Masked youths brought violence to the streets of Bristol last night, as the riots that have blighted London spread across the country.
Dozens of riot police chased a group throwing stones and bottles, and setting fires in the streets of St Pauls, from about 12.30am as local residents watched from their windows.
I followed the riot police, who had initially gathered at a heavily guarded Cabot Circus, from Portland Square through St Pauls into the early hours.
A group of about 20 youths, who had their faces covered by balaclavas and masks, had gathered initially on Dean Street where a stand-off with police took place.
Police then went through Bishop Street to Little Bishop Street where the first major confrontation took place outside the Jamaica Inn. Stones and bottles rained down on officers as they charged and then retreated to force the group, joined by another 20 or 30 masked youths, back. Car windows were smashed, while wheelie bins were set alight in the middle of the streets.
No physical confrontation between police and the rioters took place throughout the two hours police chased the youths, first down Grosvenor Road and then along St Nicholas Road in the heart of St Pauls.
The group disappeared for a short while before reappearing at the junction of Grosvenor Road and St Nicholas Road and started hurling rocks at officers.
By 2.30am, the group had been chased away towards Ashley Road, however a police helicopter was still hovering overhead by 3.30am.
Avon and Somerset police released a statement saying a number of shops and vehicles had been damaged, and urged people in the city centre to leave the area and go home.
Chief Superintendent Jon Stratford said: “We have been working closely with other forces and criminal behaviour like this will not be tolerated.
“We were hoping this type of disorder would not come to Bristol. However we have plenty of units on duty ready to respond.
“Our primary concern is to keep people safe and minimise disruption to residents, motorists and local businesses.
“We will always respect the right of any individual or group to take part in a peaceful protest. But when disorder occurs, we have a duty to the wider community to do everything we can to calm the situation and restore order and prevent criminality.”
It is unclear who was responsible for the violence, however it is Bristol24-7’s impression that the people involved in it were not local residents. At one point, a cry came up from the group of “Your job next” – a reference to public sector cuts and a cry heard at demonstrations against student fee increases and anti-cuts marches throughout the last 12 months in Bristol and beyond.
Local residents appeared bemused by what was happening around them, with many following Bristol24-7 and other journalists through the streets to witness the scenes for themselves.
One family reacted with fury when they were forced to leave the patio outside their home by police, shouting that they had nothing to do with what was going on. Meanwhile, one group of men gathered in one street to protect their cars and homes, and told police where some of the rioters had run to.
The violence came despite pleas for calm in the city, with many calling for people not to follow the example of London.
Kerry McCarthy, the MP for Bristol East, tweeted earlier in the evening: “Keeping eye on situation in Bristol, hope it remains calm and people on streets head for home. We don’t need riot of our own.”
The violence in Bristol came after a third day of riots across London, and outbreaks of violence in Birmingham and Liverpool.
Violence first flared on Saturday after a peaceful protest in Tottenham over the fatal shooting of a man by police.
The prime minister is returning early from holiday to chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee Cobra.
At least 225 people have been arrested and 36 charged following the riots across London over the past three days, Scotland Yard said.
It added that an extra 1,700 officers had been deployed across the capital on Monday night. Nine police forces from other parts of the country were assisting in providing support, as well as the City of London Police and British Transport Police.