As of 11th November 2022 this is what has happened from the Bristol Demo of 21st March 2021.
Avon and Somerset Police alleged over 500 people were engaged in disorder and have identified at least 191 suspects. 83 people have been arrested and 3 interviewed under caution, 47 people have been charged including 42 with Riot (Section 1 Public Order Act 1986). 28 cases have now concluded while 3 people await sentencing and 14 have not been tried yet. Two people face a retrial after juries could not reach a verdict.
What should you do?
Choosing whether to plead guilty or fight your case involves a lot more than what the potential sentence is but here’s the maths from Bristol so far. For a fair comparison we’ll deal with the concluded cases of people charged with Riot. That’s 25. 11 pleaded guilty to riot, 6 pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after negotiations with the Crown Prosecution Service (a ‘plea deal’), 8 went to trial. Two were acquitted, four found guilty of riot and two found not guilty of riot but guilty of a lesser offence. Looking at the contested cases we can see the ‘glass half full’ with only 40% of riot defendants being convicted or ‘glass half empty’ where only 20% of those tried being exonerated, when you include the two hung juries.
Turning to the outcomes the 11 pleading guilty straight away got 41 years 11 months, averaging 45.7 months.
The six who have got deals so far have got 76 averaging 13 months. That’s from a smaller sample but the range is quite tight. 14 to 21 months for violent disorder compared to 36 to 60 months for guilty pleas to riot and 36 to 70 Months for those found guilty of just riot. To be clear the deals have only been offered after people started winning riot cases.
The 10 pleading not guilty have got 31 years 7 months so far or 37.9 months. Without the hung jury cases that’s 47.4 months. But there is a big outlier. Ryan Roberts received a 14 year sentence after being found guilty of riot and arson with intent to endanger life. The latter is a more serious offence which is one reason to exclude it from the analysis. But while Ryan pleaded not guilty on principle there is also the fact that even with a plea to the arson with intent he would have served longer in jail with a full discount of one third than if he got the maximum sentence for riot. Since his defence of protecting others was for both offences he couldn’t have got a shorter sentence by pleading to the riot charge. Down to 7 cases we have 17 years 7 months averaging 30.1 months. Of course for those losing it’s worse, Ave 57.3 months. But even for those unfortunate people it’s the equivalent of losing a 20% discount on a guilty plea.
Overall that leaves us with 11 pleading guilty immediately Ave 45.7 months while 16 who didn’t averaged 18 months where riot was the most serious charge. That’s 60% off on average for putting up a fight! You could argue that there are differences in what individuals did but the defences have not been that they didn’t do what they did but that it was justified in the face of the systemic police violence.
Normally at this point we have to explain that people often plead guilty because they think it will make the difference between going to jail or not. But not here. Only two people has been given a non immediate custodial sentence after being charged with riot. One was dropped to Assault Emergency Worker and that was before the maximum sentence was doubled by the PCSC Act 2022 , ending up with community service. And one reduced to Affray getting a 8 month suspended sentence.
Just for completeness there is the issue that sentences of 4 years or over mean you are not eligible for Home Release Curfew (on electronic tag for up to 135 days of your sentence). Three of the early plea people got 4 years plus compared to two who pleaded not guilty.
Comparing with the past.
The shocking feature of the Bristol case is the use of riot charges. This is the second largest number since the statutory offence was created in 1986. The other instances of more than 10 was for Bradford in 2001. In a quick recap for younger readers that came from the National Front attempting to march in the city and the police naturally then attacking those who opposed the fascists. The result was 297 arrests, 232 people charged, 187 with riot resulting in 200 people being jailed for 604 years. Now this was the result of a huge dollop of blatant racism compounded by the naivety of community leaders encouraging people to plead guilty in expectation of leniency from the courts and lawyers who failed to stand up for their clients. The other instance being the Mayhill disturbance in 2021 where 27 people have been charged.
But for anyone who tells you the Courts are ‘going soft’ the longest sentence for Bradford was 12 years against 14 for Bristol and the comparable statistic for early guilty pleas is 9 months longer in 2021. The total value of damage for Bradford was £7 million compared to £250k for Kill The Bill. Even the spurious statistic of police injuries (as always grossly exaggerated if not totally made up) comes to 46 for Bristol compared to over 300 in Bradford.
So no surprises. People who are sentenced early get made examples of. Those who organise and defend themselves have a fighting chance.
But this doesn’t happen by itself. To get these positive effects has required a mass of work by Defendants their friends and families, Bristol Defendants Solidarity and Bristol Campaign Against Repression. It also depends on getting expert protest lawyers on the case. You can help too by donating to the crowdfunder and writing to the prisoners in these links.