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Rioter who set fire to a police vehicle jailed for five years

Matthew O'Neill

A 31-year-old man who set fire to a police vehicle during the riot in Bristol city centre has today been jailed for five years.

Matthew O’Neill, of Patchway, South Gloucestershire, admitted charges of riot and arson at a previous hearing, on what would have been the first day of his trial.

Footage collated and examined during our investigation into the events of Sunday 21 March 2021 showed O’Neill using lit items to set a police vehicle on fire. He used a police shield to fan the flames and wielded a chair to smash the front window of a police van already well ablaze.

O’Neill also used a police shield and baton to attack officers, as well as cause damage to the front of Bridewell Police Station.

At today’s hearing, Judge Patrick said O’Neill was part of a group which ‘hijacked’ a peaceful protest that “became aggressive in an immediate, menacing and threatening way”.

He added: “Officers were struck, spat on, kicked and punched, and dragged into the crowd away from their colleagues. They were dehumanised throughout this disorder.

“Operationally this was a very difficult situation to police. Your behaviour was criminal and far exceeded anything that can be described as a lawful protest.

“By your plea, you accept that you were part of at least 12 people causing, threatening or using violence against police officers.

“The incident caused serious distress, damage and a considerable amount of expense which needs to be paid by the public purse.”

Det Supt James Riccio said: “Matthew O’Neill chose to use the uncontrollable weapon of fire during the wanton violence he engaged in on that night.

“The change in plea on what would have been the first day of his trial is testament to the compelling visual evidence against him, meticulously collated by our team of investigators.

“O’Neill is the seventeenth person to be jailed for offences committed during the riot so far. The combined sentence handed out by the court is now 65 years and five months.

“This sends out a clear and compelling message that violence and destruction will not be tolerated and if you engage in that kind of behaviour, you can expect to be brought to justice for your actions.”

• In a separate hearing, Fleur Moody, aged 26, of Montpelier in Bristol, admitted a charge of affray at Bristol Crown Court today, in connection with our investigation into the riot. Moody has been released on unconditional bail to attend a hearing at the same court on Monday 5 September for sentencing. This brings the total number of people held accountable for offences committed outside Bridewell Police Station to 21.