Is Bristol run by the cops?

The saga of the dumb-ass dispersal order for young people on College Green continues…

No skateboarding - College Green
Photo ‘No Boarding’ by Fat Mandy

14 year old Ellie Vowles wrote to The Evening Cancer over two weeks ago about the College Green dispersal order (Blogger Passim) requesting that local MPs and councillors “reply, giving your views and saying what you will do”.

And remarkably they have. First out of the blocks was Ellie’s local MP Labour’s Kerry McCarthy. She wrote to The Cancer saying:

“Young people have always tended to congregate in public places in town and city centres, which does not in itself constitute anti-social behaviour. And I would urge the police, youth services and other local agencies to work closely with the young people who use College Green as a meeting place, to address some of the causes for concern, so that a positive outcome can be reached.”

And she concluded, “In this particular case, I believe that the decision to seek a dispersal order for College Green may have been premature.”

Then Bristol West’s Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams pitched in at the end of July with a statement in parliament no less (that was badly misquoted in The Cancer). He told the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, Beverley Hughes in response to her announcement of a 10 year ‘Aim Higher’ strategy for young people:

“I hope that the statement is the welcome start of a departure from some of the language of the Tony Blair era, namely the language of marching children to cash points, the language of dealing with feral youth and the the language of imposing dispersal orders on young people, such as the fatuous dispersal order imposed on skateboarders in my constituency this week.”

Ms Hughes weakly responded: “Many young people suffer from such [anti-social] behaviour and we need to protect them and demonstrate to them that they are part of our consideration.”

Last week saw the two local Lib Dem councillors for Cabot Ward, which includes College Green, enter the fray. Alex Woodman announced on his blog he hadn’t even been told about it let alone consulted:

I’m very unhappy at not having been consulted about this – very, very unhappy. My inclination is to be opposed – there seems to be something fundamentally illiberal about dispersal orders. However, I’m still waiting for the police to get back to me with a justification for why they think it is necessary before making a final judgement. In any case, I don’t like finding out about things like this from the Evening Post…

He was followed just days later by his Cabot Ward Lib Dem colleague, Mark Wright:

I would like to point out that as the local Councillor I was not consulted about the dispersal order, and if I had been consulted I would have opposed it. It is entirely the wrong way to get youngsters to respect society and authority; it will get exactly the wrong results. The way to deal with any problems on College Green is to engage with the youngsters there and get them to understand the issues and learn to control the situation themselves.

So there you have it. A whole series of our elected representatives, directly responsible for the area in question, all against the dispersal order and what happens? The dispersal area remains in place!

And then they wonder why people don’t vote. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that our politicians don’t have any power? Instead they’re given access to newspapers to issue some kind words, handed very expensive publicly funded debating chambers to hang around whinging in and then, presumably, they just hope nobody will notice they don’t actually do anything whatsoever?

Meanwhile the people making all the decisions are unelected, appointed bureaucrats, seemingly immune from even having to listen to, let alone act on, the demands of our democratically elected representatives.

In this case it seems Chief Constable, Colin Port assisted by his sidekick – some ASBO obsessed bint called Kathryn Perks – are taking the decisions. Who are they accountable to exactly? It’s certainly not us.

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17 Responses to Is Bristol run by the cops?

  1. Alex Woodman says:

    I agree entirely – those “unelected, appointed bureaucrats” are difficult to hold to account if elected councillors and MPs aren’t kept informed, which is why I was most annoyed at having found out about this from the Evening Post.

    You might be interested in the response I got to my complaint to the Director of Neighbourhood and Housing Services. In brief:

    “Often, Ward Councillors are already involved through having advocated a Dispersal Order and with local people and the Police Inspector preparing the supporting action plan. I have asked Stuart to ensure ward members are notified at the earliest opportunity so that their views on having a Dispersal Order (area, purpose etc) can be taken into account, as well as what actions should be taken to tackle the problem and minimise the likelihood of a further Dispersal Order being required.”

  2. Dave says:

    The elected representatives who are complaining seem to be unaware that skateboarding on College Green is *already banned* under bye-laws passed by …. elected representatives! If they want that changed then it is in their power to do so. Are they going to propose repeal of those bye-laws? Or are they just grandstanding?

  3. Glenn Vowles (Ellie's dad) says:

    You may be interested to know that Ellie sent her letter direct to her councillors, her council leader and her MP as well as the paper. She received a personal reply only from Kerry McCarthy MP (who also wrote to the paper later).

    No reply to her from: Knowle Lib-Dem Councillors Gary Hopkins and Chris Davies (though Cllr Hopkins did write to the paper on the issue!); or City Council Leader Helen Holland.

    I had one message on my blog, on which I’d placed a copy of her letter, from Cabot Cllr Mark Wright and passed this on to Ellie.

    Kerry McCarthy aside, I cant say that I’m impressed with the level of response to Ellie herself.

    I’m glad that the Cabot Councillors Woodman and Wright and MPs Stephen Williams and Kerry McCarthy have followed Ellie and her friends lead on this issue. Much better if they had been guarding rights on their own initiative however.

  4. Alex Woodman says:

    Dave – this isn’t about skateboarding. This is about the police having the power to move people on, whether they are skateboarding or otherwise. This order could in theory be used against legitimate protesters on College Green, whether skateboarding or not, or even against you or me. So saying that skateboarding is already banned slightly misses the point.

    Glenn – I was concerned about this from the moment I heard about it, before any of the skaters or Ellie had written or staged their protest. Just because councillors and MPs don’t immediately issue a press release when they have an opinion or concern about something doesn’t mean they aren’t “guarding rights on their own initiative”.

  5. Glenn Vowles (Ellie's dad) says:

    Alex – fair enough, you were concerned. What action did you then take to oppose the order? Did you publicise that action in order to apply more pressure to the authorities?

    I’ m glad you have now taken a very clear and public position but it seems to me, unless you know something I dont, that you have taken your position after the media attention on the issue gained by protesters like Jake (who organised the march covered in the Evening Post and on TV) and Ellie.

  6. Dave says:

    Alex – I don’t disagree with you. But click on the link to Mark Wright and his “Lay Off the Skateboarders” rant. If he thinks skateboarding should be permitted on College Green then he should try to get the bye-laws changed. But will he? Of course not, he’s taking an opportunity to play to the gallery.

  7. Glenn, it’s perfectly clear that you are unable to accept that a couple of Lib Dem councillors could have acted in good faith and without cynical motive. I think that says more about you than it does about us.

    The facts are all in the open if you would just believe them:

    1. On your own blog I stated that I sent a letter to the E Post on Friday 20th July, which was the day before your daughter’s excellent letter was printed in the paper. Lib Dems have many skills, but telepathy isn’t one of them, so I couldn’t have been reacting to a letter that wasn’t published by then. I met Jake Carter and offered him my support at the same time.

    2. On Alex’s blog and in my letter it is very clear that we weren’t consulted about the plans; we weren’t told about the plans; and the first we knew about the plans was when it became a story in the press. Again, without mastering telepathy, it wasn’t possible for us to oppose the plans we didn’t know about.

    3. After the story first broke and our initial reaction, we spent over a week scratching around Council Officers, ASB workers, and the Police, finding out what was going on and who authorised it. People werent exactly jumping up and down saying “I’m responsible!”. When we had the facts we released another press release. We have secured a change of policy (councillors will now be consulted on dispersal orders) and obtained guarantees about how the existing order will be used. A fair result.

    I thought the Green Party claimed to be different in that it was honest politics without cynicism. Perhaps you need to look a bit harder in the mirror…

    Dave, I have always opposed the by-law ban on skateboarding on college green. However, because of that little thing called “Democracy”, I don’t get to decide what by-laws the Council passes – I am just one vote in 70. I wont be proposing the removal of that law, because I know it would fail. That would just be playing to the gallery.

    I have in the past succeeded in preventing the Council from asking the police to enforece the by-law (the police have no intention of enforcing it anyway), by saying that I would raise hell in the press if they did.

    I think, like Glenn, you need to be a little more open-minded in what you presume to be the motivations of (some) politicians.

  8. Guess what – I found the original email exchange alluded to above, it is from over a year ago! No doubt Glenn and Dave will assume it was part of a cynical publicity stunt I never got round to publicising…

    >>> Mark Wright 05/06/06 16:44 >>>
    Dear XXXXX,

    As a ward Councillor for the area I would certainly not support diverting police time from solving real crime like the numerous robbery and graffiti incidents in the Centre, into harassing teenagers.


    >>> XXXXX 06/06/06 16:07:34 >>>

    Skateboarding on places like College Green is in some ways a safety hazard and also results in gratuitous damage to kerbs and benches that we all have to pay to repair – that is why we passed a bye-law. It makes us look really stupid if we do that and then do not enforce it. We did exactly the same thing in banning barbecues on the Downs – which is also widely flouted.


    >>> Mark Wright 06/06/06 20:32 >>>
    Dear XXXXX,

    Yes, both bye-laws are illiberal nanny-state mistakes, in my humble opinion.

  9. Dave says:

    Well good for you, Mark, cynicism duly withdrawn!

  10. Glenn Vowles (Ellie's dad) says:


    My daughter ‘s letter was sent to the Evening Post on 20 July and at the same time posted on my blog. You say you wrote to the Evening Post on the same day, the 20th, (just for the record you are not right to say this is the day before her letter was printed because it was printed on the 23 July not the 21st).

    I’m not really trying to have a go at you but am just trying to deal in facts! The link you sent me that goes to your letter says:

  11. Glenn Vowles (Ellie's dad) says:


    My daughter ’s letter was sent to the Evening Post on 20 July and at the same time posted on my blog. You say you wrote to the Evening Post on the same day, the 20th, (just for the record you are not quite right to say this is the day before her letter was printed because it was printed on the 23 July not the 21st).

    I’m not really trying to have a go at you but am just trying to deal in facts! The link you sent me that goes to your letter says:
    July 2007 – Skateboarders on College Green
    Here is the text of a letter that Cabot Cllr Mark Wright sent to the Evening Post on this subject, but which they typically refused to print (despite
    printing a letter from a resident that actually ASKED for a response from the local Councillors!).

    Lay off the Skateboarders!
    Sir, please consider for publication in “Soapbox”: ……

    Its given me the very clear impression that you are writing in response to a letter asking for a response from councillors ie Ellies letter (is there another that requests this?). I have assumed that you wrote, therefore, after reading my blog entry on the 20th. Perhaps you could clear this up.

    If you acknowledge that your link has the power to mislead me then perhaps you would also withdraw the rather personal criticism you have posted here.

  12. Glenn Vowles (Ellie's dad) says:

    Sorry but I’ve just noticed that my previous comment was addressed to Cllr Alex Woodman when it should be to Cllr Dr Mark Wright!

    This is in part because Mark Wright has responded to a criticism I made of Alex Woodman – got me all confused it did!!

    Anyway, if the current confusion, can be cleared up I’d be grateful to him.

  13. Glenn Vowles (Ellie's dad) says:

    What is wrong with admitting you have been lead by the young people themselves on this issue ? I’ve been lead by them. What’s wrong with admitting that if you’d had your ear to the ground in your ward a bit more you might have picked up on this issue sooner? What’s wrong with admitting that as a Cllr you could have been more firmly opposed to the dispersal order more quickly?

    Letters are still appearing in the local press about this matter. Despite the fact that its a live issue Cabot Lib Dem Cllr Mark Wright, who I’ve had an exchange of private emails with, does not want to continue to debate on this site with me.

    He has refused to clear up my point about the link to Lib Dem website he sent me. Apparently the letter he sent to the Evening Post was not a response though the LibDem website talks about it as a response (and presumebly he wanted the Evening Post to use it as such!). Confusing or what!

    He has brought my party politics into the debate despite the fact that the Green Party has not involved itself in this issue publicly at all (I am obviously speaking as an individual and father here, thus the way I’ve signed in).

    He has resorted to using words like: closed minded, dishonesty and cynicism in relation to me and what I’ve said – but has accused me of mudslinging! Rich or what!

    Maybe he doesn’t want to see the debate through to a conclusion because he knows that he and fellow Cabot Cllr Alex Woodman have not lead but followed on this issue, which was my point near the start. For example Cllr Wright talks of scratching around for over a week on this blog and Cllr Woodman’s blog talks of waiting for a police response before making a final decision on the issue – doesn’t smack of firm, swift opposition and leadership to me.

    To be fair my comments dont just apply to the Cabot Cllrs and Lib Dems. I’ve already indicated the Labour’s Helen Holland did not respond at all and both Greens and Tories have said/done nothing to oppose the order as organisations. It seems all political parties are not in touch with the young – no surprise there then.

  14. We are putting on an event this Sunday at 3pm about retaking public space. Our group read Ellie’s letter in the Post and have been following the developments of the dispersal order. We would like to invite her and any of the other skaters from the campaign to speak at the event.

    We are trying to highlight Bristol’s history of re-claiming public space on Brandon Hill, the oldest public space in Bristol. We have chosen this date to celebrate the anniversary of an 1832 party on Brandon Hill which was gate-crashed by over 14,000 uninvited Bristolians. The party was meant to celebrate the passage of a reform bill which granted a tinier percentage of the population suffrage (tinier than the already small and exclusive population allowed to vote.) Most Bristolians were both unimpressed with the act and unimpressed with their exclusion from the party. The barricades were stormed, beer was stolen, barrels of pudding were wheeled away and the party was effectively taken over.

    To sum up, we are celebrating a date where Bristolians claimed their right to public space. This present dispersal order disgraces our right to public space and we want any of the skaters affected to talk about it. It will be a great forum to make the case.


  15. FatMandy says:

    I’m glad you used my photo for this, however using this license you shouldn’t edit it without asking…

    …just so you know…

  16. Chris Paul says:

    Very late onto this. But wasn’t this “fatuous etc”imposed by a Lib Dem Council?

  17. S F says:

    No. Bristol is a minority Labour council backed by the Tories.

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