Street battles in Stokes Croft as police struggle to contain riot over new Tesco.
Eight police and a number of civilians have been injured after riots in Stokes Croft resulted in the trashing of a new Tesco Express.
Following a tip-off that occupants of the ‘Telepathic Heights’ squat on Cheltenham Road had been constructing petrol bombs, over 160 police in riot gear descended upon the area. 15 riot vans and a police helicopter were also involved in the operation.
At 9:15pm officers closed Cheltenham Road and forced entry into the building. A police statement confirmed that a number of items were seized during the arrest “including petrol bombs – which are currently being forensically examined.”
It also stated “three 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.” Police intelligence suggested that the petrol bombs were going to be used against a new Tesco recently erected opposite the squat.
Following the highly visible arrests at Telepathic Heights, hundreds of people began to congregate in the area. Witnesses confirmed that at around 10pm the streets were still calm. Local resident Dan Petley said that it felt like “a bit of a relaxed street party really. I didn’t understand the huge police presence.”
Between around midnight and 4am, however, clashes with police erupted and spilled out into the surrounding area. Instances of violence were reported on Ashley Road, Picton Street, Cheltenham Road and Stokes Croft. Local resident Alex Slocombe saw “running battles with police all over the place.”
Barricades of burning bins were erected; fireworks, bricks and bottles were thrown at riot officers. Some have also condemned the show of force on the behalf of the police, with a number of civilians needing hospital treatment.
By around 1:00am it seemed that the police were no longer in full control of the operation. A group of rioters managed to ransack the recently opened Tesco Express. Its windows were smashed, a sign ripped off, and “closing down sale” scrawled across its facade.
Local resident Leah Hemming told Epigram: “There were people running down the street with riot police gear. The police had left a trailer full of their equipment. Basically, they just deserted the place. Then everyone moved to Tesco and smashed it down.”
This operation has come amid strong anti-Tesco sentiment in the notoriously independent local community. After two years of campaigns Tesco finally opened the new store on Cheltenham Road on the 15th April.
An eye witness who did not wish to be named said: “If their goal was to come in and protect Tesco, then they’ve failed in their job. They could have surrounded it earlier on and cordoned this bit off. But they started charging people, trying to disperse them. No one knew what it was about. It turned into a game.”
A peaceful picket which had been ongoing since the opening of the new Tesco store was forcibly cleared by police a few hours before the raid. A Bristol University student involved in the opposition to Tesco, who wished to remain anonymous, told Epigram that the Tesco picket was started by UWE students. He firmly denied, however, that there was any link between the peaceful anti-Tesco movement and the squatters who were arrested.
“It seemed like they actually did view (the Telepathic Heights squat) as a headquarters of people who were picketing Tesco, which is definitely not true. I think the police thought it had a bigger role than it did.” He went on to comment that: “It wasn’t an organised protest. It wasn’t one group. It was just a load of different people who were all angry about a load of different things.”