I warned Tesco and Bristol's council about violence, says Stokes Croft campaigner
A CAMPAIGNER says she repeatedly warned Tesco and the city council that violence would erupt at the supermarket's Cheltenham Road store.
Claire Milne, who co-ordinates the No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign, believes a backlash was inevitable after objections and protests against the new store went unheard.
A full-scale riot, triggered after police raided a squat to prevent a possible petrol bomb attack on the Tesco Express store, engulfed the area on Thursday night.
Ms Milne, who witnessed the disorder first-hand, has refused to condemn or condone the actions of people who attacked and looted the shop. Crowds started to gather from 9.15pm when police sealed off Cheltenham Road to traffic and moved into a squatted building known as Telepathic Heights opposite the Tesco store, arresting four people.
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By 2.30am yesterday a series of violent clashes had unfolded, involving up to 300 rioters and 160 police.
Eight police officers and an unknown number of rioters and bystanders were injured as bricks, bottles and stones were thrown in Cheltenham Road, Ashley Road and Picton Street.
Ms Milne told the Evening Post: "The reality is that the council and Tesco knew this was going to happen. It was inevitable.
"For months, we have been saying to the council and Tesco that we were worried. In our community there are people who will break the law if their voices are not being listened to."
The 34-year-old, of Picton Street, said that when objections were lodged against a Tesco Express being opened in the former Jester's Comedy Club building, campaigners emphasised that public safety should have been considered.
But planning officers had already granted the premises a "change of use" before campaigners had their say.
During Thursday night's clashes, Tesco had windows smashed, shutters broken and goods stolen by looters.
Asked about the damage inflicted on the store, Ms Milne said: "I do not condone any violence or aggression to a human being and it's certainly not an approach I would take myself – to damage a building. Then again, I do not condemn the damage that has been done to Tesco, because I believe the damage Tesco causes across the world is far huger than the damage to one store in Bristol."
Avon and Somerset police said officers raided the property opposite Tesco acting on intelligence over a "very real threat to the local community".
Witnesses had reported seeing people bringing what looked like petrol bombs in and out of the house and a man on the roof with what looked like a petrol can.
After forcing entry to the building the police were not met with resistance. They say they recovered petrol and several ready-made petrol bombs.
One man was arrested on suspicion of threats to cause criminal damage with intent to endanger life and three others were arrested on suspicion of public order offences.
Many of those gathered outside the building believed the police were trying to evict the squatters, and as the police involved in the raid started to leave the area, the crowd grew to several hundred.
People started barricading the road with street furniture, bikes and bins, many of which were set alight.
Bricks, bottles and stones were thrown at police by some people in the crowd, which included anti-Tesco activists, residents and late night drinkers.
At its peak, 160 police officers, clad in riot gear and shields, were required to quell the violence, which finally ended at about 4am.
During the clashes one police officer had teeth knocked out while others were treated for head, neck and shoulder injuries. One officer had a paving stone thrown on him from a roof.
As well as injuries to police officers, members of the public reported being hit by police with batons and shields.
Some eye-witnesses said a police tactic of "kettling" a crowd – forcibly confining them – into Ashley Road did not help and may have triggered the aggression.
But Assistant Chief Constable Rod Hansen yesterday insisted the overall police response, which included the use of 66 reinforcements drafted in from Wiltshire, Gwent and South Wales police, was proportionate.
"There was a very real threat to the local community from the petrol bombs that were being made and we needed to take positive action," he said.
"When 300 people congregated and a small minority from that group started small fires and throwing bottles, stones and other items at officers, we used well-rehearsed plans, which involved the use of officers from neighbouring forces to control what had become a volatile situation."
At 2.30am yesterday, after the police had retreated for a while away from Cheltenham Road, people started attacking Tesco while two staff – either security guards or shelf stackers – were still inside. A police 4x4 was also smashed up.
Five people were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder.
Mr Hansen said: "It was a violent confrontation. Many people did comply with our directions and were there to protest in a peaceful, law-abiding way, but there was a hardcore who continued to be violent."
As well as Tesco, other businesses were damaged.
Next door Fred Baker Cycles – a family business that has been going for 40 years – had one of its window panels smashed.
Geoff Gardiner, 41, said: "Plate glass of that size will cost about £600 to repair.
"On a nice, sunny Good Friday like this we could have done some good trade. If we can't open again tomorrow, that's £6,000 or £7,000 we've missed out on."
Cath Archer, who has run the Bristolian café on Picton Street for five years, turned up for work to find a door pane smashed.
She said: "I would like compensation for the damage, which will cost at least £200 to fix."
The Rice and Things restaurant on Cheltenham Road did no trade for the last three hours of business on Thursday night.
Owner Barnatic Neufville said: "Damage is damage and that's criminality. As law abiding citizens we cannot condone that at all.
"While I can understand they have a voice, and a right, I cannot condone damage like that.
The 34-year-old added: "I think the legislation in this country needs to be changed to give the police more powers. If this had been in Jamaica the squatters would have been out on day one."
Pete Summers and Fay Curtis are two of many people living opposite Tesco who were kept up all night by the chaos outside.
They saw a man climb a lamppost, walk along shop roofs and throw a large piece of paving stone on the head of one of the police.
"It was horrible to see him get hit by a boulder," said Miss Curtis, 26. "It was 50:50 in terms of the aggression of the protesters and the police, I reckon."
Mr Summers, 26, added: "When it first started, it seemed like it was just people from Stokes Croft but as it went on, more and more people came and sort of latched on."
Madeleine Waugh was one of many people who had heard about what was happening and went down to look.
The 21-year-old photography student, of Cromwell Road, said: "It was pretty crazy down there and it was quite scary at times. Some people were being idiots, but most of them were trying to be peaceful."
MP Kerry McCarthy, whose constituency is elsewhere in Bristol, also decided to go down to the riots after finding out about them.
She said: "In many ways there was a typical Stokes Croft atmosphere. There was someone playing a saxophone on a bus shelter, someone playing the bongos and people walking around with lampshades on their heads, but then it got nasty. It seemed a bit heavy handed.
"There were some people who were behaving like idiots and were putting people in a potentially dangerous position and some of those were quite drunk.
"But there's no excuse for throwing big lumps of concrete and bottles.
"It was a small group of people who were throwing things and they were pretty young people from what I saw.
"It did not have the organised violence that I saw in London at the protests against tuition fees. It did seem to be drunk people getting caught up in the excitement of it.
David Nieberg, spokesman for Tesco, said: "We can confirm that an incident happened last night. Thankfully no staff or customers were harmed. We are helping the police with their enquiries."
Mr Nieberg could not comment on whether the store would continue trading after it is repaired, nor whether they would employ more security guards.
Ward councillor Jon Rogers (Lib Dem, Ashley) said that the issue of potential disorder had been raised at meetings about the Tesco planning application.
He said: "There were concerns about this kind of outcome but the planning committee decided that there was no lawful reason to refuse the Tesco application."
Last night a small number of police remained on Cheltenham Road and Stokes Croft as the Tesco shop was boarded up.