Are the Bristol protesters peaceful activists – or just mindless thugs?
THEY try to portray themselves as peaceful activists, representing a counter-culture of creativity.
But yesterday the self-appointed champions of Stokes Croft turned on the area's decent, law-abiding majority of residents and showed themselves as nothing more than mindless thugs, intent on destroying property and inflicting serious injury.
This was no anti-Tesco protest. Aided and abetted by hooligans from other parts of the city, these marauding yobs – many with their faces covered for anonymity – terrorised the area, vandalising their neighbours' property and terrifying local families.
The trouble began when masked troublemakers started to throw bottles at police talking to people outside a squat known as Telepathic Heights in Cheltenham Road late on Thursday night.
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What had up until then been a low-key, peaceful gathering descended into violence in the early hours of yesterday morning, involving up to 400 rioters and 100 police officers, many in riot gear and some on horseback.
Missiles were hurled at police, buildings vandalised and fires lit on a long stretch of Cheltenham Road.
Police arrested 15 people during the night.
Five officers and an unknown number of rioters and bystanders were injured, with some requiring hospital treatment.
Later yesterday morning trouble flared again after police moved in to evict the remaining squatters from Telepathic Heights, a city council-owned building standing opposite the controversial Tesco Express store which has been the focus of protests and a riot a week earlier.
Thirteen more people were arrested, including some who threw bricks, concrete blocks and even a scaffolding pole at police from the rooftop during a four-hour stand-off.
An organised protest against Tesco and alleged police brutality during the Easter weekend riot planned for 8.30pm on Thursday had been cancelled at short notice due to concerns about safety.
But as the evening wore on people started to turn up to Telepathic Heights for what at first was an entirely peaceful gathering.
Police described it as a "good-spirited" event, which eight neighbourhood beat officers had attended to speak with locals.
An Avon and Somerset force spokesman said: "Two bottles were thrown at the police but officers did not respond, in order to try to ensure the mood stayed peaceful. Police were determined to keep the peace and not be perceived as provocative or inflammatory in any way. Two community mediators spoke to the group responsible for throwing the bottle to appeal for calm."
But around 1am more bottles were thrown at officers by a small number of masked people.
When the neighbourhood officers tried talking to them they were met with more missiles, police say.
The crowd had grown to around 400 and it was at this point that the riot police moved in, sparking a series of clashes with protesters.
There were injuries on both sides, with some people claiming they were hit by officers using batons.
Richard Ayres, 39, said he had gone to the area as a show of support for "people treated violently" the week before and received three blows to his legs and a blow to his head, which required hospital treatment. He said people were knocked to the side by police and were then shoved back by officers with helmets, shields, truncheons and dogs.
Several police officers also suffered head, neck, back and leg injuries, and were also taken to hospital for treatment.
The violence then spread along Stokes Croft towards the city centre, where the McDonald's restaurant in Cabot Circus was attacked, with ten windows smashed by a group using rocks and their feet at about 2.30am.
At 9.30am police moved to remove the remaining squatters from Telepathic Heights, with more than 100 officers arriving in 20 vans that were parked along the road as onlookers were moved back.
As well as Avon & Somerset Constabulary, officers from the neighbouring Gwent, Wiltshire, Devon & Cornwall, Hampshire, West Mercia and Dorset forces were involved.
A helicopter circled as three men stood on the roof and taunted officers below.
Shortly before 10am, police emerged from the building having arrested a woman and man.
The man told the Evening Post: "I didn't do anything, this is nothing to do with us.
"This was a peaceful protest that got out of hand. I don't know who's up on the roof."
Soon afterwards more police appeared from the building, holding another man and a confused woman with make-up drawings on her face, who said she was from Berlin.
Police brought two more men from the squat, one wearing a blue T-shirt and another in a grey hoodie.
On the roof, an officer shouted "get back" and drew his baton at one of the men, who had a Mohican hairstyle.
The man responded by stepping back, then shook the officer's hand before standing on the edge of the roof, raising his arms and shouting: "What's my name!" and "Who are you!, "Who are you!"
At 10.25am lumps of masonry and bricks were thrown into the road.
From within the crowd of onlookers at the south road block, the mother of the protester with the Mohican hair made an impassioned plea for her lad to come down.
Marcia Foster rang her son David, 22, and told him: "These people want to go home. Listen to me." The phone call ended abruptly when he cut her off.
Mrs Foster, from Filton, said: "I am concerned, look at all these people. These people are trying to live their normal lives and there are idiots like my son doing things like this."
When police realised Mrs Foster was there, they allowed her through the cordon to join a trained negotiator at the squat.
Andrew Foster, David's father, said: "He's just squatting there, we don't know if it is illegal or not.
"It seems a lot of police time just for three people, it is over the top.
"He's been there two weeks, there are many different rooms there and he's not sure of people going in and out of the place."
More missiles thudded to the road, sending pieces of brick scurrying over the tarmac.
Insults were exchanged between the men on the roof and people on the ground.
Police at the side of the roof handed the men bottles of water, and continued talking to them.
At 11.25am some police vans withdrew a short distance from the premises, as the stand off continued and roof tiles smashed to the road.
Foster raised a cup of tea towards intrigued onlookers, as the stalemate continued.
At 1pm a fire truck with a long ladder drew up outside the squat, but then drove away as if a plan was aborted.
It was at 1.30pm when matters escalated, as one of the men tore off a television aerial and hit a police officer's shield several times.
The officer hit him hard to the head with his baton and police surged forward and on top of the protesters.
The men were handcuffed and arrested, to applause from the crowd, and an ambulance attended to the injured protester.
Police ensured that glass and smashed brick was swept up from Cheltenham Road, before re-opening the road to the public at 3pm.
Afterwards a police spokesman said: "Police believe there is a direct connection between this property and the disorder.
"A number of people were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder.
"In light of recent events police have worked jointly with Bristol City Council to bring forward the eviction process around that property.
"The action has been taken as part of our aim to help the wider community return to peace and normality as quickly as possible following the disruption caused by the disorder, and also part of our commitment to identify and arrest those suspected of being involved in the recent disturbances."
The area was quiet as the Evening Post went to press last night.