The hardcore extremists descended on Bristol and hijacked a peaceful protest to attack officers, said police chiefs and politicians. Two frontline bobbies were seriously injured during Sunday night’s appalling scenes. One suffered a punctured lung when he was stamped on by a rioter. A second had his ribs broken during the clashes.
Chief Constable Andy Marsh vowed: “We will track them down. We will bring them to justice.” Describing the disorder as “shameful,” he said: “The wanton violence and destruction had nothing to do with protest. It was committed by those looking for an excuse to commit disorder.”
Boris Johnson said: “I think all that kind of thing is unacceptable, and the people obviously have a right to protest in this country.
“But they should protest peacefully and legally.”
Up to 3,000 people gathered to protest against the new Police Bill. Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees said: “A number were serial demo-attenders who are looking for any opportunity to engage in physical confrontation with representations of what they see as the establishment.”
He added: “It’s selfish, it is self-indulgent and self-centred activity – people living out their revolutionary fantasies.
“This has nothing to do with being in lockdown for a year. What has injuring police officers, smashing windows, burning cars got to do with the challenges we face as a city right now?”
During the disorder, described by Home Secretary Priti Patel as “thuggery,” the extremists tried to smash their way into Bridewell police station in the city centre – possibly hoping to set it on fire.
Officers were trapped inside as rioters surrounded it, some climbing on the roof. Two police vehicles were torched, 10 wrecked and others daubed with anti-police graffiti. Significant damage was caused to the police station.
Officers in riot gear faced beer bottles, stones, fireworks and other missiles.
Mr Marsh said: “No one wants to see officers abused or attacked in this way. These men and women put their safety on the line every day to keep the public safe and do not deserve to be on the forefront of this abhorrent criminal behaviour.”
There was no prior intelligence about the extremists. Many officers faced the mob in just stab-proof vests and helmets or caps.
Mr Marsh said it would not have been “practical or possible” to make mass arrests.
Many of the criminals wore masks but police can use sophisticated computer software to see the face behind the mask.
Seven people were arrested – six for violent disorder and one for possessing an offensive weapon. Police plan to publish rogue’s galleries and appeal to the public to track them down.
The “Kill the Bill” movement is opposing Government legislation that would give police more powers to combat demos.
Ms Patel said the right to protest peacefully is a “cornerstone of our democracy” and she would “work with everybody” to ensure the police have the powers they need.