The battle of Stokes Croft. Bailiffs v anti-Tesco campaigners
One of Bristol's busiest roads was closed for six hours yesterday as squatters were evicted from a former comedy club in Stokes Croft.
A stretch of Gloucester Road was closed and 70 police officers were brought in to control a crowd of about 300 people who were watching the eviction.
A team of about 30 bailiffs used a cherry picker to remove 10 protesters from the roof of the former Jesters Comedy Club in Cheltenham Road in an operation which lasted about five hours.
The squatters took over the building at the start of February in protest at plans to turn it into a Tesco, and several have been occupying the roof in tents since then.
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Bailiffs from enforcement service Sherbond gained entry to the ground floor of the building shortly after arriving at about 10am, but were not able to reach the protesters on the roof until a couple of hours later.
The protesters told the Evening Post they had barricaded the inside of the building to make it difficult for the bailiffs to reach them, and they fought the cherry picker off with ladders.
But the bailiffs eventually gained access to an adjoining roof and climbed across.
The last protester was removed from the roof at 3.30pm, and the road reopened at 4.15pm.
There were several scuffles between the crowd of onlookers and police, who included seven mounted officers. Four people were arrested for public order offences.
Police were not involved in the removal of protesters but were there to prevent any breaches of the peace in the area outside the property and ensure public safety.
Sarah Smith, 22, and Philip Chase, 27, were two of the protesters on the roof.
They said: "We had been expecting this. We are grateful for the support people gave us today, but they could have done more to stop the bailiffs getting to us. Other people need to step in now, and do more than sign a postcard.
"The next step for us is to regroup, rest and think about our next move. But we need to share the burden with other people – maybe someone else could take over the roof now. There would be nothing to stop them."
Last night doors to the building had been blocked off by metal plates to prevent anyone re-entering the site.
Geoff Gardiner, 40, who runs Fred Baker Bicycles next door to the site, said: "I've had to close the shop because no one is coming past interested in buying a bike today.
"I'm looking forward to this being over so that we can get back to normal. It has been quite a spectacle, but to be honest it's a bit inconvenient for our business."
Mr Gardiner also told the Post he had not sold a single bike all day.
One onlooker, who did not want to be named, said: "I feel quite intimidated by it all. I think it is taking it all too far – and the protesters have made such a mess up there. My opinion is that they have suffocated Stokes Croft."
But another onlooker, Adrian Millar, 36, of Richmond Street said: "I live in the next road along and am completely against Tesco building here. We have some very good local shops here and I don't want to see them close."
Tesco spokesman James Wiggam said: "We're keen to invest in the area. Many local people we've spoken to tell us they are eager to see a Tesco Express at this site. Our store will create about 20 new jobs and provide shopping facilities for hundreds of local residents.
"The squatters who were illegally occupying the building, were asked to leave but refused. High Court enforcement officers are removing them from the premises with the support of the police."
Avon and Somerset Police's Superintendent Ian Wylie said: "Police attended the eviction at the old Jesters building on Cheltenham Road to keep the peace and assist Tesco and their court-appointed enforcement officers."