The protest against the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill on the 21st March in Bristol has resulted in one of the most vicious campaigns of repression against demonstrators in our long experience.
This week, the first people who pleaded guilty were sentenced by Judge James Patrick at Bristol Crown Court. One person got 3 years 11 Months. Another got 3 years 6 months, and two other people were sent down for 3 years 3 months for riot. Another received 5 Months for “outraging public decency” for the crime of pissing in public. All these with maximum discount for guilty pleas.
Now these sentences are way above anything we have seen for a demonstration in this country for many years. The highest since the 54 months sentence for one J18 case in 1999, which was for grievous bodily harm (GBH). And exceeding the highest of 32 months for the student demonstrations of 2009 for dropping a fire extinguisher off Millbank Tower.
The reason why the sentences are so high is that the cops have managed to persuade the CPS (crown prosecution service) to charge people with Riot rather than Violent Disorder. The legal differences are small but the maximum sentence for riot is 10 years, double that for violent disorder, and the chances of getting your sentence suspended virtually nil.
So now everyone else who’s being prosecuted knows what to expect. There will be no mercy from the courts. The only way to avoid a substantial prison sentence is to get off. It is not easy to convince a jury that the cops are the wrong ‘uns after a lifetime of indoctrination and with the full weight of the criminal justice system against you but it’s a far better bet than hoping the judge has had a few too many G&T’s and feels the cops were a bit rough and that bygones should be bygones.
As so often when the police instigate trouble and escalate when people defend themselves they lie themselves stupid. Despite the claims of serious injuries being debunked and being forced to apologise to two women mistakenly identified and then brutally arrested in their University accommodation the cops continue to pursue their vendetta. In fact, Avon and Somerset Police are so bad that an all-party parliamentary committee has issued a report accusing them of “revenge policing”. No kidding.
So far 73 people have been arrested but only 28 charged. This does not mean they are going to drop the cases. It means they have a big team of detectives trawling through thousands of hours of CCTV and body worn footage to make the charges stick (we need to do same for the defence). There are currently 39 wanted pictures on A&S’s website and the letter codes used tell us there are at least 184 suspects in total. So there is much worse to come.
What you can do
We need to campaign to expose the police lies and tell the true story of a pre-planned attack on a legitimate protest against a draconian piece of legislation. Collective and public defence campaigns in the tradition of TSDC against Poll Tax Riot prosecution are the most effective way of getting people off. The defence campaign needs money. You can give directly to Bristol Defendant Solidarity/ Bristol ABC or you can pay into this crowdfunder.
Their aim is to pay as much of their weekly spending allowance as possible to relieve their friends and families of having to support them financially. If anything their target is not ambitious enough. And their estimate of sentences and convictions is probably too conservative. In the last major use of riot charges for 2001 Bradford, 297 arrests resulted in 200 jail sentences of 604 years and the courts have got considerably harsher since.
Now we know there are seven hundred and twenty nine different appeals for “legal support funds” going on all the time. They range from the total chancers asking you to pay their covid fine to support the “freedom” to spread the plague to perfectly legitimate causes such as the Coulson Four statue puller-downers. BUT they are not facing substantial prison sentences (or any jailtime at all actually) and there are already endless do-gooding liberals queuing up to help the “nice defendants”. So if you do have a few bob spare give it to those who are in the deepest shit.
If you need support contact BDS DEFENDANT SOLIDARITY | Bristol Anarchist Black Cross – Prisoner Support or elsewhere ACAB ([email protected]) and if urgent ring 07946541511 We will pass on contact details for the prisoners as soon as they request it.