A protester has been convicted of trying to endanger the life of a police officer by torching a van during the riot that followed the “Kill the Bill” demonstrations in Bristol last spring.
Ryan Roberts, 25, led chants of “ACAB: All cops are bastards” outside Bridewell police station on the afternoon of March 21 before throwing cans, bottles and placards at officers.
During his trial at Bristol Crown Court, the jury heard Roberts verbally abused and repeatedly kicked officers, before smashing in the windows of the police station.
Footage from the riot showed Roberts pushing pieces of flaming cardboard under two police vans, and placing industrial bins around an already partially burnt-out police car and setting them alight.
He told an officer inside one of the vans he would “go bang”, it was claimed.
Roberts then smashed in the windows of a mobile police station and encouraged the crowd to help roll it over, before setting light to the cab while hundreds of people were close by.
On Friday, Roberts was convicted of one count of attempted arson with intent to endanger life and one count of attempted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered for trying to set light to two police vans.
Two alternative counts of attempted arson were left to lie on the court file, while Roberts was further convicted of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered for setting light to the police car.
Roberts was found guilty of riot, while he was convicted of one count of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered in respect of the torching of a mobile police station by a majority verdict of 10 to two.
In his evidence, Roberts said he got “carried away” fighting for freedom of speech.
The afternoon began with a protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is going through Parliament.
Roberts told the court the Bill aimed to “ban peaceful protest altogether”, saying the demo “was more about freedom of speech”.
He said the mood of the protest changed when police donned riot gear as night fell.
The defendant said officers started pushing the crowd back to create “a sterile environment” around Bridewell police station.
“I hadn’t seen the crowd doing anything before that point,” Roberts added.
He said police started “pushing, shoving and hitting” the crowd with shields and batons.
“I was fighting for a cause I felt strongly about,” Roberts said.
Asked about footage of him apparently kicking a police officer’s shield and smashing the windows of the police station, Roberts replied: “I was just getting carried away in the moment.”
Forty-four officers were injured in the riot, which died down in the early hours of March 22.
Katheryn Hobbs, a legal observer trained to monitor police behaviour and advise protesters during demonstrations, said she witnessed multiple incidents of police violence on March 21.
Ms Hobbs said that after walking with protesters through the city, there was a “sharp escalation” in policing tactics when officers began to line up outside the police station.
She said she had witnessed officers “shoving, kicking, hitting, pulling and pushing the crowd back”.
Ms Hobbs said she gave first aid to 25 or 30 people during the evening, many of whom had been pepper sprayed, while others had cuts and bruises.
She said she saw multiple incidents of “blading” by police, when an officer brings the sharp edge of a riot shield down on a protester.
“I certainly witnessed police officers doing that to several people seated on the floor, which is extremely dangerous.”
Roberts will be sentenced on a date yet to be set.