Please note that due to court reporting rules, coverage of the trial is strictly limited to what has been said or shown in court.
A woman has been accused of taking a lead role in violent scenes that unfolded after a Kill the Bill protest in Bristol on 21 March last year.
Jasmine York, of the Paintworks, Arnos Vale, denies one charge of rioting and one charge of arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered. The 26-year-old’s jury trial at Bristol Crown Court began on Monday and is the second in connection with the demonstration.
She is charged with riot for allegedly shouting and leading chants against police, daubing ‘Sluts against cops’ on a police van, kicking a bin towards police and pushing against police lines and police shields. She is charged with arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered for allegedly pushing a bin into a burning police vehicle. She denies both charges.
The prosecution described York as an instigator and leader on the night, and said she kicked and punched at police. The court heard that she “egged on” a large crowd of protesters and danced as a police car burned.
Her alleged offences are said to have taken place after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets for a peaceful protest against the Police and Crime Bill on 21 March. The proposed law would curb people’s right to protest, give police more stop-and-search powers and make trespass illegal.
The scenes turned violent after the demonstration, with clashes between some protesters and police outside Bridewell Police Station. Bottles, rocks and fireworks were thrown, police vehicles torched, and the windows of Bristol’s main police station were smashed. Avon and Somerset Police sent in riot police, horses and dogs.
‘No plans of peaceful protest’
Around 60 supporters of York gathered outside Bristol Crown Court from 8.30am on Monday, waving banners and shouting chants as the trial was set to begin.
York’s trial opened with the court watching video footage and hearing from two witnesses for the prosecution. The court watched a compilation of footage of the day, made up of clips from police body cams, CCTV and news outlets, showing the protest escalate into violence outside Bridewell Police Station. The footage shows the crowd chanting, missiles being thrown and people screaming, a firework being thrown into the crowd, four people climbing onto the roof of a police van, and later a graffitied police van being rocked.
In the next compilation video, the court saw footage of York specifically. Some of the footage was filmed by her while she was live-streaming. In one of the clips she can be heard shouting “Stop! Stop! Stop!” and “No, no, no, stop hitting us”.
Sarah Regan, prosecuting, told the jury that though the protest started peacefully, some turned their attention away from the reason for the protest – the Police and Crime Bill, as well as support for the Black Lives Matter movement and tribute to Sarah Everard – and onto the police. She maintains that York never intended to be part of a peaceful protest, saying that the fact she had made a group message on secure messaging service Signal, which “suggests that from the start she had no plans of starting or joining in a peaceful protest”. However, when questioned by the defence, York said that she’d made the group after the protest, to help people reflect on the day and share their feelings.
Regan described York as being “right at the front of the crowd” outside the police station. She added: “It is clear from all that she did as a leader of that crowd, that she was engaged in behaviour that together with others amounted to riot”.
Regan told the jury that on 21 March 2021, York saw herself “not as merely one of a crowd, or someone who was led along with the tide, but as a leader and instigator of what very quickly thereafter unfolded.” She said this was clear because York hadn’t been at the back or even in the middle of the crowd, but right at the front, by the police line, and alleged that she had been directing the people behind her in chants, and their “obvious hostility” against police.
She said that York’s intentions were shown by the fact she didn’t leave when the protest turned hostile, led chants and, according to the prosecution, encouraged the growing crowd.
Regan took the jury through the events of the day, describing the protesters marching in their thousands, then a small group of around a hundred congregating outside Bridewell Police Station – which is when she says the aim of the protesters changed.
She told the court that the protest had begun at 2pm, with around 2,000 congregating on College Green and another group on Park Street. At 2.45pm, she says, the two groups merged and started marching towards the city centre, effectively bringing the city to a halt. At 3.15pm a small group of a few hundred peeled off and made their way to Bridewell Police Station. It’s then that the mood changed, Regan told the court. She said that this was shown by the change in focus of the chants: before they’d been about the bill and outside the police station focus turned to the police.
After this, the crowd moved back to Castle Park and a few staged a sit-in, and these protesters Regan said were then joined by others who were not there for a peaceful protest. By 5pm, she said that the crowds outside Bridewell Police Station were clearly aggressive and that one of the people in the crowd was York.
“And certainly, as far as this defendant and other like-minded protesters were concerned, it was no longer a general Kill the Bill protest but a specific demonstration against the police themselves.”
Regan described York as a leader of the crowd and said that her behaviour, along with the others there, amounted to riot.
’Like being in a war zone’
The court heard from PC Shaun Oliver whose role was as evidence gatherer on the day: he and his colleague spent their shift talking to protesters and taking video footage and described not being able to see the “tarmac on the street” because it was so busy. Around 3.30pm he was called to Bridewell Police Station, where there were around 100 people in the crowd when he arrived.
PC Oliver told the court the crowd outside the station was “more vocal and more directed towards [police]” and that protesters were upset at being filmed.
He described seeing officers later being kicked and spat at and described the scene as “like a battle really, like being in a war zone”.
PC Lucy Williams took the stand next. She is public order trained and was there as response supervisor. She told the court that there was a lot of abuse towards the police and from arriving on the scene she heard “lots of nasty things being said, chants being made: kill the bill”.
She described watching her colleague being pulled into the crowd and seeing people pull his helmet off and stamp on his head. “At least 20 people gathered round him, kicking him, stamping on his head.” She became tearful while recollecting this and the court took a short break.
She told the court that when she went into the crowd to support her fellow officer, she was “grabbed from all angles by multiple different people, pulled and pushed from every different angle”.
Williams described how she eventually managed to pull her colleague back behind police lines after other officers formed a protective bubble around him. She told the court that she’d felt “terrified”, that she could feel “the hatred towards police” and that it was like nothing she’d ever experienced in her career, “or in my life, to be honest”.
On Tuesday, PS Nicholas Smart took the stand. He is also public order trained and had been called from Trinity Road Police Station, where he was based at the time.
“They weren’t bothered about the protest any more, it was just them against the police,” he told the court. He said he’d had people chanting his badge number, making him feel singled out. “I’m a big person, and I was terrified.”
He described York as being very vocal in the crowd, towards the crowd, “geeing them up” with chants.
Smart described some of the chants he’d heard, saying he’d heard people shout “kill the bill,” “whose streets? Our streets”, “fuck the police” and “kill the police”.
Defence lawyer, Russell Fraser then cross-examined him and said it wasn’t “kill the police” that people had been chanting, but “fuck the police” and “kill the bill”. Smart also said he hadn’t expected to be policing the protest and hadn’t been formally briefed.
Fraser pointed out that some of the pushing at the police line will have been because of people being pushed by people behind them and won’t necessarily have been deliberate shoving. “Unfortunately for that person, if they happen to not be pushing but happen to be next to a police officer they will get pushed back,” he said. Fraser added that it wasn’t all abuse directed at police, that some people had been engaging and talking to officers. “Often these things are unconnected, so somebody might be chatting at a police officer in front of them and someone else might bash into their shields.”
Hit with a baton and bitten by a police dog
Later, Fraser showed the court video footage of Smart hitting York with a baton. Smart told the court he and his colleagues had been assaulted and he’d been using his baton and shield to “fight his corner”.
Police dog handler PC Liam Biggs gave evidence saying he’d been aware that a police dog had bitten a woman, who was confirmed to be York. The court saw footage of York holding her leg and then being shoved by an officer.
The prosecution closed on day three of proceedings, with Regan showing the court footage of clashes and voice messages that York had sent.
York appears briefly in the footage shown to the court. She is shown next to a graffitied police van joining chants of “All cops are bastards”. Later a group of police run in and surround the van, and shouts of “scum,” “fuck the police” and “whose streets?” can be heard, then a bang and shattering glass. Then chants of “kill the bill”, “shame on you” and “who do you protect?” start up.
At one point, York can be seen at the front of the police line, pushing a police shield. Later, she’s shown in front of a police line where people near her are shoving up against police riot shields and police are hitting them with their shields.
The prosecution shared four clips taken from York’s phone, from between the 22 and 29 March. On 24 March she said her voice was still hoarse from shouting and talked about her injuries, saying her bruises were going green and “super gross”.
In the voice messages, she said that she was “still scared” that she would be arrested but that “change doesn’t happen from staying home and doing nothing”. On 26 March she talked about being worried, and fully anticipating she’d be arrested, as she’d been up front and leading chants, but she said she hadn’t done anything illegal.
On 29 March she told her friend that she’d thought she was in the clear but she’d found she was on the police’s wanted list. She said she was hoping to “play it cleverly and get away with it.” She said: “I don’t think I could last in prison. Fuck, give me a call if you can.”
Fraser showed the court footage from just after police had stopped people rocking the van. The court saw an officer pushing a photographer then hitting someone hard four times before another officer pulled him away. A police officer could also be seen hitting a woman with a baton and then York getting in between them.
The prosecution closed their case on Wednesday afternoon. The defence opened its case by calling York to the stand.
This is the second of the jury trials following the first “kill the bill” protest on 21 March 2021, which became violent outside Bridewell Police Station. Ryan Roberts was found guilty in October last year of riot and attempted arson with intent to endanger life and in December was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
On 18 January, 31-year-old Joseph Foster pleaded guilty to riot and was jailed for three years and three months. On 24 January two more protesters were arrested in connection with the clashes on 21 March: a 25-year-old man arrested on suspicion of riot and theft and a 22-year-old man on suspicion of riot and criminal damage. 85 people have been arrested and 13 jailed so far.
The jury was sworn in on another trial associated with the protest on 21 March on Wednesday: that of Mariella Gedge-Roberts. Trials are scheduled to run until at least July this year.
The trial continues.