The battle of Tesco: How protest against 18th store in city turned into a seven-hour riot
By Chris Greenwood
Last updated at 9:10 AM on 23rd April 2011
- 160 officers fight running battles in street with 300 protesters
- Rioters attack controversial Tesco shop with firebombs and baseball bats
- Police pelted with cobblestones dug up from road
Hundreds of protesters have stormed a controversial Tesco store only days after it opened, causing tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage and injuring eight police officers.
It came after police had raided a nearby squat at the centre of a campaign against the supermarket giant.
They arrested four people suspected of plotting a firebomb attack on the new shop, provoking more than seven hours of violent unrest as more than 300 protesters spilled on to the streets.
Watch the videos below – Warning: Contains explicit language
In riot gear: Holding shields and batons, police line up behind their vans on Stokes Croft, Bristol, as trouble flares after the raid on the squat
Enlarge Overkill: The trouble erupted after a police raid on a house to arrest just four squatters, and escalated into a full-scale riot
On fire: Riot police stand guard as debris behind them blazes away with petrol bombs being thrown during the disturbance
Several officers were injured in clashes with gangs of masked youths who were armed with bottles, bricks and other makeshift weapons.
One eyewitness described the riot, in which police vehicles were looted and burning barricades erected at street junctions, as ‘pure and utter carnage’.
At the centre of the unrest was a new Tesco Express in the Stokes Croft area of central Bristol. The shop became the 18th branch in the city when it opened its doors last Friday in the face of local opposition.
Rioters hurled chairs and bricks and tried to set fire to the glass-fronted store while two security guards were trapped inside. A hoard of petrol bombs were earlier recovered from a notorious squat opposite known locally as ‘Telepathic Heights’. The building, which is covered from top to bottom in brightly coloured murals, has ‘No Tesco in Stokes Croft’ painted across one wall.
Police organised a lightning raid hours after residents saw suspected petrol bombs being carried into the building.
Dozens of officers in full riot gear swooped on the three-storey property shortly after 9pm on Thursday.
Violence: Eight police officers as well as protesters were injured during the riot which began after 160 police officers swooped on a house to arrest just four squatters
Smashed: Crowds stand amid shattered bottles. Officers were showered in bottles, stones and other missiles as rioters dug up cobbles from the road
Hundreds of people then descended on the area and police called in reinforcements, including colleagues from surrounding forces.
Clean up: CSI officers sift for evidence among the rubble of the riot
Lines of officers were showered in bottles, stones and other missiles as rioters dug up cobbles from the road. Bottle banks and wheelie bins were turned over and set on fire.
Eight officers were taken to hospital with injuries including broken teeth as well as head and neck injuries. Several protesters were also injured.
Student Madeleine Waugh, 21, said: ‘Riot police were trying to push people out of the way but a lot of people got caught in the cross fire.
‘I saw a lot of people who were bleeding and who had been hit with police truncheons in the chaos.’
Amateur film-maker Alice von Kohler, 25, said police were pushing crowds of people up and down the roads in the area. ‘It was scary, people were really angry,’ she said. ‘They surged towards Tesco and started smashing it up. As they did so, people were cheering, they were happy. The police came back and were really aggressive, they were just arresting people for being there.
‘People were shouting at police, “These are our streets, what are you doing, go home” and throwing glass bottles and missiles at officers.’
Primary school teacher Nick Jones, 27, who lives opposite the store and was forced to barricade himself inside his home during the riot, said the shop was ‘fiercely opposed’. He said: ‘Stokes Croft has its own unique identity and few corporate stores. People don’t feel that Tesco fits into that at all.’
Carnage: The police operation sparked unrest with hundreds of protesters taking to the streets culminating in the petrol bombing of a branch of Tesco Metro
Destruction: Broken windows and graffiti at the Tesco store the morning after the riot
Aftermath: The riot was brought under control at around 4am. 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
The Tesco Express was opened last Friday after months of protests, including a sit-in by protesters who encased their arms in concrete.
Central Bristol was already home to 17 branches of Tesco, including 14 within a two-mile radius of the site of the newest store.
The protests formed part of a nationwide movement against the expansion of the supermarket chain.
Tesco has more than 1,500 stores across the country, controls more than 30 per cent of the national grocery market and announced record profits of £3.8billion this week. Stokes Croft is close to the St Paul’s area, where some of Britain’s first inner-city riots exploded in 1980.
Yesterday Assistant Chief Constable Rod Hansen of Avon and Somerset Police defended the police operation and said officers had to take action.
He said the seized petrol bombs highlighted the ‘seriousness of the situation’ and added that public safety was ‘paramount’.
A Tesco spokesman said: ‘Thankfully none of our staff and customers was harmed. Tesco will be supporting the police in any way we can.’