Disgraceful scenes erupted as a demonstration against plans to give police more powers to deal with peaceful protests spilled over into violence.
The ‘Kill the Bill’ demonstration in Bristol saw a police station attacked, officers suffer suspected broken bones and a number of police vehicles set alight by violent thugs.
What started as a non-violent demonstration in the city centre against the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill turned quickly ugly after hundreds of protesters marched from College Green to the New Bridewell police station.
Its windows were smashed using a skateboard while a nearby police van was graffitied and set on fire.
Uniformed officers, carrying riot shields, tackled the blaze.
A short time later rioters destroyed a mobile police station van that had been parked on a nearby side street by setting it alight.
Police said missiles had been thrown at them, including a firework, and that they have been verbally abused. Mounted officers were forced to intervene to disperse the large crowd.
The Avon and Somerset Police Federation said a number of officers have been injured – some with suspected broken arms and ribs.
Its chairman Andy Roebuck described the culprits as "a mob of animals".
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would give the police in England and Wales more power to impose conditions on non-violent protests, including those deemed to be too noisy or a nuisance.
Those convicted under the proposed legislation could face a fine or jail.
Sky News correspondent Dan Whitehead, outside the police station, said there was no sign of the protest ending "any time soon".
He said a number of protesters remained at the police station and around 800-1,000 in total were still on the streets.
He added: "I’m standing next to a whole row of police officers with riot shields, some sprayed with graffiti – words against the police all over their riot shields.
"There’s a lot of smashed glass everywhere, fireworks set off in the street and you can see the smoke rising from the police van that was set on fire outside the police station.
"This is a very serious situation which has resulted in police officers getting injured and the police station’s windows smashed in.
"This is far from over."
Mass gatherings are currently banned under the coronavirus legislation and anyone breaching the regulations could be fined.
Many protesters were wearing face masks and carried placards, including slogans such as "say no to UK police state" and "freedom to protest is fundamental to democracy" and "Kill the Bill".
Mr Roebuck said: "Disgusting scenes in Bristol by a mob of animals who are injuring police officers, members of the public and damaging property.
"Avon and Somerset Police Federation are attending stations to support officers. We have officers with suspected broken arms and ribs. This is so wrong."
Meanwhile John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the scenes were "horrendous".
He added: "This is not protest, it’s just mindless violence. Thoughts are with my colleagues."
Avon and Somerset Police had urged people not to attend the demonstration, warning that enforcement action could be taken.
A spokesperson said: "Officers have had projectiles thrown at them, including a firework, and have been verbally abused.
"This is unacceptable behaviour and those responsible for offences will be identified and brought to justice."