Caught up in the Bristol TESCO Riots
Exhausted, I return to Bristol from the wedding I’ve been photographing all day, only to find police blocking Cheltenham road. 7 Riot vans at the ready. Last time I saw this, it was the police / bailiffs removing squatters from the TESCO site, so i knew it was going be something BIG… I pulled up on some double yellows and grabbed my camera.
On talking to the police, no-one could tell me what was going on. They just said that they didn’t know, but suggested at an eviction from the squat opposite (if they told us the truth, maybe none of this would have escalated?). Locals evacuating the sectioned off area were talking about possible petrol bombs.
A line of welsh police armored with helmets, shields and batons were stopping people entering the area. It was peaceful, but people were confused as to what was going on. Suddenly there was music, and a small group wearing black bandannas over their faces marched up to the police, trailer with massive stereo in tow. One individual aggressively squared up to the guards, and was immediately thrown back by one of the officers with a double-handed shove to the chest. In hindsight, this was the moment things went wrong.
Not quite knowing why the police were in their streets, and seeing how they were treating us… people now started to get rowdy and out of control. The line of welsh guards pushed the growing crowd into st’ Pauls… An inexcusable mistake. Pubs were kicking out, and intoxicated people seemed to be joining in, just for excitement of it. They just wanted the police out of their streets, as no-one had been told why they were even there. The new glass recycling bins in st. pauls were pushed over giving ample ammunition to those who thought it were a good idea to get violent, and once empty they were pushed into the roads and set alight.
“who’s street our streets” & “your mothers aren’t proud of you” – being chanted throughout the night.
Around 4 hours after removing the ‘petrol bomb hazard’, the police seemed to realize the they might be antagonizing the situation and tried to pull out. The mistake here appeared to be attempting to drive their vans back up through the crowds as they left. This was met with resistance, no-one was moving out of the way. Old tires and bins were thrown into the road to stop them leaving in this direction. Police from higher up the road marched down with dogs and cornered the crowd between a row of riot guards and vans. The public had no where to move go. trapped by growling dogs.
Conflict was in stalemate for another hour or two with empty bottles and bricks in the air almost constantly Eventually the police managed to pull out… but left a 4×4 and trailer empty outside the Tesco store. The police returned to find their car on fire and the store in tatters. Things started all over again, and this carried on until around 5am.
Throughout the night i was in my element, I love photographing strangers on the street – and the adrenaline that comes with this. I passed one photographer pulling out of the crowd who shouted out to me “watch your head” but with such sincerity in his eyes that really hit home! from this moment on I was very conscious about my safely. I kept close to walls and away from he bottles that were falling short of the police. I didn’t bother using the flash and the zoom lenses I’d brought out with me, and just kept to a fast 50mm AF lens – shooting manual. The light wasn’t changing too much.
Being dressed for a wedding meant that i got a little more respect from the police at times, though I was still pushed around indiscriminately by riot shields at the height of the conflict. I felt very vulnerable in st. Pauls, there were people picking bricks up out of skips smashing them into two, and running towards the front line. bottles and broken glass littered the roads. Aggression was in the air… “why are the police in OUR streets?”
Finally I got home, ripped all the photos over to my laptop, blogged an image and fell asleep. Two hours later i was awake, unable to sleep, running over the night in my head… so I quickly started to edit the images, and upload a set to Flickr to take my mind of things. Twitter then told the world about my images…. “best photos of Bristol’s riots…” ( a writer friend with good twitter contacts helped me here ) with view stats hitting tens of thousands I became anxious about my safety, worried that I’d incriminated people. I removed some of the stronger photos where you could clearly see faces.
I spent all of Friday taking calls from the nationals, answering emails… I was completely out of my element. I did my best at negotiated a fair price for my images, basically doubling what anyone would offer me ( I had no idea what the going rate was! ). I then sat back and waited to see what the papers would do with my images!
So intense, I’m now trying to get back to normality, and edit that lovely wedding!!
Photographs can be seen here: