Protesters and first-aiders have claimed police officers used their shields to injure scores of people during the last “kill the bill” protest in Bristol.
First-aiders treated at least five people with lacerations to their heads that they claimed were consistent with the edges of rectangular riot shields.
An off-duty NHS nurse who helped tend to the injured at the protest on Friday said she was shocked and traumatised by what she had witnessed. “I saw the shields in front of me lifted and chopped down on top of protesters heads in peaceful crowd," ella dijo. “I cannot express how quickly it went from peaceful chants to head injuries. Not just bumps of a shield. I’m talking in excess of 5cm lacerations to the top of the skull – all of the ones I saw were struck from above.”
Supt Mark Runacres, of Avon and Somerset police, told the local radio station BCfm on Monday that shield strikes may look “unsightly and shocking to some” but were a legitimate and legal tactic to move people away from an area if they were deemed a threat or to keep them safe.
“I’ve been in policing for over 25 years now and it’s an unfortunate reality that in public order policing the tactics that are used – the shield strikes that you’re referring to – that’s an absolutely legitimate and trained tactic that officers are coached on in their public order training," él dijo. “It is approved by the College of Policing and if they can justify that act as a proportionate response then they are entitled to do it.”
The force said a minority of protesters showed hostility towards officers on Friday, Cuándo 10 arrests were made including for violent disorder. Runacres said members of the crowd threw items including bottles and bricks. “Officers repeatedly encouraged people to disperse, but once the atmosphere changed and people became physical it was necessary to take action," él dijo.
It was the third Bristol protest in a week against the police, crimen, sentencing and courts bill, which contains plans to give police increased powers.
One protester said his face was cut open when an officer struck him with a shield. Isaac Marley Burrough claimed he required urgent hospital treatment after the alleged assault, which he said took place as police officers attempted to disperse protesters after 10pm.
“We were all screaming ‘peaceful protest’. I had my hands out. The officer lifted the shield above his head and smashed it down on to my face," él dijo. “I needed at least eight stitches just underneath my eye.”
Burrough, 26, said he went to the nearby Bristol Royal Infirmary just after midnight, where he said he met eight other protesters mostly with head wounds.
He claimed officers had used their shields as weapons against protesters, who tried to defend themselves from the blows raining down on them as they were chased through the centre of the city.
Netpol, the Network for Police Monitoring, said it was unaware of long shields being used in this way. “We haven’t seen this shield chopping tactic on such a scale before and it is extremely concerning. It is disproportionate and could potentially seriously injure or kill somebody,” said Kevin Blowe, a Netpol coordinator. “We need senior officers to explain why defensive shields are apparently being used for offensive purposes without justification.”
The police public order training manual states that the edges of shields can be driven towards offenders. sin embargo, the document, which was released under freedom of information rules in 2018, stresses that shields are primarily “defensive equipment” and offensive use must be the “minimum amount necessary and proportionate”.