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14-year jail sentence for man who tried to set fire to occupied police vans during riot

A 25-year-old man who played a leading role in the Bristol riot and tried to set fire to two police vans while officers were inside has been jailed for 14 years.

Ryan Roberts, of no fixed address, was the first person to be convicted of the offence of riot by a jury in the South West, following a trial held in October.

Ryan Roberts
Ryan Roberts

Roberts was convicted of five offences – riot, attempted arson with intent to endanger life, attempted arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered and two counts of arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered.

At Bristol Crown Court today (Friday 17 December), Judge James Patrick said Roberts was “actively involved in attacking the police”, played a “leading role” in trying to smash into Bridewell Police Station and “used the uncontrollable weapon of fire”.

Twelve people have now been sentenced as part of the ongoing investigation into the riot on Sunday 21 March, being given a combined total of almost 50 years in prison to date.

Roberts played a leading role in the disorder over several hours and the jury at his trial were shown a compilation of his offending lasting 34 minutes (some clips feature below).

The compilation – made up of CCTV, mobile phone footage and officers body worn video – showed Roberts throwing missiles at police officers, kicking their shields and striking one with his hand before attacking the Bridewell.

He was filmed on multiple occasions attempting to start a fire under the wheel arch of a police van with an officer inside. At one point he is heard to threaten the officer, suggesting his van is going to explode.

He was also filmed repeatedly hitting an officer with a police baton before damaging three police vehicles, one of which he tries to roll over with others before starting a fire inside.

News footage from the night was also included in the compilation. It showed Roberts holding a piece of burning cardboard under a police van as it reversed. Seven officers were inside the vehicle at the time.

Other video clips showing Roberts moving a bin alongside a police car before setting it alight and throwing items, including large metal fences, at police lines.

Extracts from victim impact statements written by officers were read out at today’s hearing.

One said: “I was sat in a van and heard over the radio that my van was on fire. I sat in that van, unable to move it as the tyres had been let down, unable to see out of the driver’s side as the window had been sprayed over and the wing mirror smashed off…I wondered how I could get out the van with the doors bolted closed, in my heavy bulky uniform. I thought I must take the van keys with me, as I could smell burning and the van started to fill with smoke.”

Another extract said: “I came to the conclusion that it was better to sit in a burning van. To hope that my overalls would protect me from some of the flames…I actually sat in my van and had to decide whether I would rather be dragged into a crowd alone and seriously assaulted or sit there and potentially burn. That is not a decision I would wish anyone else to have to take.”

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. Their victim impact statements are powerful and show the physical and psychological impact the terrible events of that night have had on them.”

He added: “The investigation into the riot continues unabated and I know the team are committed to identifying all those involved and examining every piece of evidence, to ensure justice is served.”

We’d like to remind all concerned that criminal proceedings relating to the events of Sunday 21 March are ongoing against other defendants and that they have a right to a fair trial.

It is extremely important there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.