Simmering anger in Stokes Croft erupted into full-blown violence last night after police in more than a dozen riot vans arrived to evict squatters from a property opposite a controversial new Tesco store.
The property on Cheltenham Road, known as “Telepathic Heights” and painted from top to bottom in murals, was raided by police at about 9.15 on Thursday night.
This sparked a violent reaction among local residents who threw bottles at police.
But the focus of the anger was soon turned towards the new Tesco store which opened opposite the building last Friday. earlier in the day, police removed protesters who had camped outside the store.
Drawn by the sound of a police helicopter hovering over the area, and the sight of dozens of riot police, residents attacked the store, smashing windows, writing anti-Tesco messages around the area and chanting: “Whose streets? Our streets.”
Cheltenham Road was closed by police and it was reported kettling tactics were deployed to try to bring order back to the street.
People using Twitter to report on the events told of their fear as they tried to make their way back home own Cheltenham Road. Others wrote how only Tesco had been targeted and that one person who threw a brick at the window of the Bristol Credit Union was hauled away by the protesters themselves.
In a blog named Neurobonkers.com, the scene was described:
“Since I got back to Bristol this evening I’ve been stuck between various police roadblocks and witnessed running battles between police and mostly random people woken in the middle of the night by the sound of police sirens and choppers. The riots kicked off shortly after 10 and have continued all night.
“When I arrived the police would only tell me that I could not enter stokes croft for my ‘health and safety’ and that it was to do with Tesco. We could see across the police line approximately 10 riot vans and a riot squad entering the famous ‘Telepathic Heights.
“At something like 10PM a huge crowd landed on the front of Stokes Croft drawn by the lowflying helicopter with spotlight and the army of police emerging from 12+ riot vans dressed for combat. Pretty soon tension peaked as no explanation would be given for the roadblocks and there was intimidation on both sides.
“I was on the junction of Stokes Croft high street when the police charged what was only at that point a crowd (of about 100 but which quickly grew) down Ashley Road pretty much all the way to the end of it over the course of a couple of hours. Due to the absolute confusion a number of people had emerged from their houses only to shortly find they were the wrong side of a road block and got roped in to what became a three-hour running battle through pretty much all of the back streets coming off Ashley Road and in to St Pauls, numerous burning barracades were erected and a huge amount of people were battered and bloodied by police for attempting to approach police lines to get home to find friends. By this point there was devastation everywhere. All junctions were blocked by overturned glass bottle dumpsters and makeshift neighbourhood roadblocks blocks.
“Eventually what seemed like the entire residence of Stokes Croft emerged and pushed the police back. For a long time there was a deadlock, people stood around and shared rumours about the reason behind the army of police that had arrived unnanounced and were terrorising the neighbourhood.
“There was total confusion and Stokes Croft was mostly cordoned off, the police started making arrests and then all hell broke loose. Missiles began coming down from Telepathic Heights, the starting point of the problem and police brought out dogs to clear people from the street, quite a few got bitten. Meanwhile a lot of police vans had their tyres let out. At that point the dogs retreated and the convoy of about 10 vans that were surrounded drove at speed through the crowd clipping a large number of people on their way out. Both Tesco and telepathic heights were abandoned by the police.
“Since the police had retreated all hell was being unleashed on Tescos and hundreds of pieces of police riot gear were being handed out from the abandoned vehicles, since then the police returned and there’s been more running battles and people flooding down my street.”
Rumours spread that a petrol bomb was in the Telepathic Heights building. Avon and Somerset police said four people were arrested on suspicion of public order offences and another person on suspicion of threats to cause criminal damage with intent to endanger life.
They added a number of items were seized – including possible petrol bombs – from the property, though it is unclear what they were referring to as a “possible petrol bomb”.
Supt Ian Wylie said: “There have been several significant incidents in this building during the past few days, which have caused serious concerns to police and local residents.
“The safety of the public is paramount in a situation of this kind and we took the decision to carry out a robust and swift operation, following intelligence received about the criminal intentions of those who were occupying the building.
“Following the operation, it is unfortunate a small minority gathered and began attacking officers with bottles and other items.”