39] Ibid.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This