Police hurt in violent anti-Tesco clashes in Bristol

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Media captionRobert Hall reports on a night of violence in Bristol

Nine people have been arrested and eight police officers hurt after violent clashes in Bristol sparked by a raid on opponents of a new Tesco store.

They broke out after police raided a property being used by squatters opposed to the store in Stokes Croft.

Eyewitnesses said police fought running battles with hundreds of protesters, who threw bricks and bottles at them.

Police carried out the raid because they feared the controversial newly-opened store was to be petrol bombed.

However, the raid led to trouble in nearby streets with bins and skips being set alight.

Assistant Chief Constable Rod Hansen said: "This was not an eviction but positive action to protect the store.

"During the course of yesterday [Thursday] afternoon we were made aware of a group of individuals squatting in a house nearby claiming their intention to petrol bomb the nearby Tesco.

"Members of the public actually saw petrol bombs go into the building and officers saw an individual with what looked like a can of petrol on the roof which could have been thrown across the street to the shop.

"[Later] when 300 people congregated and a small minority from that group started small fires and throwing bottles, stones and other items at officers, we used well-rehearsed plans, which involved the use of officers from neighbouring forces to control what had become a volatile situation."

More than 160 officers were involved in the operation, including 66 from neighbouring forces.

Labour MP for Bristol East Kerry McCarthy visited the scene in the early hours of Friday after reading reports of the disturbances on Twitter.

"I do question why the police op was carried out last night in an area full of bars where a lot of people were out drinking," she said.

'Shoved me'

"It didn't seem to be a particularly sensible time to carry out an eviction of a squat that's been there for a long time."

Ms McCarthy said she had been watching from a empty patch of land.

"Three police officers in riot gear passed us by and one of them shoved me out the way, there was absolutely no reason for that, they could have quite easily walked by.

"Earlier it had been a very 'Stokes Crofts atmosphere' with people playing musical instruments.

"At one stage people laid down bikes and sat down in the road and the police steamed in pulling everyone out the way and dogs were used.

"There were people being pulled up and roughly treated.

"On the other hand I saw people throwing bricks and bottles at the police and trashing a police car which is obviously very unacceptable," she added.

'Swift arrest operation'

In a statement, Avon and Somerset Constabulary said its "robust operation was fully justified" after police carried out an operation in Cheltenham Road to arrest four people who represented "a very real threat to the local community".

It added: "The safety of the public is paramount in any situation of this kind and we took the decision to carry out a swift arrest operation, following intelligence received about the criminal intentions of those who were occupying the building.

Image caption The store - which had been opposed by many locals - opened on 15 April

"The fact that we seized petrol bombs illustrates the seriousness of this situation and the reason why we took this positive action."

A Tesco spokesman said the store would work hard to reopen as soon as possible.

"We strongly condemn the violence in Stokes Croft and the injuries caused to the members of the police who worked courageously to protect the public and businesses in the area, including ours."

The Tesco Express store in Cheltenham Road had been the subject of protests before its opening.

Last March bailiffs evicted nine of the 10 squatters occupying the building where the store was planned.

Four people were arrested for public order offences and 70 police officers quelled the disturbance.

People living in the area opposing the store said they did not want Stokes Croft to lose its local character and feared smaller shops would be threatened.

Speaking then, Tesco said opening a store there would bring back shoppers to the area and help local traders.

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