Police forces nationwide are bracing for a summer of disorder as warm weather combines with a “frustrated population” after a year of lockdown.
All police forces in England and Wales have been ordered to gather and provide intelligence on protests and groups that may be planning demonstrations following Sunday night’s riots in Bristol.
Yesterday the government confirmed that its temporary ban on protests — brought in to stop the spread of coronavirus — will be lifted on Monday. Senior police sources and the head of the government’s advisory group on policing and security have said they are expecting the end of the ban to trigger a surge in protests.
They believe it will combine with warmer weather, growing resentment towards the police following the arrests at the Sarah Everard vigil in London, and the plans for new laws restricting protests to create a “wave of trouble”.
Intelligence suggests more protests are planned in Bristol, while the Metropolitan Police are expecting trouble in coming weekends in London and there are also tensions in Brighton, according to police sources.
Clifford Stott, chairman of a sub-group of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises the government on security threats, said the next weeks and months would be “the most challenging period of the pandemic” for public order. “The warmer weather, the duration of the lockdown, increasing dissatisfaction among sections of the community about the imposing of control measures will all feed into situations where public assembly is going to be more likely,” he told the BBC.
Extinction Rebellion, the environmental campaign group, is said to be planning a series of demonstrations starting this weekend in London.
Concerns were raised over Avon and Somerset police’s preparedness for the violence in Bristol, where 21 officers were injured. It was forced to call in extra officers from Devon and Cornwall.
Following the violence in Bristol, all police forces in England and Wales were issued with an “intelligence requirement” to proactively gather information on planned demonstrations coming up in their area. A series of high-level meetings between forces were scheduled for last night and today.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, condemned the violence in Bristol as “utterly shameful,” and Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said the events were “inexcusable” and said the perpetrators must be “identified and prosecuted”.
However, Nadia Whittome, Labour MP for Nottingham East, refused to condemn the violence. She told BBC’s Politics Live: “I wish everybody who has been hurt in this a speedy recovery, but I am not going to get in the business of condemning protesters until we know exactly what has happened.”
Writing in The Times today, John Woodcock, the government’s independent adviser on political violence and disruption, accuses the rioters in Bristol of “using the Clapham Common women as human shields in their rage against authority”.