A closure order has been granted for properties in Bristol city centre to tackle escalating criminality and anti-social behaviour linked to the use of those properties.
The order, under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, was granted at Bristol Magistrates’ Court this morning (Thursday 3 June).
Number 39 High Street was the first building to be unlawfully occupied in March 2021. Since then internal boundaries have been breached and number 45 and 46 High Street have also been occupied. The closure order, which is now in place for the period of one month, relates to numbers 39-40, 45 and 46 High Street.
Evidence gathered as part of the closure order includes six statements from local residents and business owners who described the negative impact and serious nuisance being caused to them as a result of the unlawful occupation – including reports of aggressive and intimidating behaviour, violence, criminal damage caused to buildings both internally and externally, and graffiti.
A woman who works for a charity which owns one of the buildings said the criminality and ASB is directly impacting on charitable work due to a loss of income and associated costs – impacting on the running of an Almshouse for elderly vulnerable people in central Bristol. She said damage had been caused to the grade II listed building and the tenant business owner faces losing their livelihood as a result. She said the situation is “scary and unpredictable” and has “reduced her to tears”.
The tenant business owner went onto describe how his shop had been “totally destroyed”, with stock left damaged and scattered over the floor. Damage has been estimated at £10,000, with furniture from within the store used as a barricade and cables ripped from the wall.
In his statement, he said: “I have invested a lot into the shop and have had great difficulty keeping the business afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic but the business managed to survive. However, I fear this may put me out of business and for the foreseeable future I cannot trade because my stock has been destroyed and the shop cannot be accessed.”
The manager of St Nick’s Market described how incidents are impacting on businesses and members of the public describing how some people felt “scared”, while the owner of a nearby bar described how the occupants had broken through to the premises, but left when they saw it was in use, leaving him to pick up the cost of repairs.
Another business owner described incidents of aggression and abuse stemming from people inside the properties – which has resulted in him having to stay at the premises overnight for fear it will be taken over.
A local resident also described in his statement how he’s been confronted by those living at the premises. He said it’s impacting on his mental health and anxiety.
Officers have been subjected to hostility on several occasions when attending or passing by the location – including on Thursday 27 May when they were verbally abused and items were thrown at them – with one item hitting a police horse in the head. The following day, items were thrown at a plain clothes officer who was attempting to make a lawful arrest. The offender escaped lawful custody helped by occupants of the building.
Superintendent Mark Runacres said: “We’re utilising the powers available to us under ASB legislation because the ongoing severe and detrimental impact on local business owners and residents is abundantly clear and cannot continue.
“We’re committed to tackling ASB in all its forms and believe taking this action is the only way we can proportionately and effectively resolve this ongoing issue for the safety and welfare of those living and working in the area.
“Through our extensive engagement and consultation on this matter, numerous people have described this area as a ‘no go zone’ and this is hugely concerning. An escalation of ASB in recent weeks cannot be tolerated and shows no signs of abating.
“The notification of the court hearing was served on Wednesday morning and the hearing took place earlier today. In granting the order, the court was satisfied that it is necessary to prevent disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour on the premises – and this order will last for a period of a month. Those not complying with the order face the prospect of a prison sentence or a fine, or both.
“We’re now giving people living within the properties adequate time to leave of their own accord, and officers have already made attempts to engage with them. We’re working closely with the local authority and a local charity to provide support for any housing needs.
“If the properties are not vacated we will be taking further proportionate and necessary action to ensure the court order is adhered to.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford added: “I am supportive of Avon and Somerset Police’s ongoing actions to tackle the increasing ASB and criminality that is happening in Bristol city centre as a result of several buildings being unlawfully occupied.
“This ongoing issue has had a detrimental effect on local people, local businesses and the wider community and this cannot continue. The damage, intimidation and violence that has happened is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. As PCC, I am determined to work alongside officers to prevent and stop ASB in all forms to ensure local people feel safe wherever they live and work.”