A protester who set fire to police vehicles during a riot that followed a “Kill the Bill” demonstration in Bristol has been jailed for 14 years.
Ryan Roberts led chants of “ACAB: All cops are bastards” outside a city centre police station on March 21 this year.
As the protest turned violent, Roberts threw cans, bottles and placards at officers, as well as verbally abusing and repeatedly kicking them.
Roberts was caught on film pushing pieces of flaming cardboard under two police vans and placing industrial bins around an already partially burnt-out police car and setting them alight.
He told an officer inside one of the vans he would “go bang”.
Roberts then smashed in the windows of a mobile police station and encouraged the crowd to help roll it over, before setting light to the cab while hundreds of people were close by.
Giving evidence, Roberts said he got “carried away” fighting for freedom of speech during a protest against the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Roberts told the court the Bill aimed to “ban peaceful protest altogether”, saying the demo “was more about freedom of speech”.
He said the mood of the protest changed when police donned riot gear as night fell and officers started “pushing, shoving and hitting” the crowd with shields and batons.
“I was fighting for a cause I felt strongly about,” Roberts said.
Two officers, who had served in the armed forces, described the night as the “most frightening incident in their careers”.
Another described the rioting as “ferocious, prolonged and determined violence”.
A jury convicted Roberts of rioting, attempted arson with intent to endanger life, attempted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and two counts of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.
Nicholas Lewin, defending, said the defendant had recently been diagnosed with ADHD, had been proscribed medication and was not a “sophisticated criminal”.
“Mr Roberts is not a rampant fire starter, twisted or other,” he said.
“He is someone on the fringes of society who is perhaps not equipped to be fully integrated within it – I am trying not to be politically incorrect. He is not your average criminal.
“He is content for me to call him Mr Roberts. He has in fact adopted a they or them and adopted a different persona in prison.
“Custody for him will be considerably more difficult than it would be for somebody without his difficulties.”
Jailing Roberts, Judge James Patrick said: “You were actively involved in committing violence over a period of five hours.
“You were actively encouraging the crowd from an early stage and your actions encouraged the violence against police officers.
“You carried out a leading role in the encouraging of others in the setting of other fires.”
Detective Superintendent James Riccio, the senior investigating officer, said: “Ryan Roberts’ behaviour was appalling and it’s clear his actions escalated the level of violence directed at officers that night.
“Not only did he repeatedly target officers by hitting and kicking them and throwing large objects at them, but he attempted to set fire to vehicles with officers inside, leaving some to contemplate whether it was better to stay inside a burning van or risk getting out into a hostile crowd.
“This was a terrible decision for them to make.
“These are officers who come to work every day to serve and protect the public.”